O what a fall was there my countrymen

 Justice Markandey Katju-


Durga Puja, the great Bengali festival, is commencing from 22nd October, and this has motivated writing of this article. The title is taken from Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ Act 3 Scene 2, and is from Mark Antony’s famous speech after the assassination of Caesar.

Justice Markandey Katju

It used to be said that what Bengal does today India does tomorrow. Indeed Bengalis were the leaders of the Indian Renaissance starting from the great social reformer Raja Ram Mohan  Roy ( 1772-1833 ), followed by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-91 ), great scientists like PC Ray, SN Bose ( after whom the Bose-Einstein Statistics was named ), JC Bose, Meghnad Saha, etc, great revolutionaries like Surya Sen ( Masterda ), Khudiram Bose and the members of the Anushilan Party ( many of whose names I saw engraved in the Cellular Jail in Andaman Islands which I visited ), great writers like Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya and Kazi Nazrul Islam, great political leaders like Dr BC Roy ( 1882-1962 ) who was Chief Minister of West Bengal from 1948-62, great film makers like Satyajit Ray, etc.

But where does Bengal stand today ? It is today between the devil and the deep sea, in other words, between the TMC led by that demagogue Mamata Banerji, and the reactionary BJP, among whom Bengalis have to choose in the forthcoming state Assembly elections–quite an unenviable situation.

Now the time has come for Bengalis to do deep introspection if they again wish to restore their earlier glory. Great achievements are a good thing, but they also have a negative aspect–they may lead to complacency, resting on past laurels, conceit and chauvinism, and perhaps that is what happened to Bengalis. Having taken the lead in India, Bengalis started regarding themselves as ‘bhadralok’ ( cultured people ), as if everyone else in India was uncultured and inferior. They made Tagore and Subhas Chandra Bose as gods and holy cows, and were not even willing to consider critical assessment–that one was objectively a British agent who diverted literature from the realistic, revolutionary direction Sarat Chandra was taking it to the nonsensical direction of spiritualism and mysticism ( which suited the British rulers ), and the other was objectively a Japanese agent ( see my articles on them on my blog Satyam Bruyat ).

Our basic objective today must be to transform India from a poor country, with record and rising unemployment, massive child malnourishment, almost totally lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, skyrocketing prices of food and fuel, farmers suicides, etc to a highly developed, highly industrialised, prosperous country like those in North America, Europe, Japan and China. For this another great Indian Renaissance is required. Will Bengalis again give the lead to the nation in this historical event ? Only time will tell, but for that Bengalis must develop the attitude of criticism and self criticism, and not just bask on past glories


[Justice Markandey Katju, former Judge, Supreme Court of India. The views expressed are his own].