Since the statue of Ishwar Chandra Bandyopadhyay, popularly known as Vidyasagar, was smashed in Kolkata’s Vidyasagar College by a gang of Hindutva fascist thugs hired by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah, the two-century-old Bengali Brahmin reformer has returned to occupy the state’s political centre stage. This resurrection has made him omnipresent in all political discourse, from West Bengal to New Delhi, with two major political stalwarts fighting over his legacy. On one hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is blaming West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its student body – Trinamool Chhatra Parishad (TMCP) – for the vandalism, while on the other hand, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her party are blaming Shah and the BJP’s non-Bengali fascist terrorists for the mayhem.
Modi promised to build an Ashtadhatu statue (alloy statue) of Vidyasagar in place of the destroyed one, and Banerjee rejected his offer calling it Modi’s alms to West Bengal after insulting the state’s culture and heritage. Rallies, counter-rallies, press conferences, video evidence, social media campaigns are surfacing to show which among the two major right-wing reactionary parties is more pro-Vidyasagar. In this scenario, a conscious attempt is made by few right-wing intellectuals to divert the issue of Hindi-Hindutva fascist aggression on West Bengal and its culture by citing how Vidyasagar’s statue and that of other icons of Bengali Renaissance were smashed by the Naxalite students affiliated with the undivided Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) or the CPI(M-L) in 1970. An attempt is made to whitewash the Sangh Parivar’s crime by comparing it with the act of the Naxalites done in a different time and for an altogether different purpose.
For many so-called left and Naxal apologists, smashing the statues of the so-called Bengali Renaissance was a deviation, a political blunder. In saying so they criticise the CPI(M-L) leader and party’s second-in-command, Saroj Dutta, a revolutionary communist who was also a poet and a journalist. Dutta defended the attack by CPI(M-L) cadres on the monuments raised by the ruling classes to honour the so-called Bengal Renaissance icons and social reformers. Dutta showed evidence from history that when the principal contradiction in the 19th century was the contradiction between the people and the British colonial rulers, these so-called icons of Bengal’s enlightenment collaborated with the colonial rulers and carried out some cosmetic reforms on the outer shell of the society without trying to transform or bring any remarkable change in the core, at the base, ie the economic system.
Famous personalities must be evaluated in reference to the material condition in which they lived, operated and the implications of their work. Similarly, to analyse and evaluate Vidyasagar critically, one must take into account the historic condition, material condition and the socio-economic condition amid which he had been operating. Divorcing him from the reality of his time to merely glorify him uncritically will be falling in the same trap that the rulers have laid for decades to capture gullible minds and portray Vidyasagar and his contemporary so-called reformers in the brightest shade.
Vidyasagar lived and worked in the 19th century that also saw the rise of a new class in Bengal, the reactionary Bhadralok community. It was an urban petty bourgeoisie community that was created by the British East India Company to serve its own purpose of consolidating the colonial rule over Bengal Presidency and beyond. After seizing power from the last independent Nawab of Bengal – Siraj Ud-Daulah – the British rulers had worked hard to create a local community in urban Bengal, especially in Calcutta, which would provide a pool of English-speaking cheap clerical staffs to man its colonial machinery. For this reason, it rolled out the colonial education system to teach the upper-caste Bengali Hindus and make them lackeys of the colonial administration.
Earlier, the education of Indians had limited to religious education. While Muslim Maulvis taught Arabic, Quran and Hadiths to Muslim men in Madrassas, mostly from the affluent sections of the society, the Hindu Brahmins got their lessons in Sanskrit, mythology and theology from Tolls and Pathshalas that were run by the Brahmins themselves. The Dalits, who were ostracised, the poor and backward caste Muslims, the tribal people and the lower-caste Hindus had no right to education due to the dominance of Brahminical supremacy that transcended the religious boundaries.
Vidyasagar was a part of a generation of social reformers who were deployed by the British colonial rulers to help them modify and reform the education system to create a better pool of uncritical clerical staffs and to execute some social reform measures to captivate the imagination of the newly-westernised, yet deeply Brahminical puritan Bhadraloks. Thus, from widow-remarriage to reforming the Bengali education system and advocating for women’s education, all tasks that were undertaken by Vidyasagar, alike his contemporary so-called Renaissance icons, had been centred around the Bhadralok community and were limited within the geographical boundaries of Calcutta.
Under his aegis, the British colonial rulers consolidated their grip on education, brought some cosmetic changes to show its liberal side while continuing with oppression and exploitation of millions of downtrodden and toiling peasantry in the countryside. The broad masses of Dalits, tribal people, Muslim peasants and other marginalised sections of the Bengali society, who lived in the darkness of colonial oppression in the countryside remained aloof from Vidyasagar’s so-called social reforms.
Rather than reaching out to the rural areas, where girls were married off at an age of five or six, where widows were either burned alive with their husbands or were thrown into an abyss of despair following the death of their spouse every day and feudalism strongly guarded the patriarchal and Brahminical order, Vidyasagar restrained himself within the periphery of Calcutta and targeted the upper-caste Bhadraloks for his enlightenment project.
Instead of arousing the students with a sense of nationalism against the British colonial rule, which was the call of the day, Vidyasagar taught collaboration with the Sahebs and showed a positive image of the inhuman colonial rule. He even opened the campus of the Sanskrit College to help the British colonial army to establish a camp there when they were suppressing the Great Rebellion of 1857. This naked and shameless collaboration with the British colonial rulers against the peasants of India, against what Karl Marx called the War of Independence fought by the Indian peasantry against the colonial rule, manifested the true character of Vidyasagar.
During the 1970s, Dutta exposed much of Vidyasagar’s collaboration with the British rulers in his article “On Vidyasagar” and showed that at a time when the material condition made it imperative for the Bengali people, the peasantry, the tribals, the downtrodden and exploited people to combat the colonial aggression, at a time when the principal contradiction was the contradiction between colonialism and the peasantry, at that time, rather than inculcating anti-colonial values among the students and inspiring them to fight the British colonial forces, Vidyasagar shamelessly helped the colonial rulers against his own people.
Dutta’s razor-sharp critical analysis and evaluation also unmasked the opportunist parliamentary left that uncritically eulogises Vidyasagar and his contemporaries who have been mere representatives of the colonial administration and served its purpose in shaping the Brahminical upper-caste society according to few basic British norms. The revolutionary students and youth who belonged to the CPI(M-L), loathed these bourgeoisie who served the colonial project, and as part of their struggle against the notorious education system and cultural superstructure, they expressed their class hatred by smashing the statues of such pioneers of Bengal.
It was Dutta who emphasised that it’s imperative that the student and the youth learn to respect the real heroes of India, the working class, the peasantry, the exploited and oppressed masses. To unite and feel identical with the toiled people, the landless and poor peasantry, it’s imperative for the students and youth to know the real character of such icons and therefore uproot them to establish Sidhu-Kanhu-Chand Bhairav, Mangal Pandey, Rani Lakshmibai, and all other heroic anti-colonial fighters who fought against the principal enemy of the period – British colonial rulers and their accomplices – to purge the filth of colonial education that taught people to respect those who served the enemies of the people.
In the matter of statues and obelisks, Dutta, then a CPI(M-L) Politburo member and a staunch supporter of the party’s founder Charu Majumdar, elaborated the party’s line, which called for the establishing memorials to commemorate the sacrifices made by the poor and landless peasants, the downtrodden masses and tribals first before erecting any memorials for those from the bourgeoisie, petty-bourgeoisie or other elite classes. Dutta advocated that it’s essential to smash the present icons who are falsely glorified by the Indian ruling classes and have been servile agents of imperialism and comprador capitalism to pave the way for establishing the statues and memorials for those real heroes who fought colonialism and sacrificed their lives for the motherland.
In a quiet Marxist way, Majumdar seconded Dutta and supported the students and youth in their rage against the old order, though cautioning that the present stage of the Indian revolution, ie the new democratic revolution, targets only the base, ie the semi-colonial and semi-feudal system and its production relations, and not the superstructure, unlike China’s Cultural Revolution. Majumdar refuted senior party leader Sushital Roy Choudhury’s claim that these people were pioneers of Renaissance and showed that they have worked not to demolish the prevalent feudal and colonial system of their era, but as comprador capitalists, they have helped the colonial rulers to consolidate their rule by creating a reactionary education system.
“The people of India fought to overthrow British rule; many heroes laid down their lives in the course of the struggle. But they have not been depicted as models, their images have not been installed; on the contrary, it is those who have served and defended the interests of imperialism that are held up before the students and the people as models and whose images have been built. That is why those who accuse the students and youths of waging war against the national tradition are in reality singing hymns in praise of the tradition created by imperialism’s lackeys. A genuinely patriotic, revolutionary India cannot be built unless the images of these lackeys are swept away. That is why these deeds of the students and youths are, without doubt, revolutionary deeds and are, without doubt, preparing the path of India’s progress.”(Charu Majumdar, Forge Closer Unity with Peasants’ Armed Struggle, Liberation, Vol III, No 3, August 1970, written on 5 August 1970)
This shows the reason why the CPI(M-L) workers destroyed the statues and memorials of the colonial collaborators in the 1970s. The reason and the modus operandi of Shah’s non-Bengali thugs, led by a non-Bengali criminal Rakesh Singh, in vandalising Vidyasagar’s statue has been quite different from that of the Naxals of the 1970s. There can be two reasons for this notorious act and each of them may smell more reactionary than Vidyasagar’s collaboration with the British colonial rulers.
Firstly, the Hindutva fascist thugs may have smashed the statue deliberately with an extreme hatred against Vidyasagar. As Vidyasagar advocated for Hindu widow-remarriage and women’s education, which the Dharma Sabha, an arch-reactionary Brahminical supremacist organisation led by Raja Radhakanta Deb Bahadur, bitterly opposed as anti-Hindu, it’s normal for the RSS and its progeny to despise him.
For the Hindutva fascist camp, the Hindu Dharma or Sanatana Dharma has been always perfect with no flaws. Thus, they consider Sati, or the burning alive of a woman in her husband’s funeral pyre, a pious act and many of the BJP leaders still promise to restore the practice in Rajasthan. They also consider women’s education and widow remarriage as anti-Hindu act and the only women’s education the Modi regime or the BJP has supported so far is the education imparted by the RSS’s schools and militant training centres of Bajrang Dal.
As Vidyasagar, even being a cosmetic reformer whose acts have been magnified by the British imperialism out of gratitude for his services, did things that actually oppose the Sangh’s standpoint, therefore, it’s normal that the RSS and its Hindutva-incensed thugs will smash Vidyasagar’s statue out of sheer bigotry. By demolishing the statue of Vidyasagar at a corner of a college, they have felt the same orgasmic pleasure that their ancestors felt while demolishing the 15th century Babri Masjid or while gangraping pregnant Muslim women and then forking out their unborn foetus from the womb during the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.
Secondly, there is a possibility that the RSS and BJP thugs who entered the Vidyasagar College campus with the sole aim of vandalising had no idea about who Vidyasagar was. They can be a bunch of nincompoops like their idol Modi and have been behaving in the same feral and boisterous way as any hired contingent of the Sangh’s foot soldiers would do. They simply smashed the statue as they wanted to score brownies by scaring the Bengali students and people with their muscle power. The statue became a circumstantial victim of dirty politics.
If this is the case, then it rings a vexing and eerie alarm; it’s more dangerous than the first condition. Frustrated after failing to fuel massive pogroms in West Bengal by instigating Bengali Hindus against Bengali Muslims, the project which couldn’t achieve any success except in few pockets where the Hindutva camp won success due to the presence of a large non-Bengali support base, now the notorious Modi-Shah duo is unleashing a feral mob to destroy the culture and heritage of the Bengali people. These Gujarati criminals are trying to destroy the notion of a unique and inquisitive Bengali identity that questions, that fights against injustice, that loves its own culture, history and heritage.
For such a feral mob, driven by bigotry, anger and hatred against the Bengali people, it’s normal to attack any sign that resembles Bengali identity or Bengal. Thus, be Vidyasagar or Subhash Chandra Bose or Rabindranath Tagore, the fascist hoodlums can attack and smash any bust, any memorial and any monument hitherto raised to pay homage to different personalities in Kolkata, which remains the intellectual capital of India. This mentality, which is groomed by the RSS’s notorious training programmes, will actually become a grave threat to the existence of Bengali people and their distinct culture and secular values. The attack on the relics and symbols that epitomise a very vivid and diverse Bengal is a serious threat to peace and public safety in West Bengal.
Now, if compared, it will be evident that the Naxalites of the 1970s smashed the statues of Vidyasagar and other so-called Renaissance pioneers due to their heinous role during the colonial rule. The CPI(M-L) taught the students and youth that the poor and landless peasants are India’s real heroes, the working class is the real hero, the toiling people are real heroes. They smashed the statues of all those reformers and so-called nationalist icons who served the British imperialism in expanding and consolidating its notorious rule. The driving force was a class hatred guided by progressive ideology and a greater goal of emancipating the common people from the tyranny of semi-colonial and semi-feudal aggression.
Whereas, when it comes to the smashing of Vidyasagar’s statue, after the statues of Lenin, Periyar, Ambedkar and others, by the Hindutva fanatics, then there is no ideology but a standard that’s set by the RSS. Anything or everything that talks against or even slightly question the age-old doctrines, reactionary ideology and practices of the Brahminical Hindu religion, can be attacked, vandalised and destroyed by the stormtroopers of Modi and Shah. This attack will not distinguish between MK Gandhi or Ambedkar, between Lenin and Vidyasagar. According to the order and their payment terms, these criminals will attack everything that’s not kosher to their paymasters.
In this present circumstances, it’s quite inevitable that the CPI(M-L) cadres’ action during the peak days of Naxalbari movement in the 1970s will be exhumed to share the blame of attacking Vidyasagar with the left-democratic camp by the BJP’s apologists and Modi-Shah’s bootlickers. However, in such a situation, it also becomes imperative for the revolutionary left, the legacy bearers of Majumdar and Dutta at the present, to understand the complexities and the dynamism of the political situation. It’s imperative today to defend Vidyasagar from the onslaught of the greater enemy of West Bengal – Hindutva fascism – and defend his actions in favour of widow-remarriage and women’s education (which still remain elusive). It’s important to support Vidyasagar’s struggle against the Dharma Sabha and Deb because the BJP is promoting the latter’s position and reactionary standpoint at present.
While defending Vidyasagar, a revolutionary communist must not be swayed away and call him a great reformist or revolutionary because, at the end of the day, Vidyasagar’s crimes outweigh his good deeds. A critical analysis of Vidyasagar shows that he was basically a puppet of the British colonial rulers and thus he must be opposed and exposed before the people of West Bengal, under the light of Dutta’s teachings. It’s unity of the opposites which is a basic feature of dialectical and historical materialism. Nothing better exemplifies the unity of opposites in the present political scenario than the task of defending and opposing Vidyasagar and his ilk in West Bengal. The Hindutva fascist thugs must pay the price for attacking West Bengal and the Bengali heritage. They must be prosecuted and punished for mocking and destroying Bengal’s unique identity and it’s the people of West Bengal who can hand out the punishment to these aggressors through their democratic struggle for secularism, peace, unity and freedom.
An avid reader and a merciless political analyst. When not writing then either reading something, debating something or sipping espresso with a dash of cream. Street photographer. Tweets as @la_muckraker