Large scale migration of educated class left Bengal as a poor state
Whenever i reach Kolkata i know i have reached ‘home’. The best of my growing years have been in Kolkata. I have enjoyed doing what all young boys and girls in Kolkata do — long ‘adda’ sessions criticising the sins of the capitalist world, savouring Bengali delicacies, phuchkas, jhalmuri and rolls. Bengalis, as a community, have always been forward looking, intelligent and highly emotional. I vividly recollect during my school and college days, the Bengali obsession for excelling in academics. Madhyamik, Uchcha Madhyamik and Joint entrance examinations would put an entire Bengali household in a virtual state of emergency. A Bengali cannot be ordinary — he has to be extraordinary was the maxim.
For nearly three-and-half decades, the Left brought political stability to Bengal, but the dividends of that stability could not be reaped by the government or the state’s industry. Sadly, over the years, Bengal slid into becoming one of the poorest states in the country. Instead of being a catalyst for growth, state and industry, it repelled every major investment opportunity that could have resurrected the pride of this once beautiful state. Jyoti Basu was an exceptional and brilliant politician. He understood how to hold on to power and win elections. Through his land policy reforms he created fragmented land holdings and at the same CITU was used to lease labourers bringing the industrial progress to a halt. This got them the votes but at the cost of progress. The strong ideology of the party could not keep pace with the reforms in the outside world and particularly in India during the nineties. They lost the plot resulting in large scale migration of the educated Bengalis.
The migrated Bengalis settled all over India and took up white collar jobs in MNCs and Government and a lot many went to USA to pursue academics. The academic system was plagued by politics by then and delay in results combined with faulty education system enforced by the state in secondary level left a bad taste leading students to look for greener pastures at the fist opportune time. Needless to state , Bengalis are the most successful in world over in the job that they and all shone once given the opportunity. All of them at the same time hold on to their culture and lament the languish of their state. Probably intelligence is the Achilles heel of the Bengalis. They tend to think too much and are great strategists but poor implementers. They will find fault in the strategy itself and then take a correct philosophical view of life with resultant loss of productivity. Add topical heat with high humidity to it and it makes for a heady mixture of staying off from hard work. Years to being conditioned to a regime of no-growth their aspirations have been blunted.
Anything that to tend to drag beyond a point leads to antagonistic feelings. Large scale unemployment, lack of industrial growth and negative growth of the state led to people bring in Mamta. People wanted a change and Mamta promised poriborton. What happened, unfortunately, is far from encouraging. In the past few years, repeated incidents of gagging the voice of the media and freedom of speech — combined with outbreaks of unrest and political violence — have shocked the public. Out of the blue came the chit fund scam and the alleged nexus between scamsters and the government. The sad truth is Bengal is back to square one, with zero poriborton. What changed the galloping economic engine of the 1960s to a snail’s crawl? Industry needs labour productivity, easy access to land and good infrastructure. In Bengal, landholdings are highly fragmented and state policy is not conducive to obtaining contiguous land.
Though strikes, red flags and agitations have been a way of life, things have improved. However, labour productivity is still a serious issue. Industry and Bengal have become antithetical. Philips, Shaw Wallace, ICI and Brooke Bond moved out long ago. Haldia Petrochemicals — once Bengal’s showcase project — is limping, with issues between the state government and the promoters having remained unresolved. There is hardly any progress on JSW’s Salboni project. Emami and Shrachi are contemplating moving outside the state. Multinationals like Linde have moved, leaving ITC, CESC, Exide and a few others as the only large companies reminiscent of ‘industry’ in Bengal. With the exit of the Tatas from Singur, Bengal seems to have signed its investment death warrant. Tata’s factories could have been Bengal’s ‘aha moment’, but that was not to be.
Industry is in desperate need of oxygen in Bengal. Bengal’s politicians need an idea that will change the existing paradigm. Perhaps the answer lies in Bengal repositioning itself as the creative and intellectual capital of the country. The Bengali mind is highly suited for advertising, films, academics, music and IT. Can Bengal’s policies work in tandem to create an education hub like Manipal or a well-connected, contemporary IT environment like Bangalore or an advertising hub like Madison Avenue? It is high time the land of legends — Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen — reinvents itself as the California of India where creativity and entrepreneurship flourish.