Demolition of Bengal's pride
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- Published 15.07.10
Would Karl Marx have survived in Promode Dasgupta’s Bengal? Possibly not.
Even his worst critics concede that Marx was, first and last, an intellectual — in the purist sense of the term. And, the most faithful of PDG’s followers know he was nothing if not a virulent anti-intellectual.
As the CPM gloats over his role in ushering in the long reign of the Left Front in Bengal, PDG’s birth centenary could be just the right time to look back on one man’s single-handed demolition of many traditions that once made Bengal proud.
Education held the pride of place among those traditions. PDG chose education as the starting point of his demolition job.
Those who knew him personally would recall his almost pathological hatred of the educated class.
And, the worst among the educated, to him, were those with western, elitist education. It seemed he considered such people worse class enemies than unadulterated capitalists.
But then, history tells us that anti-intellectualism is not confined to Left sectarians; some of the notorious Rightist political groups and regimes have also been rabidly anti-intellectual.
More than anything else, PDG’s anti-intellectualism seemed to have been rooted in the split of the Communist Party of India.
It was a reaction against the era when the CPI was dominated by highly educated men like P.C. Joshi.
Some, however, think that two things merged to make the CPM — and its leaders like PDG — so unabashedly anti-education.
First, the CPI was the “educated” of the two communist parties after the split — the joke was, “when the communists split, the brain went with the CPI and the brawn with the CPM”.
Second — and politically more important — the CPI was an ally of the Congress and thus a “collaborator” in the eyes of the then rabidly anti-Congress CPM.
One of the CPM’s most popular barbs of the time in Bengal was a limerick: “Dilli theke elo gai, sange bachhur CPI (From Delhi comes a cow, carrying its calf CPI) — an allusion to the then Congress election symbol showing a cow and a calf. The CPI joined the Left Front only before the Assembly polls in 1982.
In 1982, Dasgupta died in Beijing. But by then, he had built a party in his own image — a party that struck strong roots in Bengal, thanks to the first flush of land reforms and the panchayat polls but that also set about breaking down all systems and turning every institution into a tool of the party.
The collapse of the Congress at the national level helped strengthen the Left in Bengal since the late Sixties, but the party that Dasgupta built was putting its own systems in place at every level of Bengal’s social and political life. So much so that his departure from the scene didn’t really change anything for either the CPM or Bengal.
Jyoti Basu, never exactly an admirer of Dasgupta, would be the chief minister for another 18 years. But, typical of communist regimes everywhere, it was the party that ran the government. The apparatchiki in Alimuddin Street made no secret of the fact that the government, the ministers and the elected representatives of the people would do what the unelected party czars asked them to do or not do.
After 1982, it was for the “PDG boys”, as the emerging new team of young party leaders was known, to take over his mantle. All of them, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Biman Bose included, were cast in PDG’s mould.
But the man who would inherit his power and style and carry on his demolition job, especially in education, was Anil Biswas. Biswas completed what Dasgupta had begun — he used education not only for distributing patronage but also as a tool for party-building.
He was still many years from becoming the party secretary but the party cadre knew that he was the man behind the two ageing and ineffectual party bosses, Saroj Mukherjee and Sailen Dasgupta, who filled the gap between PDG and Biswas.
Between Dasgupta and Biswas, Bengal became a byword for a place where things could only go down — in education, industry, employment and all other things that once gave the state a head-start over other regions of India.
In every field, it was the party and its frontal organisations that ran the show. The legacy lives on to this day — despite Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s brief encounter with reformism, the CPM’s opposition to the privatisation of Calcutta airport, liberalisation of vital sectors like insurance and banking and its sleight of hand over autonomy to Presidency College (now University) are proof of the Dasgupta-bred antipathy towards “elitism” in education as much as in the overall economy.
Bengal may have been declining but the party kept on winning elections. That, however, had much to do with the state of the Congress, both in Bengal and at the national level.
What seems rather strange about PDG’s Bengal is why and how Bengalis, whose pride in educational excellence often borders on the snobbish and the parochial, accepted the leadership of a party that was so openly anti-educated class. Part of the answer surely lies in the political context of the sixties, particularly the impact of the partition of Bengal, but it also raises questions about the Bengalis’ attitude to politics and intellectualism.
Dasgupta may have had his political reasons for hating the educated. But why did the Bengalis fall for the dream of a revolution that had the uneducated as its vanguard?