By Sunanda Ranjan:
Mamata Banerjee’s election in Bengal, after toppling over a stagnant Left government, was greeted with a lot of hope. Her promise of positive change fueled her election campaign. However, I am sure more people voted for her because of their frustration with the CPM than for any particular virtue of her own.
Nevertheless, the day she was elected the whole country experienced a wave of optimism and collectively hailed the verdict as a victory and vindication of our Democracy. I personally expected she would do a lot for the state to ensure her stay in power, swept with the initial high of her landmark victory.
My friend from West Bengal once told me how Mamata Banerjee, soon after she took on the reins of the Railway Ministry, changed the names of all the local metro stations (as the Calcutta Metro comes under the aegis of the Union Railway Ministry) to that of famous Bengali personalities, who had done the heartland proud. So now if you have to travel to Tollygunge, you need to buy a ticket to the Mahanayak Uttam Kumar Station instead! I found it hilarious!
Imagine wanting to travel to Najafgarh in Delhi, but having to buy a ticket to “Virender Sehwag” instead. How utterly confusing it could be to a tourist, or someone who has just started using public transport!
However, I spent the eve of the election verdict trying to inject some optimism into my friends from Bengal to take the outcome with a pinch of salt. Maybe, it wouldn’t be that bad an idea after all. Who knows, the political rivalry might actually spell a boon for the state. Obviously, being an outsider it was difficult for me to infer that their cynicism wasn’t completely unfounded.
Mamata Banerjee’s latest move to include six more languages to the official list which currently stands at two — Bengali and English — served to curb my enthusiasm for her to quite an extent.
West Bengal is one of the states that most revel in their heterogeneity. Even though Bengalis are known to be culturally sound to the extent of being riled for it at times, we never hear of any xenophobia perpetuating on its soil. People from all walks and classes settle there and become a part of the society without their “difference” ever being held against them.
In my visit to the state, I found the people very warm and accommodating. And honestly, I am not trying to glorify the citizens of the state — the scenario there is exactly how it should be in a land as culturally diverse as ours, and a society founded on the quintessential expression of universal brotherhood — “Vasudhaiv Kutumbukam”. But they are unique in that our country is not alien to cultural insecurity manifesting itself in a violent and un-inclusive kind of xenophobia, which leads to immigrants being looked upon with suspicion and aversion.
However, the point of having culturally and linguistically exclusive states is to help have a safe haven for a particular tradition, where it can prosper, and be fostered – not to alienate the non-natives, but to have a place where one can truly enjoy and witness the vibrant diversity of India, and get a chance to learn about different cultures.
In this kind of a situation, for Banerjee to add more official languages, clearly in a bid for mass appeasement, she is compromising on West Bengal’s exclusivity. I remember as my train entered Bengal from Orissa, I was able to tell the exact moment the border was crossed because of the changed script on the Railway signage, as the slightly Dravidian formation of Oriya gave way to the sleeker Bengali. It was a special moment for me, as someone who had always wanted to visit the place.
I wonder if all the boards start displaying the name of the place in eight different languages, or even two or three of them, and if every state follows suit, will we ever be able to experience such moments again?
The borders drawn between our states, though often the cause of much political dispute, ought to be a factor of pride instead. That within kilometers, we are able to witness such rich diversity, as we pass through the expanse of our large country is quite exclusively an Indian phenomenon.
It is not a bad thing to want to preserve one’s uniqueness, as long as it does not trespass the frontiers of peaceful co-existence.
I doubt if Mamata Banerjee’s move will please many — it is one thing to want to please your electorate; it’s absolutely another to make unnecessary compromises to appease people, in the absence of any real agenda for actual development.
I hope for dear life this is not the ‘poribortan’ Banerjee promised.