The decline of West Bengal

The Trinamool Congress fought the West Bengal assembly elections on the plank of “poriborton” promising to turn the state’s fortunes around after a debilitating 34 years of Communist rule. Yet five years down the line, actual “poriborton”, still eludes the state and its misfortune still continues even after four decades.

An uninterrupted four decades of CPIM led Left Front rule followed by five years of anarchic Trinamool Congress rule has proved to be acutely detrimental to the health of the state in its entire dimension. In assessing the decline of West Bengal, one sees how both the CPIM and the Trinamool Congress governments have failed the people of the state, denigrating their aspirations and reversing the fundamental promises on which they had come to power. The confines of a single report or narrative can never capture or recount in its entirety, the magnitude of West Bengal’s problems and challenges but at least it needs reiteration especially at a time when the aspiration for change or at least the hope for initiating a new process of change has again picked up. The assembly elections of 2016 will essentially be fought on the argument that West Bengal has not yet achieved the “poriborton” that she was promised nearly four decades ago. Each phase of poriborton has in fact led her down the spiral to the nadir of stagnation, non-performance, insecurity and instability.

Perhaps one of the greatest political tragedies of post-independent India has been the fate of Bengal. At the forefront of industrial growth and development once, the state began falling back and losing momentum soon after the CPIM-led Left Front government took over. The last great stalwart of the state was Dr BC Roy who displayed a vision for the state’s progress and had worked to implement it in right earnest. Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee was the other stalwart because of whom West Bengal existed and was secured. Dr BC Roy is of course forgotten, since he left behind no dynasty or financial legacy that could be exploited to create a political empire or narrative. The Congress, post 1977 rapidly degenerated into a scattered group in the state with most of its senior leaders working to protect and perpetuate Left rule in return for support in Delhi and a few parliamentary berths.

In its long tenure in power the Left Front government not only worked to de-industrialise the state but developed the impression that the state itself was anti-progress, anti-development, anti-industry and anti-growth. The ruin and run of capital over the decades, the decay of educational institutions and the inability to inspire confidence in industry and attract prospects of growth and of jobs, encouragement to militant trade unionism, interference in educational institutions and handing them over to party apparatchiks, ruined an entire generation of youth who either left the state or stagnated and turned cynical due to lack of opportunities and avenues. A well entrenched and well-oiled network and nexus ensured that only a handful of conglomerates and party faithful benefitted, using the system and state’s resource to promote the party’s and their own interests.

For years, communist stalwarts such as comrade Jyoti Basu and Somnath Chatterjee (later disgracefully expelled from the CPIM after having served the party faithfully for decades) as Chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBDIC) would ritualistically visit foreign countries ostensibly to seek investment for the state but eventually attracting very little that could turn the fate of the state. Over the years such visits came to be seen as state sponsored junkets and little else. As the flight of capital from the state continued the Left Front government kept denying that there was anything fundamentally wrong in the state of West Bengal.

On the education front, the CPIM government packed institutions of higher education such as colleges and state universities with mediocre party apparatchiks whose notions of academic performance and excellence started and ended with how well one could implement the party diktat and serve the local committee and state committee bosses. Then CPIM secretary, the late Anil Biswas, had particularly mastered the technique of controlling educational institutions in the state and of turning them into fronts and bastions of CPIM’s activism. The state run schools were also packed with teachers whose main duty was to attend to party work during the period when they were expected to teach and attend to the school’s administrative duties. Unless one was connected to the CPIM, unless one owed allegiance to its concept of proletarian revolution – whatever that meant – and unless one agreed to carry out its political agenda one could never hope to get a job in the academia or anywhere in the state government.

The only development that the CPIM carried out in the name of academic development was the promotion of cadres within the state education system diverting resources in order to build a state-wide base of foot-soldiers who would implement the party’s political objective. So determined was the Left Front government in this, that in 2003, about a year after the flagship Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), it was the only state government which refused to cooperate with the Union government in its implementation. The CPIM led government’s insistence that the funds for the SSA be sent to the state government directly delayed progress of the scheme. A direct control of funds was needed in order to keep the cadre-teacher-political work framework well-oiled. Interestingly, this was also a period which saw the likes of Professor Amartya Sen frequent the state as a celebrated guest and darling of the ruling elite. Of course speaking on academic mediocrity and communist control of institutions was verboten then.

The comrades and their captive intellectuals are loudest in their false accusations that the BJP has stuffed bodies such as ICHR with ideologues, because they wish to hide their own, disastrous over three decades performance in West Bengal where they actually promoted, patronised and nurtured some of the most mediocre minds and party apparatchiks. The University of Calcutta, Presidency College and other such landmark institutions fell on bad days. But it served the comrades larger political purpose, they built a cadre of academics who were party faithfuls, had no concern for academic excellence but managed to control institutions and get their way. In post independent India’s academic history, no other political party perhaps has played such a devastating role in politicising the Indian academia as has the CPIM.

To see it thus speak today of propriety and declining academic standards under BJP rule and Narendra Modi is akin to a hyena weeping over the carcass of a deer it had just mangled and devoured. The ruling Trinamool Congress has just taken over from where the Left Front left, with promises it never intended to fulfill. it has further accentuated the decline.

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