Saturday, May 21, 2011

CAN BENGAL'S DURGA BECOME LAKSHMI?

Long after it became history elsewhere, communism has fallen in its last bastion. “Hindu” West Bengal has, at long, long last, freed itself of another foreign yoke, one that it had enthusiastically embraced three decades after India had freed itself of a colonial one, and one it had all but surrendered to. It had to take Bengal’s own Ma Durga to appear in flesh and blood to slay this alien Mahishasur who had not only terrorised ordinary Bengalis for the better part of three decades but had also ensured that the state fell back along all parameters of development to become one of the poorest, though still intellectually pretentious, states of India.

Shorn of sophisticated and sometimes unintelligible jargon, there is much in common between communism and ‘Ladenism’. Both promise utopia but in practice deliver hell. Across the world, communism went horribly wrong, as it had to, because of the explosive marriage of an uncompromising ideology with the absolute power of the ruling dictatorship. As a result, it morphed into an almost fanatical religion, with a revealed text whose interpreters dictated the rigid path to be followed, without deviation, to reach the promised materialistic paradise – minus the sex -- on earth itself. To achieve their objective, communist ‘jihadis,’ as it were, destroyed or took control of all independent sources of power, such as the church, the professions, private businesses, schools, and, of course, the family. Non-believers were simply eliminated in cold blood. The net result was a hell that had to fail. Had the elusive heaven been promised in the unseen world beyond, communism would almost certainly have been alive and killing today.

It is worth digressing a little more to put in perspective some of the horrors that communism unleashed in its run of almost nine decades in different parts of the world before it collapsed, in most cases dramatically and in a few, particularly China, almost imperceptibly. According to some estimates, communists murdered close to 110,000,000 people, several times more than the 38,000,000 killed in wars fought in the 20th Century. The Soviet Union heads the list of communist mass murderers, apparently killing nearly 61,000,000 people. Stalin himself was responsible for almost 43,000,000 of these. Most of the deaths, perhaps around 39,000,000, were due to forced labor in gulag. Communist China, which during Mao’s Cultural Revolution alone saw over 10,000,000 murdered, is the second on the list. By far, the most deadly of all was the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia who killed some 2,000,000 people between April 1975 and December 1978, out of a population of just around 7,000,000.

The communist heaven-turned-hell may not have manifested in all its ugliness in West Bengal, but that is only because it had to remain subservient to democracy as it was unable to extend its rule over the whole of India. But, despite this fundamental and, for India, fortunate limitation, wherever and whenever it could, it did show its ugly, dangerous, intolerant fangs. It is no secret that had it not been for the passive acceptance of brutal intimidation by the cadres and scientific rigging by them during elections, communists would not have been able to rule the state for 34 years. In fact had Mamata Banerjee not appeared in the ferocious Warrior-Goddess mode that she did to fight them relentlessly for 15 long years, docile Bengalis who, in my view, have a fundamental weakness in their collective psyche, would have continued to suffer while their “intellectual” gas bags would have kept producing tons of copy-pasted garbage divorced from them and their painful reality.

That is one reason why not only are leading communist ideologues not contrite about what they have done to their people and their land, but are actually confident of making a come back five years down the line, un-chastened, unchanged. Much like some of us who, no matter what happens, trust Pakistan more than we do our some of our own, they remain detached from reality and continue to repose faith in a dead ideology that has caused unprecedented human suffering almost wherever it has been in command. Their cockiness may not be entirely misplaced.

After taking over as Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee walked to her office in Writer’s Building along with thousands of ordinary men and women, powerfully symbolising the return of power to the people in the real sense of the word. A supporter even held a placard saying that this was West Bengal’s second freedom, the first being in 1947. Dramatic scenes and scary expectations of a people for long oppressed and effectively voiceless, democracy notwithstanding.

Mamata now faces an even bigger battle than the one she has fought long and hard to emerge victorious. She is untested yet as an administrator and as a leader in power. Her record thus far, coupled with her dalliance with the Maoists and fundamentalists, not only does not inspire confidence but gives rise to serious misgivings. If she fails to deliver something substantial, sustainable and tactile, Bengalis may, without as much as a murmur, fall prey to rogues again. So much they seem to have been broken in spirit. I wonder whether she realises that the victory she has achieved is not ordinary, that the heavy weights of history and expectations rest on her frail but tough shoulders. If she can carry them and emerge triumphant, Bengalis will have something real to cheer about and be proud of after a long time.

Can she make the transition that Winston Churchill failed to? Can she win the war of peace and prosperity that she has to fight now? Can she visibly demonstrate to the people of Bengal that she has indeed saved them from the deathly clutches of Mahishasur? Can Bengal’s Durga become Lakshmi?
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