During the Late Vedic period, we notice several mentions of five eastern kingdoms of the then Indian Subcontinent, which include Angas (eastern Bihar, Jharkhand and northern part of present West Bengal), Vangas or Bangas (southern West Bengal and present Bangladesh), Kalingas (present coastal Odisha), Pundras (northern Bangladesh and part of West Bengal), and Suhmas (north western Bangladesh and part of West Bengal). It was also contended all these five kingdoms had shared a common ancestor.
Also in Mahabharata it was mentioned that Kings of Kalinga and Banga along with Paundraka Vasudeva, the king of Pundra attented the famous Swayamvara (Self Choice of bridegroom ceremony) of Panchala princess Draupadi. And who can forget unsung hero great warrior Karna, who was the designated king of Angas.
The Banga Kingdom was an ancient seafaring “Thalassocracy”, which was situated in the wide part of present region of Bengal and Bangladesh. The boundary of the kingdom was naturally formed by the Padma and Bhagirathi rivers in the West, North and East respectively; while the South was bounded by the Bay of Bengal.
Throughout its history, whether ancient, medieval or modern, Bengal was known as not only commercially resourceful but also a centre for economic growth and prosperity. During ancient time it was a commercial hub and the entry port of famous Silk Trading Route. During Gupta rule, the Bengal economy was part of a global trade network. And much later British rulers choose to make their bastion in Bengal, as they wanted primarily to consolidate the economic strength first, before taking over the sovereign.
(Overnight the measuring scale of the trader became the Regalia of the Ruler: Rabindranath Tagore)
The Bengal Renaissance
Continued economic prosperity attracted several streams of humanity to come, settled and merge to create a unique race called Bengalis. Prosperity invites culture. The riverine, fertile region gradually became a place of culture and learning. Thus a superlative time for Bengal arrived. Starting from seventeenth century, the famous Bengal Renaissance happened – which historically valued even higher than European Renaissances. Huge plethora of super talented people and visionaries were born on this soil of Bengal to enrich, enlighten and influence the entire Indian sub-continent, if not the entire world at large. It was decidedly the blessed land of knowledge and progress.
The Bengal Renaissance started with Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1772, if we keep Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu out of this golden era, and lasted till the untimely demise of Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee in 1953. This was the saga of glory and achievements of human history for nearly 200 years which attributed to all spheres of our society: social reform & religion, literature, science, education, art, music and politics. To name a few of the stalwarts: Ramkrishna Paramhansa, Vivekananda, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, Keshab Chandra Sen, Sri Arobindo, Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chaterjee, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Lalan Fakir, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Prafulla Chandra Roy, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Meghnad Saha, Satyendra Nath Bose, Nandalal Bose, Abanindranath Thakur, Jamini Roy, Woomesh Chunder Bonnerjee, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, C R Das, and many others.
Brilliant minds in every spheres of human endeavor had made Bengal a “place with a difference”. Very few similar conglomerations of super talented people have ever been chronicled in the history of mankind - keeping in mind even the account of European Renaissances. This unending supply chain of super talented people had a blinding effect not only on the history of Bengal or India but also on the future course of entire humanity.
Like in Europe, the decadence in Bengal that followed was rapid and swift. In an international symposium held two years ago, a reputed scholar quipped to me that the Almighty had given so much during 200 years that now the supply chain has got exhausted. Only mediocrity has been left to fill up the void.
So in the light of the law of circular motion, every good time has its end – and sometimes a bitter end as perceived by famous writer Charles Dickens. His introductory statement in his classic “A Tale of Two Cities” says: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. …
Thus for Bengal glorious times were followed by “worst of times”. One after another tragic events were waiting in the fate of Bengal – now West Bengal – since last 75 years. I have chronicled four major curses which have been instrumental towards the present state of decadence of West Bengal.
The first curse: The 1st curse was religious divide in un-divided Bengal caused by Congress, Muslim League with active support of British rulers. In the 1st provincial election held in 1937 under Government of India Act 1935, people of Bengal didn’t return any single party with majority – it was a hung assembly. The single largest party Congress should have formed the government with the help from another secular party Krishak Praja Party. But for some hidden and dubious reasons, Congress pushed Krishak Praja Party to the lap of Muslim League to form a communal government – breaking the hundreds of year’s tradition of secular and nationalist Bengal. Once Muslim League got the taste of power in Bengal, they started the demand of separate country and asked for entire Bengal as East Pakistan. The evil design of Congress-Muslim League to create East Pakistan out of entire Bengal along with parts of Assam was resisted vigorously by Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. To overcome the resistance and to force British rulers to agree on creation of Pakistan, Muslim League opted for the worst possible course of action: rioting. In 1946 they called for “Direct Action Day” which resulted in Great Calcutta Killings, and subsequently Noakhali massacre. Even after partition the inhuman despondency for Hindus of either side of Bengal continued unabated. The final nail on the coffin was Nehru-Liaquat pact in 1950, where fate of Hindus in East Pakistan was left to the mercy of Muslim League butchers. Thus the first curse was the breaking down the morale of Hindus through violence and killings in the name of “Two Nation Theory”. Riots won.
The second curse: Almost simultaneously with the first curse, the blow of the second curse commenced: Partition of Bengal - the irreparable wound. The partition of Bengal was based on religious divide. When Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee could look through the evil design of Congress–Muslim League to gift entire Bengal to Jinnah, he demanded separate areas out of Bengal so that Hindus of Bengal also get a Home Land. Thus the Hindus and other secular people of Bengal were provided their only homeland in the world, courtesy Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee. But the partition made a permanent impact on the socio- economic process of West Bengal. Partition has also precipitated the quandary of infiltration in West Bengal and associated demographic imbalance in border districts. This again resulted in dichotomies of democracy like vote bank politics and appeasement politics. The unending chain of diabolical, religion based politics took control of the fate of West Bengal. Although the place was curved out for a home land of Hindu Bengalis, ultimately Hindus became marginalized due to vote bank politics. Thus the second curse of West Bengal was Partition – not merely the partition of land, but also partition of people, belief, thought process, history, culture, politics and future.
The third curse: The harsh fate of partition was soon followed by parochial proliferation of communist dogmatism in West Bengal. The uprooted Bengali intelligentsia from East Pakistan had travelled to new abode of West Bengal as Refugees. The mood was obviously anti-Congress, as Congress was the main culprit behind the dreadful partition. Gradually this poor and middle class Bengali intelligentsia took asylum in the unrealistic dream of Communistic revolution. Rapidly the rule of mediocrity has replaced the concept of excellence and West Bengal has become the land of pseudo socialists. It’s a matter of interesting area of social research that how a land, which was the abode of nationalistic movements of India, switched over its character to so called “Internationalism” through the influence of the imported ideology of communism. After the fateful independence, within a small span of two decades the birthplace of nationalism has given rise to the birthplace of communism – with majority of the communist leaders & mentors being the displaced people from the erstwhile East Pakistan. There is no gainsaying in the fact that the “Rise and Fall” of an empire is but a natural process. It happened with Greece, Rome, Florence and several colonial powers. However, in the case of Bengal, once the decadence set in, avoidable cultural vandalism followed. And it still continues. New generation communists have denigrated the teachings and values of Vivekananda, Rabindranath, Rammohan, Aurobindo…. and started a new cult of worshipping Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro and Che Guevara like foreign personalities. Bengalis lost the track of the past and never knew about the course of the future. Thus the third curse of West Bengal was destruction of own identity and infiltration of communism in the realm of faith.
The fourth curse: From that continuation, the blow of fourth curse was in form of political choice of people. It became one of the States where a tradition of anti-Center, anti-Indian political psyche was introduced by the Left parties. As a result major part of the post independence period, more than 40 years, saw ruling party of the State at loggerheads with the ruling party at Center. Barring initial decades after independence, Center-State commonality of ruling parties was a rarity. Rather Centre–State confrontations due to deep political differences made the development process an un-oiled machine. Mutual allegations and confrontations were the rule of the day, than sustained road map of progress. Center-State synergy is a farfetched idea for West Bengal. Common people suffered due to their own choice. After 34 years of Left rule people turned to Trinamool Congress, again a regional party with confrontationist dogmas against Center. Thus the fourth curse “diabolical choice of people’s representatives” is nothing but a sign of degeneration of value system of Bengalis.
In addition to four major curses, West Bengal also became the fiefdom of violent politics. Despite having high spirited revolutionary movement during the freedom struggle, Bengal was always an abode of peace and spiritual discourse. Philosophy of Chaitanya, Ramkrishna Paramhansa, Vivekananda, Rabindranath co-existed with that of Netaji or Surjya Sen – in the classic example of “Joto Math – Toto Path”. But during the last half a century of communist penetration and hegemony, politics has embroiled with violence so much that social nomenclature has accepted violence as natural ally of politics. During the last five years of promised “Paribartan” of Ms. Mamata Banerjee, violence has been made itself to be institutionalized in all the social parameters, let alone politics. It’s another tragedy continues to haunt Bengal.
The only silver lining out of such impenetrable dark cloud is that a political party established by the last Mohicans of the Bengal Renaissances, namely Dr. Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, has ultimately made its sure footed dent on the political realm of West Bengal. Now the time has come to reverse the cycle of fate of Bengal – so that a New Bengal emerges along with dream of New India of PM Narendra Modi Ji.