By Manju Gupta
Bengal'sNight Without End by Udayan Namboodiri, India First Foundation; 515 pp; Price Rs 500.00
Written by a journalist who grew up in Bengal and worked for 13 years with leading Indian media houses before moving to Delhi in 1998, this book is the outcome of his return to his home state six years later. He rightly points out that in journalism, we tend to overlook prominent misdemeanours or frauds and scams taking place in our own backyards but go searching for scoops that are world-shattering without realising that the country-centred, state-centred, district-centred and neighbourhood-centred events are no less important.
To his consternation, the author is unable to fathom how the CPI(M) and its patrons in the Left Front coalition never failed to win a single round of elections to the Indian Parliament or the institutions of Panchayati Raj. For him, it was the most humbling experience to come face to face with the realisation that 80 million people in his own country are deprived of democracy and that too ?for the time-span of a generation.? Despite seeing the crimes of Indian communism manifested through countless murders and electoral manipulations, he was surprised at himself that could not see a ?national? story in them.?
The author talks about the murders in the Sain bari where a whole family of brothers (who were Congress supporters) was wiped out by the CPI(M) (?They killed the boys in front of their mother and then literally gave her a bath with their blood?). The conspiracy of the state-sponsored terror against other victims where the people were sufferers because the dramatic reduction in the size of their holdings, coupled with unreasonable extraction of 75 per cent from the much-reduced incomes of the landowners, led to inevitable strain in the relationship between the landowner and the share-cropper. Simultaneous with land grab, the Krishak Sabha promoted extortion in the name of bargardars? dues. These conflicts became especially acute for the small landowners like the Singha Roys of Jagannathpur in Jangipur, Hooghly. Because the yield was low, the party-backed bargardars began to be less and less willing to part with even the 25 per cent due to the landowner. He adds, ?But Bengal is a strange democracy where the collective morality has been undermined by fear?the fear of life, the fear of losing a son or a husband against which the only insurance is collusion with the terrible system.? He calls the CPI(M) a ?superb, well-oiled machine? which indulges in, ?rigging, booth capturing, intimidation of voters, gun-totting thugs telling election officials to clear out of the polling centre. That this phenomenon should even exist in a democracy is bad enough. Any other civilised nation would either have stopped calling itself a democracy at the first sign of these vices creeping into the system, or, taken drastic steps to ensure that they never happened again.?
The author also describes the period of the early 1900s when winds of Islamic fundamentalism began to sweep Bengal'scountryside. It was called the madrasa movement. Muslim seminaries began to mushroom in rural Murshidabad, Malda, Dinajpur, wherever there were Muslims in large numbers. ?Its impetus came from the same ideological underpinnings as the Taliban in Afghanistan. Flush with funds of dubious origin, these became centres for imparting parallel education based on Islamic tenets and guaranteed to condemn generations of poor Bengali Muslims into medievalism. This was the effect of a sustained campaign, backed by oodles of petro-dollars to promote the orthodox way of life among India'sMuslims.?
The author laments that because of this development, the Baul singers, who were Muslims with the Hindu way of life, made music that was banned by Islam. They had to leave their abodes under the pain of death. What was worse was that, as the author says, ?the CPI(M), the master of Bengal, just looked on.?
The author narrates that the malaise afflicting the country is that the ?81 per cent Hindu majority of India does not vote as a homogenous block. In fact, Hindus are most unreliable of customers for the peddlers of democracy. They have no identifiable loyalty?, whereas the Muslims can be ?won over into predictability?. He adds, ?The Indian commitment is not only downright hypocritical. He also has the ability to twist socialism to suit his pecuniary objectives. A living symbol of this tyranny before generations of Bengalis is their ?favourite? Chief Minister, Jyoti Basu.? The author is justified in saying this when one reads further of how valuable land in Salt Lake was given to undeserving people from the CM'squota.
Tracing the destruction wrought by CPI(M) since 1977 till Jyoti Basu'smyopic pursuit of CPI(M) aggrandisement resulting in Bengal missing the bus to development are too many to recall here. The author further states, ?The state's(West Bengal) natural advantages have been frittered away, its head start over most other provinces, thanks to the excellent infrastructure bequeathed by the British, simply rotted.?
Even the media in Bengal has been critical of Marxist rule. ?For the past 28 years, the Marxist government has kept the people of Bengal under their thumb by perpetrating terror and deception. There is no official estimate as to how many thousands have been killed by CPI(M) cadre and their hired goons,? said Rajya Rajiniti. Even the author voices his concern at the grave situation: ?The question, therefore, is no longer whether West Bengal'sproblems are spilling over on to the national centrestage. The question is not whether India should save the civil society of Bengal so that its collapse does not send tectonic shocks all over the country;? the question at the end of 2005 and at beginning of 2006, is what should India do, where every person who does not collude, either actively or passively, to perpetuate a pernicious system, that relies on violence, intimidation and election manipulation for self-preservation.?
(India First Foundation, G-3 Dhawandeep Building, 6 Jantar Mantar Road, New Delhi-110001.)