Something is rotten in the state of West Bengal. The degree of rottenness is proved by the fact that people are in danger of losing their basic democratic right to protest. And this in a state where almost every aspect of public life is bound to give rise to a thousand grievances in the mind of the common man. But if he raises his voice against what he thinks is injustice, he can be expected to be threatend with dire consequences by the wrongdoers or even risk losing his job, as happened to the thespian, Bimal Chakraborty. When Mr Chakraborty complained against a group of youths — reportedly belonging to the Trinamul Congress — who were heckling some vendors for having participated in a rally of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), he was assaulted by the young men. He lodged a general diary with the Baranagar police station. Retribution from the state government — in the food department of which he held a post — followed at once, and Mr Chakraborty was transferred. Eminent theatre personalities had protested against the assault on Mr Chakraborty at the Academy of Fine Arts. But later, the whole incident took a political turn, with the protest meeting being accused of having been backed by the CPI(M) and the TMC organizing counter-attacks. In this game of political mud-slinging, the original issue was lost.
What is most unfortunate here is the fact that the so-called intelligentsia, which has traditionally been the basis of Bengal’s smug belief that it is the nation’s cultural capital, is at the head of the fracas. Dirty politics is expected of politicians, not of the intellectual class, which is assumed to be the repository of certain ideals of ethics and morality. Whenever those higher values are drowned in a culture dominated by philistinism, society looks up to this class for guidance, for a return to a less narrow vision of life and living. If this class gets as tainted by the greed for power and money as politicians are, then there are strong reasons to despair of the future of the state. This despair is all the more crushing because it signifies the end of the hopes that had been raised when Bengal’s intellectuals had virulently agitated against the blatant violation of justice in Nandigram. That same group had been at the forefront of the ‘change’ that Bengal ushered in last year. With the present incident, the intellectual class loses its moral authority. When it speaks out now, people can expect partyspeak.