Uttar Pradesh as a Model for West Bengal:
A Hypothetical Question

Bhaskar Majumder

Often in India’s political economic discourse some states are projected for emulation by others like Kerala as a model of literary or education or Punjab as a model of an enterprising forward-moving state or Gujarat as a model in capital accumulation. There are some troubled states like Chhattisgarh and some peaceful states like Arunachal Pradesh. Many of the states in India as a federation of states and Union Territories are larger that many of the politically sovereign countries in the world by geography and demography. The states also continue to get shape and reshape like a single state of Assam becoming ‘’seven sisters’’ or Uttarakhand curved out from Uttar Pradesh (UP) or some newly formed states like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and Telengana in the same country called India. Some of the states by area and size of population are several times that of other states in India. Many of the large states in India are actually arrangement of many budding states. Both annexation and division continued since the point of independence-cum-partition in 1947. All these are known facts.

The problem is not in consolidation or separation. The problem comes when one model, if the model exists, is thought to be emulated by others. The question is hypothetical but may emerge any time as a ground reality for the polity is active to give the country a single shape for the state requires homogenization notwithstanding the pledge of protecting cultural pluralism. We need to understand the parameters or indicators that may suit all to be homogenized for smooth functioning by the state (read, Government at the Centre).

Some such parameters that come to the minds of the economists are gross state domestic product (GSDP), state per capita income, state financial system, labour force, migration etc. Inter-state comparison based on these cardinal parameters is available for both state administrators and economists within the frontier of the administration and beyond. I am not touching on this cardinality and making the analysis simpler by posing the psycho-cultural indicators to examine how far, if at all, one may be the replica of the other.

In spite of ‘’The Agony of West Bengal” and “Calcutta Diary”, the civil society in West Bengal (WB) even today boast of the past that it had that was actually past of the pre-partition or undivided Bengal. Of course, political division could hardly lessen that pride that got reflected in the works of Vidyasagar-Vevekanda-Rabindranath-Netaji-Nazrul and several others. The pride continued post-independence for Jagadish Chandra Bose-Meghnadh Saha-Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy. I abstain from mentioning those luminaries alive now representing India on world fora. The omission of names of visionaries is because of short span of this article with due respect to all of them.

Undivided Bengal could compare favourably with UP of present by area and size of population that would have made the comparison easier to decide who would replicate whom. But tensed partition of the past makes that difficult. If size of population and area as indicators thus are left out, what remain are really the cultural pedestal on and around which the psychology gets shape. Some of the proud Bengali in the academia even today stick to the idea what was thought decades back that the rest of India would follow the path that Bengal followed in the immediate past without realizing that the whole political-cultural map changed a lot not only for the culture-determinant WB but more so for the rest of India consolidated ideas that differ sharply from that of WB. This cultural differential is unbridgeable now. Let me spell out some of such differences between UP and WB below:

Poverty: While economic poverty has encompassed each, poverty of philosophy has taken diagonally opposite directions. It will be premature to opine that it is competitive degeneration for one section even within the degenerated phase remains vibrant to express what is in the interest of human values. If economic poverty is ridiculed, each one is to be ridiculed. To my understanding, society in WB was never chasing money and never projected their identity as accumulators. UP is a difficult proposition on this point for its silence and for its inner-regional sharp differences.

Civil Society: A metropolitan city like Calcutta/Kolkata could generate a vibrant civil society by public discourse, inter-linked educational institutions, open-door global scholars that none of the cities in UP could do. The fact remained that UP could/did not generate any metropolitan city though it had/has six million-plus populated cities so far.

Education: Undivided Bengal, and post-partition WB, has a history of Renaissance with informal teachers like Chaitanya, Ramakrishna along with world acknowledged teachers many of whose names come as obituary for the rest of India’s readers through Economic & Political Weekly. UP seems to be far behind on this qualitative indicator – the teachers as man-making knowledge-embodied persons.

Public Visibility: Whether one walks on public roads in WB or one enters into anybody’s house, one will not miss the statues of Vidyasagar-Vevekanda-Rabindranath-Netaji-Nazrul-Jagadish Chandra Bose-Meghnadh Saha-Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy-... on public roads and calendars on many of them on the walls of residential houses. Even community clubs install statues of some of them to remind the budding generations the past of WB. While moving on the public roads in UP most of them are absent other than a few statues of Subhas Bose that stands parallel to statues of saints of immemorial past like Rishi Bharadwaj, Rishi Kashyap etc. Of course, the comparison is not by immediate past and remote past.

Immediate Past: Politically it was tense for WB since the mid-1960s for radicalism, imposition of President’s Rule frequently and so on. The agony was enhanced for food scarcity of late 1960s, flood of late 1970s and so on. UP being the heart of India probably did not face such agony. It is a broader question if such agony was self-generated for impatience for change for better or was exported from outside. The point remained that the people of WB suffered on elastic time.

In the light of the above, WB may fail to emulating UP. The political economic degeneration of WB of the past few decades cannot be an adequate basis to equate it with UP, or any state in the rest of India. Rather, it should be provided space to regain its lost pride for both WB and rest of India. For someone has to show the path to the rest of India. Also, if UP could not do it in the past, let it do now. WB will then be bracketed in the rest of India to follow UP.                

Bhaskar Majumder, Professor of Economics, G. B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad – 211019

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Jul 12, 2019


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