There are periods when it seems that history has come to a stop and then there are periods when it seems that it has taken a big leap. Processes which normally should take decades to play out in a particular country or a region will unfold in a couple of years.
Its main victims are unpopular elites, old power structures, systems which are out of synch with common people. New movements born out of massive crisis kicks them out from the seat of power. We are going through such a phase of history. An era is ending before our eyes.
Civilizational clash of the past
Conquest of a society is not complete till they start to hate their own ancestors and their traditional way of life and embraces the culture of their conqueror. For that it is essential to destroy their social institutions, social system and financial independence.
After start of British rule, within fifteen years, one out of three Bengalis died in a massive famine. The notorious famine of 1770 devastated Bengali social system, institutions and traditional way of life. After that famines became a permanent features here which killed thousands of people every year.
Bengal’s famous industries - textile, salt, ship building, handicrafts were destroyed and lakhs of artisans, weavers became unemployed after losing their means of livelihood. Poverty increased. Farmers were forced to take up indigo cultivation over other cash crops and rice.
Indigo cultivators treated farmers as bondage slaves, tortured them severely and paid them pittance, in case many instances didn’t pay them anything at all. Permanent settlement act created a new set of landlords while original ones were discarded. New landlords saw zamindari as a mean to profit and tortured farmers for more revenue. Most of them were trading associates of British so they were loyal to Raj. They stopped funding Chatuspathis, unlike their predecessors they had no loyalty to the Bengali society or any love for traditional institutions.
Already Britishers grabbed land donated to temples, Chatuspathis back in the middle age and now this step forced pandits to close down Chatuspathis. Villagers were already poor, now they faced the threat of illiteracy. Poor housewives tried to stop it from being closed by sending rice, vegetables, money from their household budget but for how long they could continue? Entire rural economy was reeling from the effect of British Raj. Slowly learned men began to migrate out from villages.
However, subjugation didn’t happen as Britishers expected. Revolts began to occur, as soon as Brits would put down one revolt another would crop up somewhere else. Medinipur saw six such revolts between 1766 to 1820. With all their modern weapons and a trained army Brits failed to crush them. Some revolts continued for decades. This is the main reason Britishers never tried to mass recruit men from Bengal for Army and started the propaganda of effeminate, lazy Bengali men (ref – Panchanan Ghosal).
One of the main Anglo priorities were creating a class of natives who will idolize European renaissance, will be impressed with the notion of modernity and enlightenment, hold the same contempt for their own people like Anglos do and work for the interest of the empire.
This effort began to show results and this provoked a fierce response from Bengali society from 1840 onwards. It was an unexpected surprise for Britishers because they thought that they have managed to kill our civilization. Soon Britishers and Bengalis clashed with each other over all areas of social life – language, religion, culture, economy etc which resulted in several movements in those areas which ultimately culminated in freedom struggle.
British arrogance, racial discrimination, bureaucratic despondency and legal inequality was returned back with equal hostility. It was already in existence during late 1850s when Dhiraj a rural poet of Bardhaman mentioned it in his poems during indigo revolt.
By 1870s it was well accepted fact and Bankim Chandra called this racial hatred as an evil but necessary sentiment required for our progress. Bengali counter was based on greatness and superiority of Hindu civilization over European one. This Bharat Chetana, i.e Indian civilizational consciousness was the source of the Hindu nationalism (Jatiyatavad) which gave birth to revolutionary nationalism.
Main theme of the Bengal renaissance was not about social reformers equipped with Western education fighting with an “evil society” which was supposedly steeped in darkness before 1757. This is a western propaganda to show that European conquest brought light to an inferior pre-colonial Bengali society.
Main theme of Bengal renaissance was clash between British and Bengalis and movements resulting out of them causing resurgence in Bengali society and culture. This is a recurring theme in Bengali history seen before in middle age after Mahaprabhu’s emergence and after rise of Pala empire in ancient Bengal.
Tale of two kinds of Bengali Bhadraloks
Throughout the nineteenth century Bengali bhadraloks continued to rise and became the face of Bengali society by early 20th century. However there were two kinds of Bhadraloks. One was anglicized and the other was radical Hindu. Former idolized notion of enlightenment, believed in the superiority of European civilization, preferred London for education and saw British rule as good for Bharat while the latter were fierce nationalist who believed in supremacy of Hindu civilization and saw British rule as a curse upon our civilization.
Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay mocked the former in his writings many times but the criticism of this section goes back to further past, back to 1830-40s.
Radical Hindu bhadralok contributed most in rediscovery of Bengali history and preservation of its heritage, their contribution to Bharat’s history, philosophy and science are unparalleled. They led Indian nationalism, revolutionary nationalism and Swadeshi movement.
Politically former were part of moderates and the latter were part of extremists. This fascination with West present in a marginal section of whole society will continue throughout 20th century. This fascination with West or several of its “ism” culminated in Communism, the totalitarian Western ideology.
The radical Hindu bhadralok elite couldn’t recover from the shock of partition and were dead by the time naxal movement ended. Thus history came to an end, for a time.
Anglicized bhadraloks were tiny in numbers so after coming to power they imposed a party rule over whole Bengali society to continue their rule. Rural Bengali society passed on to party rule from colonial rule. Anglicized bhadraloks didn’t identify themselves as either Bengalis or practicing Hindu rather globalized individuals with extreme affinity for Western “isms”. To make it clear neither all anglicized bhadraloks like Amartya Sen or Kaushik Basu are CPM members nor average CPM workers were Hinduphobes. It is bigger than politics.
CPM tried to do what no one no did after Brits, i.e causing severe damage to Bengali societal framework, its institutions, brainwashing young Bengali Hindus, destroying local industries and killing Hindus en masse when they opposed party rule. Bengali casualties and sufferings in West Bengal because of CPM is no less than Bengali casualties and sufferings in Bangladesh due to Mohammedan violence or Bengali casualties and sufferings in Northeast Bharat due to ethnic chauvinism.
History takes a big leap again
No one really thought that Communists will vanish from Bengal within five years. It seems as if history has woke up and began to compensate for lost years with urgency.
Funny how CPM’s fall from power coincided with 2007-08 recession and years later its disappearance coincided with Covid-19 pandemic. It seems as if events which led to fall in globalization also led to fall of the anglicized elites. All I can hope is that someday someone will publish a book about CPM’s link with foreign powers such as USSR, UK to show how much funding and instructions they received from West. It will clear the air for many folks who can not see the obvious otherwise.
Civilizational clash of the present
In nineteenth century when Bengali and British rivalry was steadily increasing with every decade, a new menace was getting ready and preparing itself for another civilizational confrontation. Bengalis would realize that years later, but it was too late by then.
1947 was an year of geopolitical, economic and psychological shock for Bengali community. Apart from loss of life, property, land, honour of women folk, it divided the community in several states and since then the communication between West Bengal and Bengali community of Assam, Tripura have decreased with each decade.
Probashi Bengali communities settled in other states for two or three generation are losing their identity fast, study and practice of Bengali language and literature are reducing in alarming rate in their home. Many new generation folks even prefer to talk between themselves in Hindi over Bengali. Many new generation folk in metro cities are globalized (read as mentally colonized) and have lost their link with history and collective identity.
Probashi community failed to promote Bengali history, culture, icons, cuisine, issues in their Karma bhumi. Instead of creating a platform to highlight Hindu persecution in Bangladesh, plight of Bengali Hindus in NE, fighting propaganda slurs which depict Bengali women as “easy” and Bengali men as weak, effeminate creatures, build a community network to help young Bengalis abroad, providing young generation with opportunities, they choose to blame WB as the roots of evil and then go to sleep.
Fine, but then what’s their contribution to civilizational cause of Bengali community ?
Answer is zero. When it comes to community sense or tribalism other Hindu communities like Gujarati, Tamil, Assamese are far ahead than us.
This is our periphery which will continue to become weaker in long term.
The Center of Civilizational clash – West Bengal
I’ve written it before that weakening of mainstream parties are most important development that has taken place in WB politics in recent past. This is happening since 2011.
Why is this happening ?
It can be traced back to the weakening of globalization. The anglicized bhadralok elites who replaced radical Hindu bhadralok elite in mainstream politics and culture, have become weak because West has weakened since 2007-08 recession. That weakness has first resulted in CPM becoming irrelevant, then leftist intellectuals losing their shine.
Communists here are showing increasing similarities with left-liberals of West. Woke nonsense, siding with Islamists and showing Hindu hatred. Their umbilical cord being tied with the West is the reason of their downfall. Next it will be the turn of cultural elites.
The same trend can be seen in areas like media, literature, cinema where mainstream views are becoming unpopular with audience. What we depict as the decline or fall of the mainstream Bengali culture is actually the fall of Anglicized elite controlled politics, media, cinema. It will continue to adopt more degenerated ideologies from West and lose popularity, acceptance among Bengali mass.
In future there will be three kinds of clashes in West Bengal. As said before, civilizational identities gain in substance and form in opposition to others. These clashes will shape our society and culture for times to come. Bengali cultural and civilizational identity grew when it fought British colonizers or Muslim invaders to maintain its cultural and religious sovereignty. It stagnated when anglicized elites promoted a form of globalized humanism which abhors conflict.
In nineteenth century Kolkata became the main center of Bengali culture courtesy of new movements arising out of Anglo-Bengali conflict. Unlike last time however this time conflicts will be decentralized in nature. Bengali cultural and civilizational identity will express itself in rural Bengal and mufassil town areas this time.
As said before anything that is tied with West has lost their relevance with a large section of Bengali society. Anglicized elites who knowingly or unknowingly represent West here will continue to promote Western garbage as the mainstream Bengali culture in mainstream media, movies etc. This will be seen as “decay of Bengali culture” by non-Bengalis even though Bengali elites doesn’t represent Bengali mass. With increasing irrelevance of West, present vacuum left by deracinated elite will only grow. The seeds of first conflict is here.
Second type of conflict is primarily economic in nature and it will be a direct fight between main promoter of the globalization, i.e Corporates and farmer/small businessman/artisan etc. Corporates would want to centralize and take over means of production, resources, destroy local artistry/craft traditions and drive out their competitors to establish a monopoly in our economy like East India company did once. We have already discussed what happened after that in earlier part of this post. This conflict will effect and reshape our socio-political structure for sure.
Unlike first two conflicts last one is against a home grown threat. Religious conflicts will only rise from here on backdrop of a bloody history, changing demographics, rising population and economic pressure. Future incidents in neighboring Bangladesh and Assam can effect law and order here like they did once upon a time. Identity politics has filled the vacuum left by internationalists pretty quickly. It must be because of history.
TMC has tried to continue with CPM legacy but it is struggling to maintain party society because it is not a regimented party to begin with. Majority of Hindus consecutively voted against it the last two elections. Socialism can’t be maintained forever and it will become impossible to maintain it in the post-covid economy. That’ll be the end of party society.
Its minority appeasement stunts brought back Hindu identity politics after half a century into mainstream two years ago, this election it has brought back Bengali identity politics. Regardless of election results, effects will be felt for times to come. Last century saw two youth led bloody movements in Bengal which originated from situations like this, I don’t see any room for an exception this time either.
Last time Bengalis fought on all fronts against a very powerful force but this time fight is against different entities. One thing common among them is that all of them does not necessarily owe allegiance to someone based in Bengal but the center of Bengali society is certainly based in Bengal.
There’ll be no Probashi community, there’ll be no refuge for NE based Bengalis if there’s no West Bengal. National security and internal stability of Bharat will be under severe threat if it loses West Bengal. Costs are too high. Imagine 6–8 crore refugees from Bengal and NE flooding Hindi heartland and Odisha.
Global recession and covid are two geopolitical shocks working behind weakening of the globalization. Former has shaped the last decade and latter will shape the second decade. First one kicked left out of power, second one ended them, third geopolitical shock by the end of this decade will end the party society.
Time for history to take another big leap then.
-by Bhriguram Swami (the author can be found on twitter at @From_Himalaya)
(This article was first published on medium.com and has been reproduced here with the author’s permission. Some minor edits have been done to conform to HinduPost style-guide.)
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