Why Modi Was Wrong in Bengal?

By Sunil Garodia via The Indian Republic

Narendra Modi has stirred a hornet’s nest on his last visit to Kolkata. He had made two statements during his speech that have raised shackles. Firstly, he said that the business communities, meaning Marwaris, Gujaratis, Punjabis and those from UP and Bihar are not welcome in the state. Then he commented about one of Mamata’s painting having been bought by the Saradha chit fund scam chief Sudipta Sen for Rs. 1.8 crore. These were misinformed comments and showed him in very poor light. These comments also showed that not having good leaders in the state BJP is a very big drawback for the party, as the real issues on the ground are not being tackled.

Let us take the business community not being welcome in the state remark first. If Modi, or those who advise him, had made enquiries he would have found out that the Marwaris were pioneers of business and manufacturing in the state. The Gujaratis were not far behind. There are scores of Punjabis, both Sikh and Hindus, in the transport, manufacturing and trading domains. All three communities have extensive business interests in the state from colonial days when Bengal was undivided (my forefathers had left Rajasthan centuries ago and had settled in Bardia, 90 km from Dhaka, in what is now Bangladesh and came to Kolkata only in 1950). All the communities have ingratiated themselves with the local population. They have been very socially active and have opened schools, operate hospitals and have dharamshalas, goshalas and other charitable institutions. People from UP and Bihar have their interests in tertiary trades and provide most of the labour force. None of these people have faced any kind of discrimination or abuse ever.

Even during the Naxalite problem in the sixties, it was the moneyed and land-owning class that was the target and it was a coincidence that the above communities fell in that class. But it was not only these communities that were targeted. Rich Bengali businessmen and zamindar, in Kolkata as well as rural areas also faced vandalism and death threats. Then came a period when Bengali chauvinism raised its head in the form of an outfit called Amra Bangali. But it could not muster support from the bhadralok Bengalis and the administration swiftly and sternly dealt with it as a law and order issue. Apart from some elements who grudge the success of the above communities (there are snide remarks about having come to the state with ‘lota and kambal’ and having made fortunes), by and large the Bengalis have accepted them as their own. Social mingling is common and marriages between wards of Bengalis and these communities is also not uncommon, the most famous being that of cricket czar Jagmohan Dalmia who married Chandralekha, daughter of the famous Ghosh family of Pathuriaghata. Business and community leaders have been quick to refute Modi’s statements and have clearly stated that they face no problems in the state.

What Modi could have done was to highlight the general crumbling of the business environment in the state instead of commenting on the communities. Ever since the last decades of the Left rule, West Bengal has been sliding down the ladder in the minds of the business class. The TMC has done nothing to reverse the trend. It was not expected to, as it had hastened the slide by its agitations in Nandigram and Singur. If the business class (and that includes the industrialist Bengali too) is feeling suffocated in Bengal, it is because opportunities for new projects are few and running businesses are losing to competition from other states. This is because of the business unfriendly policies being followed by the Bengal government since the time of the Left. Despite road shows and interactions with industrialists, the present government has not succeeded in reversing the trend.

Those youngsters, who go out of the state to study, look for jobs elsewhere as they sense the lack of opportunity in the state. Despite the opening up of the higher education sector for the private entrepreneur, institutions in the state are the last resort of a student. This speaks poorly of the standards being maintained by these institutions. Further, placements at these institutes are very poor as there are no new jobs in the state for the highly educated. No top grade company comes to hire on Bengal campuses, except in IIM-Joka, which again is a class in itself. These were the facts that needed to be highlighted, but the debate was unnecessarily made communal.

Regarding the paintings, Modi should have known that such amounts are paid only for paintings of famous painters. Even if someone were to buy Mamata’s painting for seeking favours, he would not pay that outrageous amount. Allegations, even in these election times, have to be nearer to the truth or they can boomerang badly. There is a gap between the state BJP, who are advising Modi and his team about the problems in the state, and those who draft his speeches.

About the Author: Journalist and writer. He wishes to visit every nook and corner of India to write that ultimate travelogue.