Every community is a full-fledged brand and the Bengali is no exception, although he confessedly considers himself to be one. In the 20th century and beyond, we have demonstrated every possible facet of non-conformance whether proudly productive or direly damaging. Which does lead to the enchanting possibility of being a rebel brand, with penumbral shades of Che Guevara in every beloved constitution.
In fact this latest corona crisis highlighted this streak in a rather notorious fashion, as is plainly apparent to every sightseer. The Chief Minister was fluently arguing with the Governor, the central teams were targeted like unfriendly snipers and comorbidity was blatantly manipulated as a statistical ally. In this case the attempt was to disorient the central efforts and highlight the local, in other cases the purpose may vary but there has to be a foe in clear line of sight. A foe with suitably vindictive and ideally parochial armoury, belittling native worth in the limelight that is rightfully ours, as a natural legacy of many Nobel laureates.
While others may differ, I do think that genesis of this conspiracy narrative belongs to 1911, the year the capital shifted to New Delhi. The reasons were patently geopolitical but the transition from Viceroy House to Government House was taken with a pinch of venom. It gained voluptuous momentum post the enigmatic disappearance of Netaji, plotted by the triple entente of Nehru, Attlee and Stalin. Even the Mukherjee Commission’s tantalising reportage was apparently hushed up and the matter of the ashes was not yet laid to dust. From then, the passionate Bengali gradually turned chronic rebel, the choice of weapon alternately the armchair, the vocal chord, the mighty sword of the mightier pen.
So this saga continued over the decades of independent India, finding ebullient expressions at every juncture. The talented cricketers who were not favoured for India selection and consequentially the next CK Nayudu being nipped in the bud. The plethora of international airlines who bit the Dum Dum bullet, shifting routes to the undeserving Palam or desolate Meenabakkam. The limited chances given to locals in competitive examinations, in spite of such exceptional Oslo-certified genetics. The major national brands that made Calcutta their final port of call, most notably the Taj Group of Hotels and fashion outlets. The flight of the corporates, disregarding the historical verdicts of the East India Company.
While truthfully, every such occurrence was intensely logical and suitably redeemed when the needy momentum was adequately established. Sourav Ganguly demonstrated world-class commitment to become a champion, Calcutta is the most profitable sector for Indigo Airlines, malls and restaurants are flourishing and innovative entrepreneurs are earning fame and money. All of the above in spite of no special attention of New Delhi, simply the evolving market dynamics and changing attitudes of folks. All of the above in spite of debilitating same side goals over the decades, none more famous than the Tata Nano debacle and a regressive work culture at the grassroots.
This perception of conspiracy extends faithfully to the social media platforms, as demonstrated recently by the cyclonic indignations. Many well-heeled successful fellows sincerely believed that the national media was behaving like the PMO, bypassing the devastation for the triviality of the coronavirus. Truth or not is a different debate but the spontaneous appearance of this victimisation narrative was most enlightening, as nothing seems to have changed. Media channels operate on TRP motivators and Mumbai is a more profitable subject than Calcutta, unconnected to the intensity of the calamity. It did not quite matter that the PM made an aerial survey or that the public distribution systems are more politicised than organised. And that truthfully, the problems of the state are created by those living in the state, not the devious outsider.
So, it is indeed time for Brand Bengali to channelise the rebellion streak to the right cause, instead of being a mindless loose cannon chasing fictitious enemies. An inspiration may well be the Indian captain’s open shirt exposition at Lords, a lot more liberating than an open shirt dharna at the Esplanade. I work closely with young entrepreneurs who demonstrate this intuitive spark in the most challenging business conversations, instead of fruitless adda. Our public spaces are more accomplished than most in India, as are our popular culture endeavours. Each time we apply this innate non-conformance in a progressive fashion, the results are spectacular but not sufficiently amplified. The barrier most truthfully is the quality of leadership, far more interested in embracing the petty past than the funky future.
On leadership though, politics is beyond our control and I so wish that Ganguly becomes captain of Team Bengal as well. On other fronts, we must highlight the progressive success stories and there are so many, including the exceptionally impressive nextgen Marwaris who are driving the innovation agenda. As mentioned earlier, Bengali techpreneurs are ably ambitious and supremely motivated, all they seek are the anchors of growth. The diaspora must act responsibly, by not fuelling the disruptive narratives over single malt in Cuffe Parade, but sharing a slice of their journeys. I hate to say this but there seems to be a sadistic urge amongst those who left to let the disarray continue, perhaps as continuing justification of their flight patterns.
The Bengali must thus channelise rebellion for growth instead of self-destruction, as is the current narrative. Netaji is dead, the centre is not biased, cricket is a fair game, Calcutta has gorgeous flyovers and industry has resurfaced from the dead. It is time to say goodbye to primitive politics and say hello to gregarious growth.
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