Saptarishi
Friday, March 17, 2006
  Cry Freedom!
India has always had people who wanted independence from the union formed in 1950. It is not surprising considering the fact that Indian constitution recognizes 23 official languages and India is home to two major linguistic families - Indo-Aryan and Dravidian. The most serious threat to the Indian union has been in the form of various North-East, Punjab and Kashmir insurgencies. The Punjab insurgency started during the late 70s, gained momentum in the early 80s, and died out by the late 80s when the people supporting Khalistan movement realized the futility of separating from India. Kashmir insurgency started in the late 80s and is finally showing some signs of running out of steam nowadays. Hopefully, the Indian union can deal with this menace in the next ten years. The North-East insurgencies have affected the states of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, and Tripura during various periods since India's independence. Many of these movements have died down over a period of time. Many new movements have also cropped up with the passage of time.

The intention of this blog post is not to focus on these movements or to suggest steps in order to convince the separatists to stay within the union of India. The above mentioned movements are already old wine for many of us, the uber-nationalistic Indians. Through this blog I want to rally another section of India's population to start their own freedom movement - the Bengalis. Now, many of you who will be reading this blog will question my intentions by asking why am I provoking a group of people who are quite comfortable with their "macher jhol" (fish curry), "Rabindro Sangeet" (songs written by Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore), and "Rosogolla" (a sweetmeat). Let me justify my intentions first.

Bengal is the state in India that led the Indian renaissance in the 19th and the 20th century. It produced literary stalwarts like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Jeebanando Das, and finally the giant in the form of Rabindranath Tagore. Bengal also produced India's best scientific minds in Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray, Satyendra Nath Bose, Meghnad Saha, P.C. Mahalanobis, and others. Even Sir C.V. Raman (another Nobel laureate) did majority of his work in Kolkata, the current capital of the state of West Bengal. Philosophers like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda, Paramahansa Yogananda and Rishi Aurobindo all came out of Bengal to enlighten the world with the philosophy of the Hinduism. By 16th century, Hinduism, as a religion, had reached its nadir. The barbaric rituals like "Sati", the oppressive stranglehold of the caste system, the ill-treatment of the widows and women, the practice of polygamy among certain sections, and other factors reduced Hinduism to a caricature of what it was intended to be - a syncretic religion that eschews stifling social practices. The reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy did yeoman's work in getting rid of many of these social evils.

Bengalis played a massive role in the freedom struggle of India. W.C. Banerjee, Rash Behari Bose, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Khudiram Bose, Surya Sen, Bipin Chandra Pal, Bagha Jatin are some of the names that come to my mind. Most Bengalis refused to follow Gandhiji's dictum of non-violence and satyagraha. Their preferred way of making the British hear their voice was violence. No, I do not call that terrorism because the attacks were made on exclusively British civilian and military officers. I do not know this but I would challenge anybody to show me the civilian casualty figures due to attacks by the Bengali and Punjabi militants on British officers and their facilities. The objective of the militants fighting for the freedom of India was not to kill harmless and innocent Indian or British civilians. Logically, this is not equivalent to the modus operandi of various terrorist groups operating in various parts of India who resort to terrorizing the very masses for whom they claim to be fighting for.

Even now West Bengal produces some of the best human resources for India. However, the state has lost its glory of the 19th and the 20th century. One of the principle reasons for this is the Bengali aversion to the concept of generation of wealth. Somehow, for reasons unknown to me, the Goddess of entrepreneurial spirit decided to give Bengalis a thumbs down. Bengali "bhadraloks" spend countless hours sitting in the local clubs and consuming gallons of coffee or tea while discussing all the problems of the world, yet they never realize that most of the solutions to the problems in the world end up with the culture of generation of wealth. If you visit the IIM campuses across India, you will find innumerable Bongs. Yet, you would hardly find any of them having the courage to start their own enterprise. The culture of running your own business is something that Bengalis have an aversion to. I have noticed a disdain for businessmen in the Bengali middle class ethos from my childhood. The image of the corrupt "lala" or "baniya" extracting their pound of flesh from their clients in the course of regular business transactions has suppressed any other vista that is associated with the business class.

This reflexive aversion to money and people who deal with money has been the root of all the problems in the Bengali society. Bengalis take distinct pride in their literary and cultural stars and the ability to appreciate art. Many of them turn their snobbish nose upwards, sniff the air and declare, "so what if we do not have money like the Gujjus? We have our culture. After all, this is the land of Kabi Guru Rabindronath!" However, the fundamental flaw in this thesis is that culture flourishes only after the general population has the money to support culture. In personal life, a person decides to become moral and spiritual only after his/her basic physical needs are satisfied. Art and culture is also like that. They can not survive in the vacuum of poverty. To elucidate my argument, countries like Ethiopia, Somalia etc. are hardly known for their culture all around the world. They might have had a glorious past, but they do not have a present.

When was the last time in human history all around the world, peace, security, and wealth generation activities were offset by the scientific, cultural and artistic accomplishments of the society? I attribute a strong causality between generation of wealth and rise of accomplishments in other fields. This causality is not bi-directional. Generation of wealth is followed by accomplishments in the field of sciences, culture, and arts. Every phase of a strong and a progressive dynastic rule in the ancient history of the world was accompanied by a rise in scientific, cultural, and artistic achievements. In brief, a society can not support the endeavors in science and arts until and unless you have peace in your land accompanied by the prosperity of the people. The Bengali contribution to the Indian renaissance was also marked by the prosperity of the middle class. The middle class prospered because the British used Bengal as their entry point to India. Kolkata (Calcutta) was the capital of the British empire in India till 1912. Here is what Wikepedia has to say about the commercial status of Calcutta in the 19th and the 20th century during the Raj era:

In the early 19th century Calcutta was often described as a "city of palaces" and many travelogues of this period praise the city for its beauty. It was a vibrant commercial centre which gave rise to Asia's first electric telegraph and railway, as well as India's first newspaper.
Bengalis benefited by taking part in the trading activities created by the British. The enormous wealth that India generated for the British also trickled down to Bengal. It is a myth that Bengalis do not know how to do business and earn money. There were many rich Bengali traders during the Raj era and their business acumen was nowhere less than that of the Marwaris or the Gujaratis. During the independence of India from the British Raj, West Bengal was one of the richest state in India. All this wealth and economic security generated from the trade and business activities led people to start opting for skills that belong to a higher level in the consciousness of human beings. Nobody acknowledges this but, I think, this is the secret behind the emergence of so many scientific, cultural, and artistic stalwarts from Bengal during the 19th and the 20th century.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. Wealth that is passed on from one generation to another never lasts. As it is passed on, the value of the wealth keeps on dissipating in the eyes of the beholder. This is primarily because the wealth is not passed to individuals who have the talent to either maintain it or to make it grow. But it is passed to individuals who neither have any appreciation for it nor have any talent to use it wisely. The concept of bequeathing wealth to the gene pool inheritors is the single biggest cause of the dissipation of wealth in a prosperous society. Of course, in the long run, this proves to be a leveler for the whole world.

This is what has happened to the people of the state of West Bengal. The current generation witnessed the results of the apathy that they themselves as well as their parents showed towards wealth. When people live in relative prosperity for some time, the hunger for success and achievement goes down. Eventually, the dissipation of wealth is accompanied by a stagnation in sciences, culture, and arts. That is what has happened to West Bengal. One of my favorite examples to illustrate this is the decline of Bengali cinema over the years. Once upon a time, the commercial Bengali movie industry was equivalent to Bombay Hindi film industry. Many of the early stalwarts in Bollywood - the three Ganguli brothers (Ashoke, Anup, and Kishore Kumar), Hemanta Mukherjee, Devika Rani, Himanshu Rai etc. were all transplants from the Bengali film industry. Nowadays, after the period of decay and stagnation of the 80s, we hardly produce more than 50 movies per year. The quality of these movies is nothing to be talked about. In the meantime, the Hindi, the Tamil and the Telugu movie industries are reaching new heights.

All this has happened in West Bengal with the added misfortune of a more than 30 year old reign of the communists. And boy! Their disdain for wealth, entrepreneurship, and innovation is seen to be believed. After studying the various communist movements all around the world, I have come to the conclusion that the communists believe that everybody should be dragged kicking and screaming to become poor first. Once everybody is poor, the society can take steps to improve its lot in an equitable fashion. There is no concept of asking people whether they really want to be poor for the sake of other poor. What power does this system provide to the individuals who will say that they will opt out and do not want to help the poor? After all, not everybody has the inclination to invest their wealth for the upliftment of the society as a whole.

In essence, communism and socialism punish the talented people who know how to handle wealth for the sake of rewarding people who have no idea about the meaning of wealth. The sense of false entitlement that gets created among the masses sometimes leads to violence on premises that are simply foolish. After 30 years of communist rule, West Bengal has finally reached this stage. Nothing gets done in the state until and unless you have some connection to the party. Communist party representatives have spread everywhere like weed. They are firmly entrenched in the establishment. From primary school teachers to babus in the government offices, every individual has become a card carrying member of the party because of what party has done for them. It is very difficult to break the strangle hold of the party in this state. On top of this, the left front has devised sophisticated methods of rigging the elections. They have provided ration cards in bulk to illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in the hope that they vote for the communists in the elections. This means that many undeserving people have attained the citizenship of India just because the communists wanted their vote. Read the following articles to understand what I am talking about:
  1. How Rao went about Operation West Bengal
  2. Cleaning up democracy
  3. EC role in West Bengal polls unprecedented: Basu
All these would have been acceptable to me if the communist parties would have been confined to West Bengal and Kerala. If people of these two states want to rot, who am I to prevent that from happening. India is a big country. Lots of other states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu etc. are steaming ahead with growth and the right economic policies that encourage freedom to take the right decisions. Ambitious and foresighted Bengalis who do not subscribe to the majority view of collectivism in their state always had the option of coming out of the state and enjoying opportunities that does justice to their talent. Due to the peculiar nature of the electoral politics in India, the current government in the center formed by Congress (I) and its allies needed the support of the left parties to form a government. After this happened, the left parties started interfering with the economic as well as the foreign policies of the central government. In effect, this means that because of the idiocy of the Bengal and Kerala voters the whole nation is suffering.

Amulya Ganguli wrote a nice article in the web portal Rediff titled "If India had a Marxist prime minister". Some bloggers picked up the theme and had their own take on what would happen if India has a communist prime minister. For the benefit of the readers, here is Mayank's take on the same issue. After debating with some of my Bengali friends and gauging the mood in the Bengali society, I can foresee that the left front will be in power for another 10 years in West Bengal.

Indian politics over the years has become extremely fractious. In the last three general elections, local issues have dominated the agenda of the candidates all around the nation. Very few voters think about the national issues when they line up to cast their vote. This has set the trend of not a single party being able to gain majority on its own. In a way, this reflects what India is - a truly diverse country, with diverse needs. All this has resulted into the fact that coalition governments have become de rigueur in the Indian political scene. I can bet that even in the next few general elections, the future governments will be formed by combination of few political parties. The era of absolute majority is almost over.

What this means for the progressive people who want to break away from the shackles of restrictive socialism in the name of social piety is that meddling of the left parties in the national affairs is going to go on for another ten years at least. This is because the Bengal voters are never going to vote for anybody else. Therefore, with a support base of around 42 seats (not sure about the exact number of Lok Sabha seats from Bengal), the communists will have far more power than what they deserve to ensure the survival of their retrograde ideas.

The next ten years are crucial for the Indian economy. If we can not grow fast, liberalize the economy, reform the governance to reduce corruption, and uplift at least another 200 million people out of poverty, we will never be able to achieve our full potential. The biggest obstacle to this is posed by the people of West Bengal who are responsible for thrusting a dinosaur on the other progressive states of India. Their sense of being entitled to a job and to a good life without really working hard for it and making sacrifices for it is antithetical to the creation of a meritocracy that rewards efficiency and competitiveness. Therefore, I propose that West Bengal be given independence from the Indian union. Yes, you heard it right!

We do not need Bengalis in the future of India. Let them rot in their own land without trying to pollute the others. This will also help Bengalis to understand that perpetual whining about the federal government not doing enough for West Bengal - a myth created by the leftists to suppress their own misgovernance, will not lead to a better future. Bengalis were always a bit lazier than any other community in India. They covered it up well with their smartness earlier. However, nowadays they have become not only shallow but also myopic. Bereft of new ideas, fearful of embracing a brave new world, unsure of their skills to compete with the best, and developing a moral sense of entitlement of the riches that the rest of India creates, today's Bengal has become a caricature of its glorious past. It would have been nice if some people would have realized these issues and provided leadership to guide Bengalis out of this wasteland. Unfortunately, none seem to be in the horizon for at least another 10 years and that is the real tragedy for the rest of India!

Note: For people who do not get it, I am being rhetorical in calling for the freedom of West Bengal from the union of India. There is no evil intent in trying to break up the Indian union.
 
"Saptarishi" in Sanskrit means the Seven Sages or rishis who are extolled at many places in the Vedas and other Hindu literature. They are regarded in the Vedas as the patriarchs of the Vedic religion. The constellation of Ursa Major is also named as Saptarshi. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saptarishi)

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  • Blogger scuttle // Tuesday, March 21, 2006 9:13:00 AM
  • Blogger Rangakrishnan Srinivasan // Tuesday, March 21, 2006 9:53:00 AM
  • Blogger Aaman // Tuesday, March 21, 2006 11:26:00 AM
  • Blogger Aninda Bhattacharya // Tuesday, March 21, 2006 11:49:00 AM
  • Blogger scuttle // Wednesday, March 22, 2006 8:41:00 AM
  • Blogger Rangakrishnan Srinivasan // Friday, March 24, 2006 2:08:00 PM
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