There are two communities with startling similarities. Both are excitable and inflammable, known for their fondness for fish, rice and raucous debates. They claim to worship the arts and see themselves as culturally superior to others and politically aware with a strong sense of social justice. Their pantheons are populated with great reformers, spiritual and cultural icons.
Press the pause button. It’s the Malayali and Bengali daydreaming. One, while passing a glitzy Dubai mall turns nostalgic about a Kathakali performance seen in the village temple courtyard. Another smiles reminiscently, while ambling past the Jorasanko Thakurbari in Calcutta or at the sudden memory of the music shop on Chitpur Road where Yehudi Menuhin got his violin repaired in 1952. These are dream particles of greatness lost, allowing the participants to temporarily forget that home is where political murderers and cultural Nazis rule.
Last week in Bengal, Trinamool Congress MP Tapas Pal threatened to shoot CPI(M) men. “I will destroy his entire clan... I will make their family pay dearly. I will ask my boys to go there. They will rape them,” was the erudite star’s public warning. Congress MLA Abdullakutty, a lapsed Communist, revealed that CPI(M) state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, in a closed-door meet, asked members to adopt the Bengal Model of Murder. “We should learn (how to kill adversaries) from Bengalis. They do it without shedding a drop of blood. They (rivals) are kidnapped and buried in deep pits with a sack of salt. The world will not (even) know about the blood, picture (of the victim) or news,” Vijayan purportedly said.
Forgiveness is meant to be the flip side of penitence. After Pal was censured, an unrepentant Mamata Banerjee asked, “Should I kill him?” It wasn’t surprising that she should consider reprimands in terms of killing. The latter has been the political solution of Bengal and Kerala for decades. From 1968 to 1971, there were 1,771 political murders in Bengal. Around 200 died in police firings. In the next five years, Siddhartha Shankar Ray used students’ unions to murder hundreds of Communists and Naxalites—between 1970 and 1972, around 600 CPI(M) activists and 320 Naxalites were murdered in jail. Since 1978, in the violence that erupted after Marxists murdered an RSS activist in Kannur, around 300 people have been killed. An RTI inquiry reported 56 political murders between January 1997 and March 2008 in Kannur. Crime statistics show Kerala has the highest crime rate of 455.8 per lakh people, over twice the national rate. India’s crime capital is not Lucknow or Etawah, it is Kochi. Even the rape rate in Kerala is almost one and a half times that of the national rate.
In 2012, 30,942 rape cases were recorded in West Bengal. Shocking, because it goes against the historical perception of Bengal as the land of Raja Ram Mohun Roy who was responsible for banning Sati and ensuring inheritance of property rights of women. In 1978, when two women officers investigating embezzlement were raped by CPI(M) goons, CM Jyoti Basu philosophised, “Such incidents do happen, don’t they?” In the decades that spanned Communist rule in Bengal from 1997 to 2009, government statistics record 55,408 political killings—1,787 a year, 149 a month and five a day. In every four hours and 50 minutes, one political murder was happening.
Pal and Mamata are not expected of Bengal; Vivekananda and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose are. Alongside Satyajit Ray, Nirad Chaudhuri, Jagdish Bose, Bankim Chandra, Aparna Sen and Mrinal Sen. Just like Kerala is expected to house Ezhuthassan, Kunjan Nambiar, Ulloor and Sree Narayana Swamy; and not the likes of CPI(M) leader MM Mani, who publicly admitted, “Yes, we have killed the enemies of CPM. We have shot, stabbed and beaten them to death. A hit-list of party enemies was prepared and each of them was executed in that order.”
Perhaps, the past determines the future. But the expectations of the past often destroy the future of the present.
Last week, it was wrongly mentioned that Vasco da Gama landed in Cochin. He landed in Calicut. The error is regretted.