Bengal's sports-lovers are ecstatic. Mohun Bagan Athletic Club, the oldest club in the country which had beaten an English team in the pre-independence era to pen a glorious history of a post-colonial state, lifted its maiden I-League title on Sunday by drawing with Bengaluru FC. The 125-year-old club won an all-India crown after 13 long years, making the victory taste even sweeter. [Mohun Bagan draw with Bengaluru FC, win I-League]
Two all-India titles within 5 months, a major boost for Bengal's nationalism
Mohun Bagan AC's major feat came within five months after Atletico de Kolkata beat Keral Blasters to win the inaugural edition of the Indian Super League (ISL), the recently launched professional football league. Two all-India titles in such a short span sparked huge celebrations among Bengal's football-lovers. "Football has seen a revival in Bengal," was the common reaction. [Kolkata celebrates Mohun Bagan's I-League victory]
Football has always been an agent for nationalism in Bengal
But more than the revival of just a game, it was the revival of Bengal's identity which was celebrated more. Football has always served as a strong agent of nationalist sentiments among the Bengalis. [Mohun Bagan's I-League, KKR's IPL, Sourav Ganguly's 239: Bengaluru is Bengal's happy sporting venue]
Mohun Bagan has been a national hero since 1911
Mohun Bagan has always been held close to heart by the Bengalis because of two reasons: Its historic victory over the East Yorkshire Regiment when 11 bare-footed players beat the representatives of the colonisers and secondly, Mohun Bagan sums up the sentiments of Bengalis of West Bengal which was separated from Bangladesh (former East Bengal) during the Partition of 1947.
The Partition had given birth to a fierce competition between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal (representing those who came to India from the other part of Bengal that became a part of Pakistan first and then Bangladesh later) on the football ground.
Today, Bengal is desperate for a recognition within India
The anti-colonial sentiments are no longer relevant. The West Bengal-East Bengal competition is also more of a sporting sensation and doesn't really involve the man-made borders made in 1947. But what Mohun Bagan's latest victory at Bengaluru suggests is a revival of Bengali nationalism via football.
Sports remain one of the few symbols that Bengalis still feel proud about
Bengal is a region which had led the nation once. Its people were achievers in various fields while its institutes, whether in education or health, were respected for their high standard.
Today, thanks to the Partition and the destructive brand of politics practised by the Left rulers, the same Bengal is languishing far behind others. The hopes that people of the state had on a new leadership after it came to power in 2011 were dashed as the new ruler couldn't do it differently from their predecessors.
A success in Bengaluru, which has progressed far ahead, tastes sweet for a 'relegated' Bengal
Amid the disappointment and pessimism, winning a national crown certainly helps a nation's morale. Winning the trophy in Bengaluru was all the more special for Kolkata, as the symbol of pride of Bengal, has fallen far far behind the new centres of prosperity in today's India. It was a moment when Bengal tasted a success as a unit in Bengaluru, more than individuals.
"We have beaten the English, Bengaluru is nothing in
Succeeding in those places brings the focus back more prominently and hence Bengalis are more happy. Someone remarked after Mohun Bagan's win on Facebook: "We had beaten the English once, Bangalore is nothing in comparison." The remark says it all: Bengal's opponents might have changed but not the will.
Past celebrations over KKR's IPL titles speak the same
The large-scale celebration of the Kolkata Knight Riders' winning the Indian Premier League title twice and the involvement of the chief minister herself displayed similar nationalist sentiments.
A temporary joy, yet a joy
Bengal needs an identity to identify itself with. It doesn't have much pride left to show today. After the retirement of Sourav Ganguly, perhaps Bengal's biggest cultural icon after Rabindranath Tagore, there have been more shortage of symbols. But when Ganguly's Atletico de Kolkata win the ISL or Mohun Bagan lift the I-League, that shortage is filled. A relief, albeit temporary, sets in. Bengal lives its moment till the next good news comes.