The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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living in the past tense

West Bengal, around the time of the putative birthday of its premier city, Calcutta, has decided to show the world its true and unique colours. For a brief while before this — one could even stretch it by a couple of years — West Bengal was flying a false flag. It was trying to show that it is genuinely interested in a rejuvenation and even in a change of character. Under the new dispensation of Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, attempts were made to change the external environment for business and investment. Capital was wooed and investors were assured that bandhs, strikes and erosion of work culture were things of the past. Reforms were inaugurated in the sphere of public heath; there were glimmerings that changes might even be introduced into education, the sacred preserve of the communists in the state. McKinsey was called in to make a study of the state’s economy. The cumulative impact was rising hope: there seemed to be a light at the end of the 25- year-long tunnel. The impossible appeared possible: the left was changing its red spots in favour of a less abrasive colour. In defiance of the laws of evolution, the dinosaur looked like changing form in keeping with the demands of changed times. Time was no longer standing still.

All this, it is now clear, was no more than a chimera, a figment of the imagination, a product of the fevered imagination of a people who had well nigh forgotten the meaning of hope. In the last two months, bandhs have made a comeback. In Calcutta, there was a successful bandh called by Ms Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress. This was opposed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). But this did not stop the latter from calling a bandh in north Bengal where its cadre had been attacked by the Kamtapur Liberation Organization. Obviously, the dominant wisdom among the left is that bandhs are bad in Calcutta but fine in north Bengal. It would seem that the left still thinks that bandhs are an effective form of protest, only they are bad for its image when called in Calcutta. One could say, following the Old Testament, the hand is that of Esau, the voice is that of Jacob.

To confirm the portents, like a sign of doom came the announcement on Thursday that Presidency College had been closed sine die. It is true that the college has reopened, but the omen hovers. Presidency College was at one time the showpiece of West Bengal’s education system. In the Sixties, it was also the fountainhead of the Maoist student unrest that heralded the city’s and the state’s passage into the dark ages of disruption and violence. Presidency College has often served as Calcutta’s barometer for radicalism and violence. Does it retain that distinction even after ceasing to be a centre of academic excellence'

West Bengal has thus hauled down its false flag of being capital-friendly and disruption-free. It is in the process of unfurling its real colours with its unmistakable show of arms displaying bandhs and violence. West Bengal is back to what it does best: rallies, strikes, not working and the closing down of colleges and schools. Why, one could well ask, should West Bengal surrender its own unique selling point' It is business as usual in the state. Rising hope is rising damp. The people of West Bengal can wake up to find that the dinosaur is still there.

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