The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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No surprised eyebrows should be raised at the adverse response of all political parties to the decision to do away with cross subsidies in power. On the contrary, this should be treated as West Bengal batting to its usual form. The predictable reactions say it all. The West Bengal government has decided to take the matter to the Calcutta high court. The Left Front will organize protest rallies. The Socialist Unity Centre of India has called for a 24 hour bandh on January 27 which the Trinamool Congress will not oppose. The Congress, ever slow on the uptake, is still to announce its protest plans. This package is the political class’s Christmas present to the people of the state. So over yuletide and the new year, Calcutta can expect disruption, a certain amount of violence, fiery speeches and normal life coming to a standstill because of a bandh. While every other state in India is looking forward to economic development in the 21st century, West Bengal is looking backwards to the second half of the 20th century, to strikes and rallies. It will be a fine spectacle. Foreign investors can come and watch and then decide where not to invest. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s dream of a new West Bengal where work culture and discipline thrive is poised at the point of disappearing. He can go down in history as the chief minister who spoke of his dreams but failed to deliver.

It would be entirely wrong to put this down to an individual’s failure. It is a sociological phenomenon which is embedded in the lives and psyche of Bengalis. At one level, the phenomenon can be linked to the Bengalis’ penchant for radicalism in politics. This has made the people of West Bengal choose emotional protest over the cold light of reason. This, in turn, is perhaps related to the self-perception of Bengalis as victims — of colonialism, of Partition, of a world capitalist conspiracy, of the Centre’s discrimination and so on. The emotive hold of communism is a reflection of this mindset and the politics of protest comes in its wake. In the process of this articulation, discipline, work culture and economic development have fallen by the wayside. A perverse irresponsibility has come to grip the Bengali mindset and this is overlaid by a gloating sense of one’s own cultural superiority. The political parties have pampered such attitudes. But it is salutary to remember that political parties are not outside of society. They are as good or as bad as the social universe they inhabit. There is an urgent need for Bengalis to review their own attitudes and behaviour. But one should not say this too loudly lest there is a protest against the idea of such a review. Self-criticism does not come easily to smug people.

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