Friday, December 29, 2006

Sea change in West Bengal

It must have been some 4-5 years ago. West Bengal was in utter doldrums. It had dropped off the world map. It was simply one’s misfortune to be living here.

The state govt was in an especially pathetic plight. Deep in debt, plagued by its huge wage burden and accumulating losses from all the state-owned enterprises, completely incapable of doing anything substantive on any vital matter. Lurching along somehow, from month to month, borrowing money from here and there.

The question before the ruling party was: how to stay in power, but be rid of the sheer financial nightmare of the responsibility of governance, the immense, horrific mess made in 25 years of ruling the state?

After a chance encounter with a former colleague, I was chatting with him for a while. He is a civil servant. In the course of our conversation, it struck me that the only future I could see, was for the state govt to be picked up – like a small cherry to sample - say by an international financial agency – and bailed out. With conditions: so that, to the extent possible and useful, a base, a pad, for a kind of interest – capitalist, global-imperialist, trans-national corporations, US, financial capital, anti-left etc etc- could be created. A fiefdom. A govt in one’s command. This place could possibly be strategic in terms of location and neighbourhood, and within the changing political and geopolitical scenario in the world and region, through globalisation, post-9/11 etc.

After a long time, I remembered having thought along these lines – as I see the Singur-Tata-Buddhadev three-penny-opera unfolding…

Meanwhile, even I had become aware – in the last couple of years - that things have “changed” in Calcutta and West Bengal.

It’s a sea change.

I would like to see, even with a microscope if needed, the “good” in this change. But that eludes me. My yardsticks are quite simple. What does this mean for the poor, the vulnerable, the low-income, the disprivileged, the disenfranched, the downtrodden, the discriminated? In a society where such a concern relates to the substantial majority of the population, its not an unjustified concern. Where, as the investigation on Singur I referred to in my other post today says, many, many more livelihoods are wiped out than the new employment generated.

I believe in the capability of markets to perform useful functions in society, to be a means for creation of wealth, through which the quality of human life can be enriched. But more important or meaningful for me than markets is humanity. Hence economics, business, markets are all subsidiary, for me, to higher, normative, humane, social, ethical, moral, aesthetic, life-serving, life-enhancing concerns and goals.

The soil of West Bengal has become a womb for capital to assault and breed profit, to the exclusion of everything else. But before that this soil had been turned into an inhospitable swamp, full of poisonous serpents.

In the early 60s, the West Bengal Chief Minister, Dr BC Roy (a Congress-man), had written to the US President Kennedy, to do something for Calcutta and its slums or risk Communist takeover.

WHO undertook an evaluation of public health in Calcutta around the same time. Once again, the plight of Calcutta’s slums was highlighted.

Dr Roy’s letter to Kennedy did not go unheeded. The Ford Foundation entered the arena soon after.

Less than two decades later, led by a gentleman communist like Jyoti Basu, the communists inherited the mantle of govt. He was an assembly opposition man in Dr Roy’s time, and presided over Calcutta and West Bengal’s final blight, as Chief Minister from 1977-2000, after capital abandoned the city and state from the mid 60s.

Calcutta and especially its slums: the focus of attention of Ford Foundation. Of the Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Organisation they set up. Of the Basic Development Plan they prepared. Of the Calcutta Urban Development Project the World Bank aided. Which the communists had to handle once they came into power in 1977.

Slums of Calcutta: break the backbone of the slumdwellers, who were the rump of the militant support base of the communists for long decades. Through the sheer grinding misery of day after day of living at the edge of survival. But living. So that they can do the bidding of their leaders. Then corrupt every communist, and make him a bloodsucking criminal. So that he eventually becomes your pawn.

40 odd years after Dr Roy’s distress appeal, the communists ruling from Calcutta have overseen the dominion and sovereignty, of anything that he foresaw being threatened then.

The proof of the pudding lies in the eating. Singur is the cherry on the cake.

The enemy at the gate, became the protector of the realm. Surely that's revolutionary!

1 comment:

Bose said...

mThanks for your brilliant post. To evaluate today's Marxists, you have lined up the same arguments that Marxists once used against the capitalsts. It's really a sea change, and you can't distinguish between a capitalist and a Marxist, especially in Bengal today.Ratan Tata and Buddhadeb talk exactly the same way. Yesteday's Mcnamara-basher is today's Tata fan. One wonders how things have changed over time.

Singur is an eventuality, and perhaps a stopover in the passage of history. It's also a point to be watched out because capitalism here is on display by the Marxists whose survival is at stake now.