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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Vibrant Gujarat, moribund Bengal?

One has to accommodate only about sixty million people over an area of 203,000 square kilometers, the other is home to nearly 91 million, meaning 50% more, in a space of just over 88,000 sq. km. Should you even begin to compare the levels of development attained by the two without keeping these two pairs of stark, fundamental, unalterable facts very firmly in mind?

The first, if you haven’t guessed, is the currently favourite supermodel among Indian states, Gujarat; the second – you have obviously guessed – is our own sad West Bengal. Swapan Dasgupta’s edit-page article (one more eulogy for Narendra Modi) in the January 18 issue of The Telegraph made me check up a few things, and thereafter I have been thinking hard about how much Mr. Modi deserves all the encomiums and our leaders, be it Buddhadev Bhattacharjee or Ms. Mamata Banerjee, all the brickbats. Mr. Dasgupta is a veteran and informed journalist; when people like him start talking like that, one begins to wonder whether they are not being deliberately disingenuous, … inspirational leadership (Dasgupta’s last but one paragraph) is all very well, and I hold no brief for any of our local leaders regardless of their political colour, but I do wonder whether, given the ground realities, the greatest leaders we have heard of, be it Lincoln or Adenauer, Kemal Ataturk or Lee Kuan Yew or Subhas Bose (leave alone Mr. Modi) would have been able to do much better for West Bengal. It is always so much easier to criticize.

Yes, WB has been in a bad way for a very long time. Yes, Bengalis have much to be blamed for – they are as a rule lazy, uncooperative, quarrelsome, jealous and suspicious of material prosperity, and so on and so forth (and no leader can really change a whole population’s mindset, remember, certainly not in a few years). Yes, after Dr. Bidhan Roy, none of our CMs can be credited to have pursued any large, constructive long-term vision. Yes, we have not been able to make full use of our natural wealth and intellectual capital. Yes, our infrastructure is in shambles, by and large. Yes, we are saddled by a venal, incompetent, bloated bureaucracy. Yes, our educational and healthcare systems are creaking. But as I said, who has a good, practical idea, a magic wand, to get us out of this mess? Let us imagine putting someone like Mr. Modi in the CM’s chair. Can he wish away our long history of disasters and their consequences that refuse to go away – from terrible famines to partition-induced migration on an unimaginable scale that swamped every resource we had to the long fight to curb Naxalite-led threat of anarchy; to mention just three things that Gujarat has never faced? Has he been able to do a better job of maintaining communal peace if not amity (remembering that we have a far larger Muslim population than Gujarat)? Does he preside over a population ‘too poor to tax, too numerous to feed’, which has saddled our government with such a gigantic debt burden that it is currently having to live hand to mouth? Can he who gives away hundreds of thousands of acres of land on the cheap to tycoons to build industries on think of handling a situation where every nook and cranny is crawling with people who refuse to leave simply because they have nowhere to go – and every attempt to take over land for any public purpose at all, even roads, power plants and hospitals, threatens to turn into a bloodbath unless the losers are compensated on a scale which makes it either unaffordable or utterly unattractive to any investor? Can he alter a political culture which has seen a long decline into street hooliganism and organized browbeating of all but the very rich and powerful? And also – is there any real reason why Bengal needs to hang its head in shame, given that, despite such horrible odds, it has (until the early 1980s, at least, when it went into secular cultural decline) produced more big achievers in art, science, literature, music, philosophy and patriotism than virtually all other Indian states put together – however politically incorrect this sounds? (For Christ’s sake, Narendra Modi himself professes to revere and walk in the footsteps of a Bengali: his name was Narendra Dutta!)

My point is, we certainly need better leadership; we certainly need to get rid of a lot of ingrained bad habits, we certainly need to gird up our loins and make an all-out effort to hasten our rate of development so that we don’t end up at the bottom of the list: what we don’t need is foolish, motivated, malicious comparisons with those who shouldn’t be compared with. Here’s a little mischievous idea: let the World Bank or Mr. Manmohan Singh or Bill Gates give our current chief minister an interest-free fifteen year developmental loan of Rs. 100,000 crore, and simultaneously export about fifty million Bengalis to Gujarat for Mr. Modi to take care of, shooting them not allowed. We can come back and compare notes in the year 2028.

I am glad that Sunanda K. Datta Ray’s article on the same page of the next days’ issue of The Telegraph (“Laughing up his sleeve”) debunks many of Mr. Dasgupta’s tall claims on Modi’s behalf, and exposes how he has put a spin to the story by hiding all sorts of less than scintillating facts about his ‘vibrant’ Gujarat, including a) that a lot of other states, including Nitish Kumar’s Bihar and Navin Patnaik’s Odisha have been making the same sort of progress with far less chest thumping, b) that Gujarat is pretty low down the list of states in terms of many social development indices, no matter what the rise of multi-storeyed buildings and shopping malls and fancy cars in the cities hints otherwise, c) Modi’s increasing glamour as the national opposition’s poster-boy has been won to a great extent by default, by contrast with the UPA’s record of corruption combined with confusion and inaction, and, most tellingly, that d) the big moneybags, Indian or foreign, are going to sing loud paeans to any political master who makes it easy for them to avoid social obligations and reap ever bigger profits, so as far as big socio-political realities are concerned, only fools would take heed of their ‘opinions’. As I shall never stop underlining, businessmen never have to worry about anything other than bottom lines; even low level politicians have to think of far more, and far more serious things.

Not putting things in perspective is intellectual dishonesty, and intellectual dishonesty is the worst sort of dishonesty there can be. Yes, Mr. Dasgupta, I shall be glad to see Mr. Modi on the throne of India. If only to see him proving to be just another damp squib. India is not merely Gujarat, and as someone called Chandrababu Naidu, now forgotten, found out at great personal cost in Andhra Pradesh, running a government is not done very well by imitating corporate CEOs. Let Modi and his acolytes find out the hard way. It is a good thing that not only senior news editors in Delhi but top leaders in West Bengal don’t take him seriously.

21 comments:

Navin said...

Dear Sir,

This is a great post, and despite the fact that popular opinion in the country can be against it, you have hit the nail right on the head. Besides, I think the popular media does not give enough credit to Mamata Banerjee for having single handedly worked towards bringing about a change in the political landscape of West Bengal. I believe the biggest attitudinal impediment which Bengalis have is the cultivated derision for enterpreneurs in bengali culture. It is pitted heavily against upcoming business leaders, just like women may find it difficult to flower in many different cultures, more than in bengal. I think events like Mamata;s election are watershed events which bade well for the future of bengal. It stirs the soul of people in a way which is far greater than giving them Nano's. Many young bengali's would take inspiration from the fact that change is possible. Also the hidden advantages of movements like singur are also never taken into account when criticising social movements. Almost all the leaders of india who have been at the helm of affairs in the india of the India Shining days were leaders from the JP movement. Even communist stalwarts were people who played an active role in politics during the naxalite movement of the 70's and the experience of making communism a force in bengal by wrestling it out of the congress rule did serve them well to rule bengal for close to 30 years. Who knows what Singur has done for the quality of leaders to have come out of bengal in the coming 20 years. Who knows what moral challenges a TMC leader would have had to go through to switch allegiances in the face of certain defeat. Even Narendra Modi has had an experience of the "Nav Nirman " movement.

In any case lets hope for the best for bengal.

with regards,

Navin

Debotosh Chatterjee said...

Sir,
Last Sunday i had gone to Nandan, with my friends, to watch the recently released Goutam Ghosh film 'Shunyo Onko'. The film was largely based on the development projects being undertaken by private parties, in the bauxite-rich regions of Orissa and the ensuing clash between the indigenous tribals and Maoists on one side and the state government and the private party on the other. The film tried to reach out to the dark underbelly of the Maoist activities in one of those 'Red Corridors', and not surprisingly failed to charm most of the 'intellectual' audience at Nandan.
In the course of the 'boring' sequence of events in the film came a point where a policeman and his informer gave chase to a Maoist woman, who happened to be in the list of the 'most wanted' rebels of that area. The woman manages to gun down the two men who were chasing her and barely manages to save herself from the jaws of death! After sometime, an accomplice of the murderer stealthily comes to the spot where the two bodies lay motionless and runs away with the weapon that the slain policeman was armed with. The poignancy of the situation was telling and gruesome, to say the least, and one could expect the audience to 'feel' and bask in the gravity of the situation. Instead, to my utter amazement and shock, the whole audience burst out in peels of ugly laughter, on seeing a Maoist woman run away with the policeman's firearm !
Isn't this shocking? And, i was shocked not only because of the crowd's response to the scene ; i was shocked to see the 'kind' of audience that gave such a deplorable response to that critical point in the film. Nandan is not the place for callow and sundry youth of the city, it is regarded as one of the many 'cultural hubs' in Kolkata and audience that day consisted mainly of the people with grey or greying hair ! These are the same people who form the 'intellectual' middle class of Kolkata, and in some ways represent the dying breed of intellectuals in our state. These are the same people who can give us(the nasty and uncivilised young population) lengthy lectures on almost all topics on earth and these are the same people who failed to catch the import of the situation that they laughed at so horribly! These people call for reforms, they call for the ministers' heads whenever anything goes amiss in our state, they chide people around them for any small wrongdoing, and yet they don't know how to react to a situation that can virtually chill the bones of any man who can 'think' !
This is the deplorable condition of our famed intelligentsia and to think of those who are still young and reveling at their parents' expenses makes me shiver ! If the vast majority of the 'cultured' population in Bengal has forgotten how to think, what to think and when to think then why should we expect any 'development' from our political masters. Not even a Winston Churchill can do 'any' good to this class of rotten human beings who know nothing other than passing snide remarks at anyone who tries to do his/her job!
Can anyone on earth help the people who are slowly forgetting basic human instincts of care and sympathy? Perhaps that is why we nowadays have celebrities on television urging us to help victims of road accidents! No visionary leader can ever do anything remotely good for a population which is uncivilised and rotten to the core, but goes around with a attractive coating of sugar on itself. Perhaps its time that the people of this state realise that not even God can help them if they don't learn to help themselves! Changing the political party at the helm of affairs won't help things for Bengal, we need real change - the change in the attitude of people, the change in the way people think and act! Only then can we start thinking about coming out of the grimness that Bengal has currently plunged into!

Sunup said...

Sir,

The latest edition of The Week has also an article on the same topic, written by Mani Shankar Aiyar. Though written with a Congressman's bias, I had to agree to whatever he had written. He has written exactly why Mamata's investors event was a failure -- because she doesn't play into the arm of industrialists like Modi does. In fact, he has aptly compared Modi to Hitler and Mukesh Ambani to Thyssen and Krupp. The shrewd industrialists would always praise someone like Modi, because they can get cheap land, tax benefits and so on at the expense of the common man. I may be wrong here, but I feel that Modi is what he is not because of any so-called development work, but only because that state is totally polarised. And added to that is the general misrule in our country. Many people have a belief that anything corrupt or vile has to do with the present government and only someone like Modi can save the country. How wrong they are.

Regards

Suvro Chatterjee said...

'Rumblingdumpling',

I do not engage with anonymous comment writers, for reasons which I have explained umpteen times. And especially with those who, despite being adult (which I assume you are, nominally at least) hide behind asinine pseudonyms like that, and presume a familiarity which they have not earned (I am not 'Suvroda' to every Tom, Dick and Harry) - even if their comment carries thought provoking substance, which yours does not, as it would have taken me five minutes to demonstrate with a red pencil if we were face to face.

Presumptuousness is a disease which is becoming rampant today, especially on the net, which gives the interlocutor the safety of distance and impersonality that, for some (I should guess ill-brought up) people does away with the need for decorum and propriety of manners. Over the last year, including very recently, four ex-students (all girls!) have used a tone with me over the net that they wouldn't dream of using face to face: they'd wet their pants even trying it. I have known them up close, so I am sure.

However, informed and balanced commentary is always welcome. If there are reasons to admire Narendra Modi and justify his comments on Bengal, let me hear them.

Abhirup said...

Dear Sir,

I can't thank you enough for this blogpost. It's always a delight to read a sensibly contrary take on somebody over whom a large part of the media and the masses (about whom Shakespeare has said all that needs to be said in 'Julius Caesar') are having orgasms, despite that person not having achieved anything really significant. And no, Narendra Modi hasn't, in his capacity as the chief minister of Gujarat, done anything that deserves to be praised to the skies. He didn't have to guide his people through a civil war and a reconstruction a la Abraham Lincoln, he didn't have to re-build a nation from the ashes after a devastating war as Konrad Adenauer and Kemal Ataturk has had, he didn't have to be as vigilant and display as constant a stream of judiciousness as Marshall Tito and David Ben-Gurion had had to (surrounded as they were enemy states willing to wipe them out), and he hasn't even been required, like Franklin D. Roosevelt, to face any major economic crises. Of course, ignorant readers with no knowledge of history (and hence, no idea what the names mentioned above signify) shall continue to gloat over Modi as though he is a Godsend. But the fact, remains, as you have said, that he has simply taken good advantage of a number of favourable factors that came his way. Which, of course, is clever of him, but to wish to see him as the Prime Minister of India on the basis of that is fatally naive. I don't think, even for a moment, that Modi has it in him to deal with the numerous sectarian political movements in India, or bring prosperity to every corner of the country, from Kashmir to Kerala, from Rajasthan to Manipur. And that is exactly what would be expected of him once he occupies the PM's chair. I would like to know if he, or his minions, have any blueprint for solving the problems of India (as opposed to Gujarat). Unless I am replied to in the affirmative, and shown evidence for the affirmation, I shall continue to consider Modi a grossly overrated figure in Indian politics. And I think we all need to remember that this is the man who oversaw one of the biggest communal riots and bloodbaths in post-independence India, and has said, on more than one occasion, that there indeed was an army of monkeys who constructed a bridge from India to Sri Lanka for 'Lord' Ram to go there and fight the demons (in terms of mindset, then, is he any different from the superstitious rural population whom today science-studying lot so love to mock?) The techies and the tycoons (who constitute the largest segment of the Modi fan club) may try to brush all that under the carpet, saying, "Who cares? He attracts the investors." And disasters have always sprung from precisely that kind of attitude.

Abhirup said...

For those that object to Sir's comparing of the geographical constraints of Bengal and Gujarat on grounds that Gujarat, despite being larger than Bengal, has arid lands and forested regions, I say, so does Bengal, kids. Purulia is arid, and the Sunderbans cannot be used for industrialization for very obvious reasons, the Royal Bengal Tigers and crocodiles being just two of them. To those who claim that historical circumstances shouldn't be "invoked" to justify the current state of Bengal, well, do read properly before yakking, folks. Sir hasn't, at any point, tried to "justify" the way things are in Bengal: the beginning of the third paragraph in this blogpost is dedicated entirely to enumerating the numerous problems that plague us. All he has done is to point out the undeniable fact that historically, Bengal has had certain huge disadvantages that the likes of Modi have been lucky enough never to face. The damages caused by the earthquake in Gujarat pales into insignificance before the famines and partition-era violence that Bengal faced. If one read history, or even watched good films or read books, he/she wouldn't draw such moronic comparisons. As for those who want to praise Modi for being so 'successful' despite being located so 'dangerously' close to Pakistan, well, it takes only a little study of Pakistani history to know that Gujarat has never been one of their prime targets in India, despite all its vaunted 'progress'. Even Ajmal Kasab and co. attacked Mumbai, not Gujarat, despite the latter being much closer. Only goes on to show of how little importance Modi is even to the terrorists. And in case anybody has forgotten, Bengal has to deal with illegal immigration from a not-so-friendly neighbouring country as well.

So, before I conclude, I just want to add one more voice in support of what Sir has written--that Bengalis have indeed a lot of faults, and that both the "commies" (funny how uneducated dogmatic boors, from Joseph McCarthy to Gen Y techies, always use "commies" instead of communists: have these people ever bothered to read Marx, even, before they chose to despise his ideology? ) and the TMC have not been able to provide good leadership, but that doesn't make Modi a better, or even viable, alternative. "We are not like Gujarat" is nothing to feel sorry about. If you indeed want to feel sorry about something, well, how's this: in order to attract people to the celebrations of Swami Vivekananda's 150th birthday, a third-rate Tollywood actor had to be dressed up as Swamiji? Or that a beautiful, moving film on Master-da, by a Bengali filmmaker who quit his job at NASA to make it and reach out to fellow Bengalis with a piece of our glorious past, wasn't seen by many even in Bengal? These are the things to really regret, not the 'inability' to follow in Modi's footsteps. In the larger history of mankind, or even of India, Modi is a blip on the radar. His toadies, for all their croaking, can't change that.

With regards,
Abhirup Mascharak.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks, Abhirup. It's always good to hear from people who know what they are talking about (precisely why I don't use Facebook and twitter!). The only sad thing is that there are so precious few around, although there are 'educated' people by the tens of millions... besides being gratuitously impolite, comment writers tell me things that I myself have already said, as though they are dropping pearls of wisdom, quite unaware (or unashamed-) of the fact that they cannot read. I realize more and more how precious my comprehension exercises are, and how much this country would gain if I could subject millions to them annually instead of a paltry few hundred... as I have often told you privately, blogging has been hugely educational for me, if only to permanently and abysmally lower my estimate of my average fellow man's mental faculties and level of culture alike.

Navin said...

Dear Sir,

This may be a good place to ask this question. In the current political spectrum of India, is there anyone on whom you would lay your bets on to take india forward?

I had great hopes from Manmohan Singh, his lack of moral courage to face up to the challenges of indian polity, makes modi a far more attractive candidate to me, certainly far more than the next best alternative, i.e Rahul Gandhi.

would you say that Arun Jaitley is a good candidate?
What would you say about JP narayan ?

with regards,

Navin

Suvro Chatterjee said...

To be very honest, Navin, I simply don't know. Firstly, none of those you have named inspires much confidence. Unlike you, I knew far too much about Manmohan Singh at the very start, so I never had high hopes of him. Rahul G is an unknown quantity; all I can feel is that he is being dragged into it, and doesn't like it at all. Whether or not he has it in him to do what is needed, I have no idea. Arun Jaitley and Narayan might be fine, upright, decent people by themselves, but running a government (especially in a country as complex and perpetually crisis-ridden as India) needs much more than just a good man at the top: it needs clear vision, efficient organization, and very large dollops of luck. All I know is that Narendra Modi isn't likely to be the miracle some people think he might be.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

...and Abhirup, I am sorry I forgot to take note of your remark on the way intellectual cretins talk about 'Commies' without having the slightest idea how Groucho Marx differed in ten ways from Karl Marx. I do not use expletives as a rule here, but the only apposite Bangla term for them is pondepaka. And one sad reason why Bengal finds it so hard to progress in any sphere is that there are so many of this type around: shorbo bishoye shobjanta, just so long as you don't ask them to write a 1000 word essay or give a ten minute speech on any serious subject they pass comments upon the way people break wind, something that doesn't sound like monkey chatter. Neither of us has much sympathy for communism, of course, but both of us, being literate, would gladly agree with the great Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who said 'Marx was so important that if he didn't exist, we'd have had to invent him'. And it is also necessary to have more knowledge than techies will acquire in three lifetimes of 'aberrations' to original communist ideas before one should even begin to comment on things like that: it's like a five year old remarking on Picasso's art or the higher forms of the calculus or how Ashoka's governing principles differed from those of Akbar.

Abhishek Anand said...

Sir, agreed. But if you compare Lalu's Bihar with Mr. Kumar's, you will find that the development in the latter is excellent. I don't think that the mindset of residents of Bihar has changed a great deal off late. Additionally, Bihar faces many problems very much like Bengal-the biggest being illiteracy. Therefore, Bengal's government could have certainly done much better over the past decade (considering you don't thing Mr. Buddhadev and Mr. Lalu are equal).
Sir, whom do you consider to be a better Prime Ministerial candidate than Mr. Modi?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Dear Abhishek,

If you re-read the blogpost, you will find that there is a line in it that says 'We certainly need better leadership'. Along with several other things. The post was not written to extol any leader of Bengal, it was a criticism of unfair comparisons against Bengal.

As for your question at the end, I have replied to it already in connection with Navin's comment. Unlike a lot of other people, I have no problems with saying I don't know something when I really don't... surely you have discovered that in my class already? And regarding Narendra Modi, let it never be forgotten that he stood aside and let a pogrom happen: in many a country he'd be serving a jail sentence now, instead of aspiring to be prime minister.

Pratik said...

Sir, allow me to add one point to what you have written. Strangely, when we discuss development, we talk only about cities and industries, living in a country where more than half of the population lives in the villages and a sizable part of that lives on agriculture. We don't know how Gujarat has done in its villages but we do know how our villages did through the 80s and early 90s. Shouldn't that be counted as well?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Hello, Pratik, do I know you? Thanks for bringing this up. In my own defence, I have touched this very important issue tangentially in the post: where I said "Gujarat is pretty low down the list of states in terms of many social development indices, no matter what the rise of multi-storeyed buildings and shopping malls and fancy cars in the cities hints otherwise". This is precisely because our comfortable, educated, largely urban elite deliberately choose to forget that much of India still lives in the villages, and no state should dare to boast much about development as long as our rural populace is still sorely lacking in basic necessities, namely bijli-sarak-paani as well as housing, education and healthcare (which, incidentally, the most famous Gujarati of all time insisted upon all his life!). Now I don't have very current data in hand, but the link provided below, measuring the progress made by our states in terms of the Human Development Index over 1996 through 2006, seems to say not only that Gujarat is no better off than West Bengal, but the latter has actually caught up with the former. So much for the tall tales about the 'awesome' progress Narendra Modi has been making. See:

http://wcd.nic.in/publication/GDIGEReport/Part2.pdf

Pratik said...

No sir, you don't know me. One of your students drew my attention to your blog. Thanks for the post and the link

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Yes, Nivedita told me. Do tell me if you like what the contents of that link made you think.

sayantika said...

Dear Sir,
Here is a link of an article describing the ominous authoritarian traits of Narendra Modi and his style of 'development' by Ramachandra Guha. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-man-who-would-rule-india/article4390286.ece?homepage=true
Thanks and with regards,
Sayantika

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for the link, Sayantika. I think Guha's article is essential reading for people on both sides of the battle line. The authoritarian streak is becoming more prominent with every passing day, apart from all other negatives. And I think a lot of Indians are actually (secretly) fascinated with authoritarianism. It helps that most of our people, the educated elite included (most being 'educated' in merely the technical or commercial sense), are grossly ignorant of history. Well, 'those who forget history are condemned to repeat it'. I am not entirely hostile to the idea of a tough leader at the top myself, but only in the rarest of rare cases, when the said leader is someone I can truly respect, and I take pride in thinking that I am no great respecter of men. Who will come forward to say that he can see shades of Subhas Bose in Narendra Modi?

Saikat Chakraborty said...

Dear Sir,

Here is the link of an article which I think is relevant to this post-

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-monarch-and-the-mask/article4443527.ece

With regards,
Saikat.

Saikat Chakraborty said...

Dear Sir,

Here is another related link-

http://ibnlive.in.com/news/there-are-better-candidates-for-pm-than-rahul-modi-ramachandra-guha/383779-3.html

With regards,
Saikat.

Saikat Chakraborty said...

Dear Sir,

Here is another article although I do not know how much of it is true. -

http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/the-modi-mythology

With regards,
Saikat.