Thursday, March 10, 2011

The hammer, the sickle, and the big sister

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the famous visionary freedom fighter of India, and its first education minister, had the uncanny ability to look into the future. He made several predictions about Pakistan's future as a failed state that would move in and out of military rule, and even today, when people look at those predictions, they are in awe of how the Maulana could peer into the future so easily. I remember reading an interview of Maulana Azad about the eastern Indian state of Bengal, in which, he predicted the political future of the Bengalis. And five decades after his death, I am completely awed by the accuracy of his predictions.

The Maulana had predicted that the Bengalis are a fiercely independent culture, and they would never accept an external leadership that was imposed upon them. Many people would have thought him to be wrong, when in the late sixties, ten years after the Maulana's death, the state of West Bengal had a chief minister from the congress party, who more or less obeyed the commands issued from New Delhi.And the erstwhile state of East Bengal, which became East Pakistan, seemed to be generally all right under the rule of West Pakistan. And suddenly, like a tinderbox getting the proverbial spark, these two parts of Bengal exploded.

West Bengal saw a sustained Naxalite movement, and within a decade, the communists threw out the Congress from power, after winning a popular election. The East Bengalis revolted against Pakistan and founded the country of Bangladesh, based on their culture, not their religion. And so, people started agreeing that Bengalis, who gave many tall leaders to India's freedom struggle, could never accept outside leadership. The congress party, with its sycophantic worship of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of coming back to power in Bengal. Ever. And, over the last thirty three years, the Bengalis in India, sustained a love affair with communism, its hammer and its sickle defining how they lived, and died. Over the last few decades, death has more or less come to define the communists, in terms of how they have treated their opponents, business and industry in general. A very prosperous state was literally run aground under their rule, with droves of people leaving the state to pursue opportunities in other places.

And, I am told that all that, is about to change. Since the Bengalis like their own leaders, the congress could not even become a proper second fiddle in the state of West Bengal. And then, from their ranks, rose a woman, Mamata Banerjee, who was too independent to tow the party-line. So, perhaps the best thing she ever did for her political career, was to form an independent political party, with a base in Bengal. And, the Bengalis took notice.

The people of Bengal will go to the polls next month, and around mid-May, it is expected that they will throw out the incumbent government of the communists, after thirty-three years. Anti-incumbency, lack of development and the presence of an alternative Bengali leadership,  supposedly, the three things needed for a change of guard, are all there. Mamata Banerjee, or Didi (Big Sister), as she is popularly known, is busy getting the sparks close to the tinderbox. We have to see if she can really light the fire.

I find the Bengal election very interesting because it represents a long-overdue change of guard, which is essential in any healthy democracy. Whether Ms. Banerjee can provide a competent leadership to the Bengalis, bring the industry back and put the state back on the path of development, remains to be seen. For now, the Bengalis seem to be excited about the impending change of leadership in their state. With their own big sister, ready to take on the might of the hammer, and the sickle.  

No comments:

Post a Comment