Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kolkata bourgeoisie betray themselves

The sharp criticism of Jyoti Basu's political legacy by many of Kolkata's bourgeoisie is ill-humoured. It is not that it is discourteous to criticise Basu so soon after his death. Funeral orations are any way not meant to be denunciations. That can only happen at a Stalinist trial. It would have been better if those liberals and rightists who are bitter with the leftists and communists had held back for a while more, for decency's sake. Basu must really be chuckling from wherever he is at the fit of bad temper from fellow-bourgeoisie and he would not even say that they deserve to be dumped -- what the cry babies call betrayal and Kolkata is not much worse off without them.
The notion that Kolkata would have been an IT hub but for Basu's ban on teaching of English in state-run primary schools is slightly far fetched. The bourgeoisie are not the ones to attend state-run primary schools. The lament is a sham.
Kolkata would never have been an IT hub because Bengali bhadralok lost their entrepreneurial panache sometime at the turn of the 20th century. They preened themselves as intellectuals who would not want to stoop to do vulgar things like business. They did not mind being business executives, which required administrative skills and socialising. Thus emerged the boxwallah. IT would have required other skills, including shedding inhibitions of high culture. For 60 years of the 20th century -- assuming that the 1960s and 1970s were lost decades -- there were not many signs of Bengali innovation. The literati were content to be drawing-room radicals, spouting Sartre and Che.
Basu must have realised all this when he fell in with the party line and looked towards rural Bengal and applied himself to land reforms. He knew that the Kolkata bourgeoisie cannot deliver on economic change. Even when he wanted industrialisation in the 1990s, he had to look outward.
In many ways, Bengali intellectuals have a leaning towards rightward and a leftward -- not right -- thinking because of their clouded minds. They need ideological certainties which do not affect their genteel lives. They are the proverbial lotos-eaters. They are the least empirical of people. Yes, somewhat like the French, if that would flatter them.

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