Group President, Group Managing Director & Editor In Chief: Dr.Shelly Ahmed

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Focus: When Kolkata City Becomes 'Burden Of Bhadralok'

By Angikaar Choudhary | Kolkata

SPECIAL FEATURE The Kolkata bhadralok is a snooty lot. He is also slightly lazy. He resists change and clings on to the past. He loves his fish and his rice. He needs his cup of tea along with his biscuit every evening, ideally prepared by his wife. But on the whole, he considers himself aantel (intellectual). He prefers rumination and discussion on arts and culture and scoffs at other more practical topics, believing himself to be unworthy of such materialistic thinking. But on the whole, even if he doesn’t admit it, he still carries deep inside his heart, a childhood love for Leftist ideology.
When Didi romped home in the West Bengal Assembly elections in 2011, she destroyed the last bastion of the Left in India. Yet, it was not a complete rout; the Left still continues to exist in West Bengal. Weak, demoralized, declining, yes – but, still alive. The proof of this can be measured by a cursory look at West Bengal politics in the run-up to the 2014 Elections: political observers state that West Bengal will continue to remain a Left vs Trinamool face-off, with Congress and BJP probably having to settle for 3rd and 4th place, respectively. To put it into perspective, the Left Front ruled for 34 long years in West Bengal. Any party ruling for such a hefty period of time automatically ingrains itself into the psyche and culture of the land it rules. It was the same with the Left Front, and hence it is difficult for West Bengal to suddenly rid themselves of all Leftist influence.

The Left owned (and still does to a certain extent) much of their support to the Kolkata intellectual community. Between the years they ruled, they had the full backing of the intellectual classes. The Kolkata intelligentsia has always been fascinated by Marxist concepts; it ties in with their zeal for philosophical, utopian doctrines. Successive Leftist governments patronized Leftist theatre, launched their own student unions in the top Kolkata colleges and indoctrinated themselves into Bengali society. Today, despite their decline, Leftist unions pervade all sectors of governance in West Bengal, right from education (Students Federation of India) to transport (Centre of Indian Trade Unions).

However, Didi’s rise has come as a jolt to the traditional Kolkata bhadralok. Didi’s mercurial, ‘take-no-prisoners’ attitude does not appeal to the typical Kolkata bhadralok’s sensibilities.  He was much more attuned to the Leftist pastime of celebrating Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen (both famous Left-leaning Bengali directors), while singing the praises of Fidel Castro and Che Guevera.

He can see the Trinamool Congress everywhere. He is not dumb; he understands which way Bengal politics is blowing at present. But it is difficult for him to express full-flinching support to Didi. Didi’s unsophisticated ways, her style of functioning, her over-the-top campaigning make him flinch. Mamata may try and push herself as the ‘saviour of the lower classes’, but in the eyes of the Kolkata bhadralok, she will never be suited for running a government.

Today, he finds himself in a peculiar position. Who is the next alternative then? No one. The Congress’s abandonment of its traditional Nehruvian-Gandhian socialism towards a more reformist economy, while at the same time, cozying up to the United States (or as described by a pakka Leftist friend ‘the Capitalist Evil!’), is seen as a complete act of betrayal. On the other hand, the BJP’s ingrained association with identity politics makes them a complete no-go in their eyes. (It is interesting to note that BJP is harping strongly on the Marwari business community in constituencies like the Kolkata North to increase their vote share).

He could perhaps have opted for the Aam Aadmi Party. But therein lie problems too. For one, the AAP does not have much appeal in Bengal. There is very little political space in Bengal for a new party, at present. Secondly, the AAP may have been accused of pandering to Leftist sentiments, but they have been quick to disown all ideological dogmas. This makes them suspicious to the bhadralok; for whom, traditionally, ideology has usurped all other practical matters.

Thus, today the Kolkata bhadralok is confused. But he fails to fathom something even more crippling: his ideology has no place in the modern world now. The world has abandoned Leftism and has ruthlessly moved forward, whether it is Russia or China. He remains blind to this development; any attempt at convincing him will result in everything being labeled a ‘capitalist conspiracy’. He prefers to live in a fool’s paradise, with the wool tucked firmly over his head.

Visitors from other parts of the country have always espoused one common refrain towards the City of Joy – Kolkata always seems to be stuck in a time warp. Perhaps, a part of that can be blamed down to them, the Kolkata bhadralok refusing to move on to the modern era, while clinging on to the vestiges of an era that has passed them by.
Post a Comment