The ongoing chit-fund fiasco in West Bengal has engaged all and sundry. Editors of the shut newspapers run by the Saradha Group are giving media bytes, employees running around to file FIRs and finding a new source of livelihood, investment agents spending sleepless nights fearing backlash from the investors while the latter witnessing their world collapsing in a few moments.
A couple of suicide cases have already been reported from the state while protests are on. The political blame game has started as usual and there is every possible chance of this fiasco emerging into a major determinant of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's political future.
The fiasco reminds one about a remark which was made by renowned sociologist Ashis Nandy at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) a couple of months ago and which led to a massive controversy in socio-political circles. Nandy, while saying that people from the OBC, SC and ST backgrounds are the most corrupt and he cited the example of West Bengal to strengthen his point of argument.
Nandy said Bengal is a state which has seen the least amount of corruption, particularly when the CPI(M) was in power for over three decades. He said it was significant to note that nobody from the OBC, SC and ST backgrounds have ever come to power in West Bengal and hence it is an absolutely clean state.
The ongoing chit fund scam more than reiterates Nandy's point. The Saradaha fiasco is no less than a crore-rupee corruption but then how does West Bengal's track record on corruption turned for the worse suddenly? The answer lies in Nandy's observation.
The Leftist style of governance was well-protected by a strong organisation fed by a totalitarian ideology. The red rulers carried on with the historic elitist or the more popularly termed 'Bhadralok' culture in Bengal.
The base of strong upper and middle classes could not be stormed by any challenge from the bottom for in the name of socialism and pro-poor politics, the left rulers had kept alive a class-consciousness, just like some caste-based political parties function in northern India. They gave a secular coating to conceal their politics which led to a stagnation in Bengal in every aspect, social, political and economic. What mattered most was the vote-bank engineered by a social engineering based on ideology.
But corrupt practices continued to occur behind the facade. But because there was no social mobility and the upper class continued to maintain a grip on the scheme of things, there was very little chance of any scam getting exposed. The party machinery and the ideological veil were strong enough to hide corruption and nepotism, whatever was at play.
The Sanchayita investment scam of the early 1980s is a point to emphasise. The then state finance minister, Ashok Mitra, took action against the chit fund but himself suffered loss in the 1982 assembly polls. He became a villain, something which reveals the status quoist mindset of an average Bengali who refused to believe that the sophisticated class could ever indulge in corruption.
And it was not the only scam. The times of the former Left patriarch, Jyoti Basu, had reportedly seen the origin of a number of scams but none of them went on to dig the regime's grave because Basu's leadership and the party's machinery were very strong. And since the status quo marked by the elitist 'Bhadrolok' culture had ruled roost in the society, there was no chance of an alternative power challenging the power centres.
The Left's continuous rule for 34 years meant that the lack of democracy preserved a 'cleaned' state, if not a 'clean' state in Nandy's words.
But the scenario started to change over the last six years or so. The withdrawal of an ailing Basu from active politics and death of managers like Anil Biswas began a slide in the Left's ranks and within five years of the Singur fiasco, the Left was toppled by Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress.
The TMC's coming to power not only signalled a political change but also a social transition. The party never had the ideological or organisational strength like the Left to conceal the misdeeds that were occurring around and hence got exposed often. The presence of a strong media did not help its cause either.
If the bhadralok culture fed by the Leftists preserved a class-consciousness alive to safeguard its grip in power, the new regime does not have an alternative to class appeal to maintain its hold. It has been trying bits-and-pieces politics of wooing minorities and sub-altern groups and it is unconsciously giving rise to a form of social churning in the Bengali society which has not been seen so far.
And the more this churning will be effected by a regime that favours the sub-altern over the elite classes and factors like ideology and organisation weaken, there will be more chances of West Bengal turning into an unclean state.
Nandy had stressed corruption as an important social mechanism to rectify the historical wrongs instead of just an evil. What is important is the social churn and the Saradha fiasco might signal that such a churn as started in the Bengal. We should prepare ourselves for more such fiasco in Bengal and for a welcome change. Stagnation can't lead to a new dawn but chaos can.