Bengal in turmoil: Is history repeating itself?

Updated: Jun 20

The society is once again in a state of terror and fear. What transpired in Bengal in May-June 2021 was not a small election related conflict, but merely the tip of iceberg.

Chandan Veer & Prof Pavnesh Kumar

Bengal is a 4,000 years old civilization that flourished round the banks of rivers Ganga and Brahmaputra. Geographically it is a rich region with abundant natural resources like hilly rainforest, fertile land, estuaries and coastline. Bengal has always been a commercial and economic hub providing a gateway to Himalayan regions from Bay of Bengal. It was a key connection in the famous Silk Route and it still enjoys this geographical advantage.

This region is and admired for its art, culture, and intellectual traditions. There is a detailed description about Bengal in Mahabharata too. Several dynasties have ruled here like Maurya Dynasty (324 BC - 185 BC), Gauda Empire (590 AD - 626 AD), Malla Dynasty (7th Century), Pala Empire (750 AD - 1200 AD), often termed as “Golden Age” of Bengal. During this age, the art, culture, religion and politics was at its utmost height. Under these rulers people were prosperous, the society flourished, there was law and order, trade was growing and there was all round development.

Then Bengal witnessed the era of invasion, plunder, terror, and cultural degradation - commonly known as the Medieval Period. Several incidents of pillage can be found during this period. The Islamic invasions started around 1200 AD under Khilji Dynasty and the resultant loot, plunder, and genocide continued till 1230 AD. This was carried on by successive invaders like the Mamluk Sultanate (1227 AD- 1281 AD), the Tughlaq Dynasty (1324 AD- 1339 AD), the Suri Empire (1532 AD-1555 AD), who were all primarily looters. During these invasions society, economy, politics, governance, art, culture came under severe crisis. The invaders treated this holy land as a mere source of wealth to be plundered, destroyed, and its people as natives to be terrorised. The society was under grave threat during these invasions and people lived in a state of fear. Invaders brought in evil practices like kidnapping of women and children, killing of male members, mass murder and destruction of temples and educational institutions. Those who tried to revolt were brutally killed along with their family members.

Then came the Mughal Empire with a more long-term ambition and strategy. They were aware of the importance of this land in terms of its cultural richness and economic and commercial perspective. Rather than just looting and plundering the land, they planned a well-established empire that could rule over longer. Their strategy was different, but the goal was the same - leaching the land of its riches, degrading the great culture and civilization that was its core strength, and compelling the people to follow a certain religious belief.

Then, the betrayal by a trusted person provided an easy passage to the British in the Battle of Plassey. The British rule further damaged the region economically, socially and culturally. The importance of Bengal can be well understood from the fact that it was the capital of the country till 1911.

Despite this tumultuous history, Bengal province saw many extraordinary personalities and visionaries who contributed to the Bengal Renaissance like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Rabindranath Tagore, Pandit Ishwar Chand Vidya sagar, JC Bose, Subhash Chandra Bose and others, who established the ideals of progress, reform and cultural rejuvenation.

Following Independence, Bengal faced two partitions - one in 1947 and second in 1971. Administrative inefficiency, lack of foresight, and government ignorance brewed dissatisfaction among people, especially the youth of Bengal. Due to this, the state faced Naxal upsurge at the time of communist government. One can still observe the footprints of Naxal activities in a few regions of Bengal.

Then the Trinamool Congress (TMC) came into picture by overthrowing the communist regime and bringing in seemingly new ideologies, strategies, and approaches. However, people began to realize that the said new ideology was nothing but the old product in a new package. This government too favors a special group of people or community, ignoring more than half of the populace. The government, rather than delivering unbiased governance, actually customizes its approach to serve a specific community providing it privileges, facilities, and protection. All this while the other sections of the society have to pay formal taxes to the government and hidden tax to the local community (colloquially referred to as jaziya) for their survival and safety. These citizens of Bengal are caught in a situation where they must either silently accept the supremacy of one community or face death. The situation today is that an autocratic government, with the support of a few people or a community, is creating a sense of terror, fear and slavery in the region.

It is tragic that the largest democratic country of the world has come to silently accept these practices. In constitutional language, there is a blatant violation of fundamental rights and denial of basic human rights. The society is once again in a state of terror and fear. What transpired in Bengal in May-June 2021 was not a small election related conflict, but merely the tip of iceberg. It is still not too late to respond. The people of Bengal need to fight against partisan politics that attempts to subjugate and silence them. Let’s not forget, this is the Bengal that had shattered even Alexander’s dream to conquer India and forced him to move back.

(Chandan Veer is a Research Scholar and Prof Pawnesh Kumar is Dean of School of Management Sciences in Mahatma Gandhi Central University Motihari.)