The dictionary meaning of the word civil society indicates it to being a sort of a voice of conscience, a citizen’s representative. Eminent people who act in an unbiased manner to protect against any perceived wrong doings. But this word is fast becoming a much abused and maligned word in modern day Bengal. So much so, the question has started to arise, is civil society in Bengal a fast disappearing species? Is it as elusive as runs from Rohit Sharma’s bat? As the election session heats up and many party loyalists getting tickets or openly lobbying for it, this question has again come to the forefront.
Citizen Activism in Bengal
Normally Budhijibis or intellectuals form the part of the civil society. Top professionals especially those belonging to arts and culture comprise this class of people. In Bengal, they have been always been revered and respected for their opinions. A section of civil society contributed significantly to change the course of Bengal politics post the incidents in Nandigram and Singur. For a very long time, left liberals have occupied the intellectual space in Bengal. They lent their tacit and sometimes active support to CPI(M). It was perceived to be a party of the poor and hence was a natural abode for the natyokars (theatre artists) and somaj sebis (NGO workers) of the world. But after the alleged atrocities of police and CPI(M) cadres in Nandigram and farmland being used for car industry in Singur, a large section of the sushil somaj (civil society) raised their voice against the ruling regime. People like Sankhya Ghosh, Arpita Ghosh, Kaushik Sen, Aparna Sen, Sameer Aich, Subhaprasanna, etc., were vociferous in their protest. From street protests to processions, it was Bengal’s brush with citizen activism. Many acted as agents of change in ousting the rapidly unpopular Left Front government in 2011.
Crony Activism in TMC
The budhijibis promised that they will not put their party allegiance in their sleeves and will protest against the new government if they transgress from their words. But three years down the line, it seems that the line between intellectuals and party cadres are fast blurring. Some of TMC faithful have got party tickets, others plumb postings in different committees, etc. In different programmes of state government the same faces are to be seen. In a sense “crony activism” seems to be the flavour of the season. There certainly looks like an element of quid pro quo in the entire business. But in it, the voice of the common man seems to be the greatest casualty. The same people who would have been busy protesting pre 2011 now seem to be busy shielding the ruling party in a sticky situation. Like so many things in Bengal, this is also a throwback to the left regime where often party allegiance was the supreme stamp for intellectuals.
Bengal State Election Commission in a Fix
The condition has reached such a state that the State Election commission is not finding a single neutral person for its advertisements. Normally celebrities are roped in to urge voters to participate. But the electoral battle lines have been drawn so sharply here, there are very few non-political intellectuals in Bengal, opines the Election Commission. In the last elections, it wanted to rope in Bengal’s icon Sourav Ganguly. But TMC cried hoarse, pointing out the perceived closeness of the Bengali icon with CPI(M). Perturbed by this opposition, Sourav backed out. This time EC is trading very carefully. There is a suggestion that fictional cartoon characters will be roped in for the ads!
To not find a single non-partisan intellectual in the entire state is in itself an indication of the vanquishing notion of civil society. The white knights have fast disappeared. It is all about backroom parleys and boardroom deals. Time for a batman like vigilante maybe!!