Those who grew in Kolkata during better part of 70s would remember the ricocheting sound of hundreds of voices marching on the streets chanting with clenched fists that kicked the air above.
These happened nearly daily, sometimes twice or thrice a day, as the voices chorused:
Markin sambrajyabad nipat jak
Tata Birla, dur hoto.
Roughly translated, that meant:
Down with American imperialism,
Tata Birla, go away.
Four decades later, the American ‘imperialism’ has changed very little even as the Tatas and the Birlas have had no reason to not prosper in the country. To their clan in fact, in the time gone by, join more illustrious names like the Ambanis, the Dhoots, and others.
Back then, the left parties with their growing numbers believed in what Gokhale once said, ‘What Bengal thinks today…India thinks tomorrow’. They wreaked havoc on the state.
In 1976 when the CPM-led left front came to power, they started implementing the practice of letting ‘thousands flowers bloom’.
The land reform saw big landowners’ properties distributed among millions of sharecroppers, each holding a small parcel just enough to eke out living. Some years down the line, those small parcels of lands found new claimants as each holder’s family expanded.
The land reform was not an act in isolation. In tandem with it started the drive to shoo away industries, medium and big, through dharnas, gheraos, and even downright threats.
The message was loud and clear:
Anything big is not welcome in Bengal unless your big is shared with us without even a murmur. It doesn’t matter whether we contribute to your big. What matters is we have unequivocal share of your big. If you don’t agree, take your big away.
As the state hurtled towards newer depths with each passing year, the ‘smallness’ took firmer roots and grew rapidly.
For proof look no further than the lakhs of autos clogging the streets, innumerable private buses from everywhere to everywhere, countless hawkers crowding every railway station, every artery, and of course millions of intermediaries and touts in all perceivable domains who ‘kichhu kore khachhe’.
In the process the state’s once prized industries flew, investments dried up, and following suit the talent too took the wings.
After a long, long time when the rulers ultimately are now seeking to arrest the downward slide, they find to their dismay that the word ‘big’ has long become an anathema for the people they so lovingly ruled for 3 decades.
‘Nothing big for us’, the ruled say, ‘we’re happy with what we have, dui mutho bhath aar matha gojar thain…that’s all we want.’
For good measure they add, ‘Don’t clamor for big. Big is dangerous.’
So, there we are. The people of Bengal are engulfed in a sea of smallness. The opposition’s attempt to stall the Singur car factory is an unmistakable sign of returning to the ominous roots of 70s. The circle of the state’s destiny thus completes.
There is no missing here the famous saying almost a century back by Rabindranath:
Sat koti sontanere he bongo janani
Rekhechho bangali kore manush koroni.
Today, on the occasion of yet another black spot getting etched on Bengal’s tryst with destiny, one can easily say that the great Bengali renaissance in the late 19th century was rather an aberration, a blip, a chance happening, than the result of harboring tenacity, farsightedness, talent and worship to grow big.