Behind the bust
Ideas for a Better Bengal
What is meant by a ‘Bet
ter Bengal’? Why is a ‘Better
Bengal’ necessary? What will make a Better Bengal if it comes about, what will it be like? These questions need to be dealt with before one proceeds with giving, or accepting, ideas for a Better Bengal. Ideas make, or mar, a nation; if pre-war Germany had not embraced Nazism as its political philosophy, the wrath of other European States, the USA and the USSR could not have destroyed it. The western world has prospered more than the orient by pursuing better ideas. Most people, residing in, or visiting, West Bengal moans the state of affairs around them and want it to improve. Bengalis visiting Gujarat, Tamilnadu and Maharashtra lament their own State's comparative backwardness; people visiting it from other States, or abroad, also rue West Bengal's regress over the years. In short, they pine for a 'Better Bengal', or Better Paschim Banga, as the State will be known in English too, when the Union government accepts an all-party recommendation.
Bengal has been a distinct territory for 3000 years in recorded history; it was once the home of some Dravidian, Tibetan-Burmese and Austro-Asiatic tribes. The word Bangla might have derived from a Dravidian tribe, Bang, which settled in the region around 1000 AD, or from the ancient kingdom of Vanga. Its early history is obscure, but it was certainly a part of the Mauryan Empire under Ashoka in the third century BC. It was a prosperous region before the East India Company and the Crown began exploiting and exporting its wealth to Britain from 1757 and 1857, respectively. Britain weakened it further, when it quit on 15th August 1947, after doing a second Partition (the first was from 1905 to 1911), dividing it into two provinces under India and Pakistan. Dr B C Roy, the independent state's second Chief Minister, took it ahead of other States, despite constraints, particularly in industrialization, but after his death on 1st July 1962, it went downhill in major indices to become one of the backward states, particularly from June 1977, when it went under a 34-year continuous Communist rule. The truncated state passed through a series of political upheavals and change of regimes in the last six decades that left bitter memories in the people's collective conscious and unconscious. These cannot be erased, but political perceptions of the people can change following new discoveries and interpretations, say about the 1947 Partition or Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's death, or disappearance, on or after 18th September 1945 from Formosa. Like rice boiling in a pot, they share fairly common perceptions.
At heart, Bengalis generally feel superior to other Indian races. Is this superiority complex justified? Do they have any traits which others lack? Culturally, they may be superior to other races for having truly rich traditions in literature, music, cinema and theatre, but they are not so in politics, economy and social unity. In honesty, integrity and dedication to a cause, or an ideal, the Western races are a cut above the Indian. For example, no European or American nation indulges in as much fraud and dishonesty in the use of public money and assets. These days, wherever public funds flow, their honest utilization is rare. Former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi used to say that of every rupee, sanctioned by the Union government for any welfare scheme, only 10 paise reached the target people, 90 paise were spent on administrative expenses and swindled on the way. This has not changed since his death on 21st May 1991. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Central and State Vigilance Commissions often unearth scams of various nature and dimension. Craving for ill-gotten money is rampant, unfortunately more among the educated and the well-off than among the illiterate and the poor. How often taxi and auto drivers and rickshaw-pullers return money and valuables, left by passengers, through police stations to their owners! No Indian race is immune from corruption; despite cultural pride, Bengalis are no exception.
NO ROLE MODEL
Bengalis, as a whole, never had any role model for their state. The two communist parties—the CPI and the CPI(M) owe allegiance to China and Russia respectively and look upon them for guidance. Another faction, the CPI(ML) active in early 1970s, raised a blatant slogan, "China's Chairman is our Chairman". The Bengali race, as a whole, never embraced a foreign ideology in politics or other spheres. From 1690, when the British trader, Job Charnock arrived in Sutanuti, people living on the banks of the Bhagirathi came in contact with traders, officials and Christian missionaries of four European races—the British, the French, the Dutch and the Portuguese. From 1757, they came in contact with the East India Company merchants and from 1857 directly with the British Raj through education, judiciary, English literature and culture. A generation, called 'Young Bengal' that grew up mainly in Kolkata and elsewhere, as a result of this contact, questioned Hindu traditions, values and practices and aped the British; some even embraced Christianity and indulged in liquor and Western food. They came under the influence of a short-lived young Kolkata-born Anglo-Indian poet and teacher of Hindu College, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio between 1826 and 1831. Some of his brilliant students Lal Behari Dey, Krishna Mohan Banerji, Dakshinaranjan Mukherji, Radhanath Sikdar, Pyarichand Mitra, Rasik Krishna Mallik, Ramtanu Lahiri, Amritalal Mitra and a businessman, Ramgopal Ghosh condemned superstitious and irrational Hindu beliefs. The impetus came from an urge to counter the growing attraction of Bengalis to Brahmoism, founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy through his Brahma Sabha set up in 1828, that preached monotheism departing from Hindu idolatry and orthodoxy. Derozio made them think freely and question orthodox Hindu customs and conventions in the spirit of Judaic-Christian rationalism. To this 'Young Bengal' generation, for a few years, Britain might have been a role model, but it was confined to a handful. Bengalis, as a whole, were untouched by the 'Young Bengal' movement. France also had a passing influence on the Bengali intelligentsia when its officials annexed, and set up a post in Chandernagore in 1673 with a charter from the Mughal governor, Shaista Khan.
The present Chief Minister vows to make Kolkata London-like and north Bengal akin to Switzerland, but has not publicly envisaged any model for the state she is ruling from 20th May 2011. Ideas for a Better Bengal therefore, are not for making it like any foreign country, but for transforming it to a better territory. The dominance of Western civilisation following globalisation of economy and culture did not spare West Bengal even under long Marxist rule up to 19 May 2011, but its uniqueness should be preserved and promoted. It will be a sad day if and when Western civilisation, impacting India from the late 17th century, swamps and buries this uniqueness. The seeds of great ideas are embedded in its soil; in congenial ambience, they may germinate again and usher in another Renaissance.
Ideas for a 'Better Bengal' are crucial for improving its politics with which the people are obsessed; being chameleon-like; it changes hues too often. It is also contentious; except Kerala and Tripura, no other Indian state has been more riven by it. In 3½ decades of an unbroken communist rule, Bengali society has been vertically split between its supporters and opponents. The wedge went so deep that during the Left regime, there have been a whopping 55619 political killings in the state in inter-party strifes. In 1947, rivals to the Indian National Congress which led the freedom struggle were the Communist Party of India, launched in 1921, Jana Sangha, Muslim League, the Socialist Party and its two factions- the PSP and the RSP, All India Forward Bloc, the Ganatanta Parishad, floated by big landlords and the Radical Party, founded by M N Roy. Up to 1967, the INC's relation with the CPI and its 1964-off shoot, the CPI(M) was not as bitter as afterwards. They targeted the Trinamul Congress (TMC) from 1997, when the chief of the INC's youth wing, Mamata Banerjee broke away and launched it. In 20 years of unbroken Congress rule from 1947, grassroots workers of political parties were not much in conflict. From 1967, when a mixed communist alliance first seized power as United Front, it spawned cadres and party activists down to villages to keep other party workers at bay and force people to support, and vote for, the Left parties. Predictably, this led to violent strife with workers and supporters of other parties and to rig all kinds of polls to win by trickery and force.
What could be new ideas for improving this kind of contentious politics of West Bengal? India has 52 recognised political parties-six national and 46 State or regional; West Bengal has 11 of them. Some of these are splinter groups of parent parties-the SUCI, the RSP, Bangla Congress (gone extinct) and the TMC. Common people rue the Election Commission's recognition of so many parties that makes their electoral choices difficult and the society strife-torn. If like-minded parties merge seamlessly, leaving not more than 2-3 parties in the fray, the electorate's choices of legislators and representatives in Panchayets will be easy. This is, of course, easier said than done. The communist parties and factions that formed two united and seven left Fronts can merge, but how will the INC's factions merge with the BJP, SP, and SUCI? In a healthy cohesive society, grassroots party workers will not be necessary; no other democratic country has them in such strength. They often hinder a local scheme, lest it should swing votes for the party, implementing it. Electoral choices should be left to the conscience of the people; if parties do good work, or render help to the needy, irrespective of being in or out of power, people will vote for their candidates; no threat or coercion will be necessary. Workers of major parties in the countryside give sundry help to villagers to keep them on their sides, if the Panchayets and block administrations come forward, this would be unnecessary.
India's electoral system is, by and large, the same as British, if a candidate gets only one vote more than his nearest rival, he is elected as the 'first-past-the-post'; the defeated, representing remaining electors bite the dust. A more equitable method is 'proportional representation', as obtains in France, under which the choices of the supporters of the defeated candidates will also be reflected in the Houses. Suppose, in a poll, a party or an alliance gets 51% of cast votes, another 39% and a third 10%, the party that gets 51% will, of course, form the government, occupying 51% of total seats in the House, but why not let the two other parties, or alliances, occupy 39% and 10% of the seats in the House, even though their candidates lost in the polls? Even if the legislators of the latter unite in a House vote, they cannot rout the ruling party. An 'indirect election' can make a government and House more representative. Instead of electing local party nominees in Panchayet polls, let people elect their favourites, irrespective of their party loyalties, who can then ally with parties and elect members of three-tier Panchayets who in turn can elect members of the Assemblies and the Lok Sabha in proportion to the strength of the parties they belong to. At present, party nominees for the Panchayets, municipalities and legislative houses are not really people's representatives; they are merely party nominees whom the parties want to be elected; there is really no freedom of choice for electors. This, of course, will require a wholesale rewriting of the Indian Constitution.
As technology transforms the society, radically and makes it more efficient and sophisticated, people's representatives will have to acquire more knowledge to understand and apply it. Every job requires skill, why should politicians' be exceptions? There should be post-poll education for legislators to equip them with the knowledge for intelligent debate and passing laws in the Houses. Standards of education, at least graduation, and experience in local self-government should also be prescribed for those who want to represent people politically.
IMPROVING THE ECONOMY
The next sector, requiring rejuvenation by new ideas, is the economy. The present regime, led by Mamata Banerjee, is burdened with an inherited internal debt of 2.04 lakh crore rupees, equivalent to 4-0 million US dollars, on which the annual interest comes to a whopping Rs 26,000 crore. The regime already took two trenches of market loans on high interest, to keep the government afloat, as the Reserve Bank is refusing to grant any special loan, or a moratorium on payment of interests on past loans. She says, 94% of the revenue goes for making statutory monthly payments of wages, pension, and subsidies to losing public undertakings, the state is left with only 6% for spending on development. Unless the Centre grants it a 'special package', the State will sink further into the abyss of bankruptcy, like Greece. Eight other States are in heavy internal debt too, incurred from the RBI and the market (through bonds etc)—Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Karnataka, Kerala and Bihar- but burdened with the highest revenue deficit, West Bengal ranks third. The state's gross domestic product (SGPP) was pegged at Rs 4.43 lakh crore in FY 2011-2012, but its debt was Rs 2.04 lakh crore which is 51.9% of the SGDP. Unless this burden is eased, the State's economy will not return to an even keel and permit major development. No state economy can be insulated, these days, from global and national surges. To put it back on the rails, West Bengal has to collect more revenue from existing and new sources, make balance of trade more favourable by stepping up exports, generate more wealth from innovative schemes and projects and spend judiciously. The new regime is not doing the last. Kolkata Municipal Corporation spent nearly Rs 27 crore to add 18 meters apart, 15263 CFL trident garden-lamps, each costing about 18 thousand rupees, on both sides of major city streets, despite power and fund shortages; TMC-run municipalities elsewhere in the rest of the state are following suit. Extravaganzas like painting state buildings, parks, walls, poles and tree-trunks blue-white does not behove a bankrupt government. A wage-freeze of employees may not be possible, but losing state units can be made to pull up socks, cut losses and profit, if they do not want to close down, if the Centre does not bail out West Bengal from this debt trap, it will certainly sink into the abyss of bankruptcy.
BETTER FORMAL EDUCATION
The next sector requiring a burst of new ideas is formal education, i.e., the education that one receives from schools, colleges, universities and institutes. It was bungled in the Left regime by excessive party control of the management, appointments of teachers and non-teachers, and too many and too frequent experiments in the syllabi and evaluation of answer scripts. Pre-independence India's institutional education, as developed by the British until 1947, produced many talents in every field, who did well in the wide world. In 65 years since Independence, reforms in education were carried out at the behest of politicians and commissions, headed by men of lesser calibre. Much of it occurred in the pre-graduation and graduation years pre-university, 11th class, higher secondary etc. The content of formal education albeit needed a fresh look in free India, but the way the syllabi, academic years, examination systems etc were changed, ultimately betrayed the students. In the Left regime, English was abolished from primary classes; the study of Sanskrit from the eighth class was made optional on the insane plea that it was a 'dead language', Tagore's primer for Santiniketan, Sahaj Path, in vogue in the Congress regimes, was withdrawn to make way for inferior State-sponsored primers for children. Deferring teaching and learning of English alphabets to the fifth class was a fatal blow, as it made a whole generation of students unfit, after passing from schools, for pursuing higher education through English medium and deprived them of their legitimate career and job prospects outside the state. The new Education Minister promises to de-politicise education, but in reality, local TMC control of the students' unions is alias of politicisation. Midday meals, introduced at the behest of Prof Amartya Sen, opening of Sarbha Siksha schools for drop-outs and the elderly and the diktat for- not failing any student up to 8th class may have widened the ambit of formal education, but has also diluted it. Prof Sen amazes at the high number of students going for graduate and post-graduate courses in a country with 26% illiteracy (as against 88% in 1947), but this is due to lowering of standards. Globalisation of formal education requires pegging standards at an international level to attract foreign students to Indian institutions and to enable home students go abroad. Maximum job opportunities should open for the young after they pass secondary examinations, as in the USA and European countries, so that only the eligible go for higher education. Sarbha Shiksha is a waste of public money, as it achieves little and much of the sanctioned funds are swindled by administrators. So many universities are not needed; before 1947, Calcutta and Dacca Universities catered to the whole of undivided Bengal efficiently; more universities mean dilution of standards and award of cheap degrees that developed countries do not recognise.
Agriculture is another sector that requires a booster dose of new ideas. A couplet, attributed to Kautilya of Arthashastra runs, "Lakshmi, the (Hindu) goddess of wealth, resides in commerce; agriculture fetches half of it and its half accrues to employees of the king; begging yields nothing". With some three-fourths of the state's total work force being engaged in agriculture, West Bengal's farming did improve during the 'Green Revolution' from the mid-1960s, but as arable land shrank following state acquisition, rampant conversion for other uses, and farm labour taking to other jobs, production dwindled over the years. High-yielding seeds did raise production, but owing to lack of uniform irrigation and rainfall, the Revolution needs a recharge, if Ms Banerjee mellows to permit Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail trade in crops and vegetables, farmers will get better prices for their produces and the wastage for lack of storage and transportation facilities will be reduced. Agriculture should be made profitable by mechanisation and higher inputs so that young people, aspiring for white-collar jobs, are drawn to it. Arid plains and deforested areas in three western districts should be made cultivable to increase cultivable areas. New acquisition law should totally spare farm land and if it is unavoidable for strictly public purposes, like widening or building highways or airports, it should be minimal. Agro-industries, say, for production of cattle fodder, manure, rice-bran oil, of brown rice etc should get priority in government's move for industrialisation so that farm labour could be gainfully employed in them in off-seasons. The Union Agriculture Ministry has planned a second 'Green Revolution' in the eastern states, but it is yet to take off visibly in West Bengal. In it too, farm land is reducing in the aftermath of fast urbanisation; with fall in crop prices, rising costs of inputs, withdrawal of government subsidies, vagaries of monsoons and lack of storage and fast transportation to big markets, farmers no longer deem agriculture a profitable earning. A series of suicides of farmers in Burdwan district, mid-last year, was caused by farm losses. The government should find markets abroad for export of surplus grains and vegetables; the African continent, for example, can be a profitable destination.
Health care deteriorated, in successive Left regimes owing to wrong policies, causing a rampant growth of private hospitals and nursing homes which few of the poor can afford. It has also been commercialised by unscrupulous doctors and health cartels. Meagre indoor and outdoor facilities of State hospitals, nearly everywhere, are overcrowded and their infrastructures are far below standard and adequate. The rich and the prospering middle class can afford best of private treatment in cities and towns; it is the poor and under-privileged that have to be focused in State health care. As primary health centres are often far away from their habitats, medical wings could be added to village panchayets for ordinary ailments, which could refer critical cases to primary and higher hospitals. Infrastructures, like roads, children's schools and electricity should be ensured around village health centres so that urban doctors do not object to going there with families. Serving rural health centres for some years should be made mandatory for every doctor- new or experienced. Anchal Panchayets can have dispensaries of other systems too—like Ayurved, Homeopathy and Unani—to cater to people who prefer them to allopathic.
WANTED A NEW KOLKATA
Ideas for a Better Bengal have to be different from those for a Better Kolkata, because it is wholly urban, spread on 185 sq. km and with over 4.5 million people, residing within. With that in its suburbs, the city's population is well above 14 million, making it the third most populous city in India, if floating population of six million is added, i.e., those who come to and go out of the city, every day, it will exceed 20 million. The metropolitan area is spread over 1,886.67 sq km under three municipal corporations, 39 local municipalities and 24 panchayet samitis. Suburban Kolkata comprises parts of five districts- North and South 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly and Nadia. Pollution is very high in the city; air pollution causes respiratory ailments, such as asthma, bronchitis and lung cancer. The density of population in the metropolitan area is 24000 in a sq km as against 1029 in the state and 382 in India. The city is expanding and Greater Kolkata now stretches roughly from Kalyani in the north to Baruipur in the south and from Dhapa in the east to Uluberia (in Howrah) in the west. Outsiders and visitors have a Kolkata phobia; it is menacing with its overcrowded and mostly outmoded public transport, garbage beside streets, poor hygiene and streets encroached by thousands of pavement hawkers and dwellers. This 322-year old city, made known to the West by Job Cbarnock has not received much facelift since it was founded as a trading post in 1690.
To ease the pressure of population on civic amenities, a new Kolkata has to be built, gradually; twin cities for a capital is not new for India; Hyderabad and Secunderabad in Andhra Pradesh, Mumbai and Navi-Mumbai in Maha-rashtra are successful examples. Kolkata emerged as a commercial city under the East India Company from 1757; government and corporate houses proliferated in the last three centuries to dilute this ambience. It is time to build another city to shift these in order to give them ample space and a cleaner look. This is possible in the eastern part of the city, as extension on three other sides is impossible; south and north are choked with dingy suburbs that form the Greater Kolkata; along the west flows the river Hooghly. It could be built on the sprawling New Town area, where a lot of land is still vacant, if only rail and bus terminuses are built there, a new Kolkata can be born, if a new rail-line is laid from Dum Dum to the heart of New Town and government and corporate houses are gradually shifted there, a new Kolkata, funds permitting, can come up in 50 years. The universities, colleges and schools could remain in old Kolkata, as it will be too costly to relocate them in the new. Do solid wastes piled up along the sides of arterial roads that rot in the rains, befit the city that the new regime wants to be London-like? Hawkers' stalls could be shifted to multistorey buildings, let out to owners on rent, to clear pavements. In 2005, there were 275 thousand hawkers in Kolkata, who made business worth Rs 8,772 crore (around 2 billion US dollars); in seven years thereafter, there are more of them now. They can certainly pay a little to the government to shift their wares in rented shops in a housing complex and spare the pavements and the roads. All tram-lines could be re-laid in Salt Lake City, where people could board cars to travel small distances, leisurely. Much of the floating population that every day visits the city for work in government or corporate offices, could be diverted to New Kolkata and ease pressure on the old city. Promoters should be welcome as long as they abide by laws and do not make excessive profit; after all, it is they who are changing the profile of cities and towns in India.
IDEAS FOR OTHER SECTORS
Irrigation, waterways and electricity need new ideas too to be better. The British had dug seven canals—some to protect the city from Marathi raiders—Circular Canal, New Cut Canal, Lake Channel, Eastern Canal, Tolly's Nullah, Keorapukur and Kestopur Canals. They flow through, and around, the city for about 160 kilometres for drainage and carrying the sewage to the Hooghly and other rivers and to the Bay of Bengal. Most of these canals have, over time, gathered silt and have ceased to be navigable and serve other purposes. These can be resuscitated with their banks beautified with boulevards, and inter-connected by a circular canal. This will boost internal trade and waterway transportation of goods, apart from being a storm drainage network. Before 1947, they used to bring rice from Barisal (now in Bangladesh), tea from Assam and wood from the jungles of Sunderbans to the markets of Kolkata. Salt, finished products and kerosene oil were similarly transported from Kolkata to the eastern districts. Although Kolkata has changed vastly since then, Adam Smith's advice in his ‘Wealth of Nations’ (1776) could still be heeded.
"In Bengal, the Ganges and several other great rivers form a great number of navigable canals in the same manner as the Nile does in Egypt... It is remarkable that neither the ancient Egyptians, nor the Indians, nor the Chinese, encouraged foreign commerce, but seem to have derived their great opulence from this inland navigation."
Big tanks in rural Bengal that zeminders had excavated to provide drinking water have silted; if they are reclaimed, they can be useful to local people for bathing animals, pisciculture, for lift irrigation and swimming by children. Waterway ferrying of goods and merchandise is slow, but cheaper and causes less pollution. Electricity is in short supply; petrol, diesel and LPG are getting costlier. In rural Bengal, people should be dissuaded from use of LPG, because it is in short supply and costly; they should be advised to return to burning coal, fuel wood, straw and cow-dung cakes. Nuclear power plants could be built in offshore islands of Bay of Bengal and populist resistance to them has to be overcome. Industrialisation will need more power; it could be sold to them at a higher than domestic rates.
Are there any ideas for industrialisation? The Left regimes destroyed West Bengal's primacy during the Congress regime, led by Dr B C Roy until 1962; over 50 thousand factories etc. closed in 34 years of the Left rule, most of them in the 1980s following militant trade unionism. The seventh Front Chief Minister tried to resuscitate the sector, but his errors in land acquisition in Singur and Nandigram not only backfired but hastened the fall of the regime in 2011. Although promises are abounding, Investment is still tardy in the new regime and progress is very slow. Not only more domestic and foreign investments are needed and new kind of industries called for, industrial pollution has to be curbed. A survey says, West Bengal's 16442 factories cause India's maximum air pollution, followed by Maharashtra's 12114 and Tamilnadu's 11650 in Tamil Nadu. Among new kinds of industries, agro- and food-processing industries should receive priority, if retail trade is permitted, how many thousands of tonnes of fruits like mango, pineapple, guava, apples, pears, and oranges could be sold, and processed for, abroad! If the land acquisition for industries is made hassle-free and trade unionism is reined, West Bengal can retrieve its lost position before 1960s. Some 55000 units closed, or went out in the Left regime; some of them can be restarted on attractive terms; the land occupied by others could vest in the State for other or same uses by a piece of legislation. Offer of foreign and Indian investments have been received, says the State Industries Minister, but nothing is seen on the ground. The union government is said to be shy on accepting foreign investments which are impatient of waiting and diverting their money to Indonesia and other ASEAN destinations. West Bengal could respond to their offers to strengthen its industrial base. Without a faster industrialisation, it will be impossible to create many white-collar jobs for which there is a long queue.
Although as a saying goes, "God made the country, man made the town", there is no godliness left in the countryside. It is losing its serenity and villagers pine for urban life. Taken too far, it can imperil agriculture, fishery and food security. In spite of India's great sons-Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Vinoba Bhabe- warning against this trend, people are increasingly moving out of villages and backward states to make a living in Kolkata and suburbs. This way, the urban-rural divide will diminish and disappear, some day, and villages will lose their pristine beauty to industrialisation. All over the world, when landmass shrinks, cities grow vertically. Urban life is more comfortable, because education, jobs, trade and health care are more assured. This trend cannot be reversed, just as an experiment with Tagore's and Gandhi's village-centric economy is no longer viable in this era of globalisation. What is needed in building and rebuilding towns and cities is the application of new Western technologies in creating, or upgrading, sundry infrastructures of roads, sewage, sewerage, generation and distribution of energy, telecom and pipe-borne LPG and sanitary hardware. Master-plans should be prepared for every urban agglomeration, with an eye to at least next 50 years. 'A Better Bengal' will be an oasis, if other states do not catch up with it. As it is, it has miles to go to catch up with already developed States like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamilnadu and Punjab. Many of the ideas for bettering it could be relevant to other backward States too, but not at the expense of their uniqueness which needs to be preserved and protected from the steamroller of Western civilisation. Over all, there has to be a new vision for West Bengal as well as for the rest of India, which her great sons like Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru envisaged in the last century, but it has to be adapted to this time and beyond.
In welfare States, progress means development of material resources, of infrastructures and availability of water, energy, roads, transport, education, health care etc. No politician promises development of mental and spiritual resources, of improving the character of people, of inculcating more honesty, integrity and truthfulness; or condemns religious bigotry, fanaticism and weird practices of honour killings, female foeticide, persecution of women suspected of witchcraft, because the state is secular. Formal education that used to instil these virtues through text books before 1947, no longer does it. Teachers preach them to children by word of mouth, or use of cane, but being oral their advice may not abide long. No politician urges people or the bureaucracy to utilise public money honestly, not to swindle it through false vouchers, or indulge in other kinds of corruption; if he did, he would be a laughing stock, because few politicians are above board in these respects.
How can people be mentally and spiritually better in a Better Bengal? Newspapers, sold for two to four rupees a day, cover the arts, science and commerce, but the poor cannot afford them. Battery-run radio and TV sets that do the same, audiovisually, are more affordable. The Kolkata-based TV channels are thoroughly urban and apart from news, do little rural coverage. Serials and soap operas are woven around the demeaning themes of the urban milieu. In West Bengal good books and magazines abound, but with price rise, they reach the well-off among the educated. How can the State improve the mind and spirit of the illiterate? They can only be reached through audio and video media; the State should force TV channels to programme for, and by, the rural people to reflect their lives and problems. Lessons learnt in childhood last long; the state should circulate text books for children with contents on manners, hygiene, character, ethics and morality, if only they could be taught to speak the truth in all circumstances and to seek it throughout life in their favourite spheres, it would be doing a lot. By practising this single virtue, they could avoid falling into vices. Only by this, Rabindranath Tagore's prayer to God to awaken his countrymen in a land, "Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high" could be fulfilled.
Vol. 45, No. 14 - 17, Oct 14 - Nov 10 2012
Your Comment if any