India (West Bengal): Marxists abolished English from the primary curriculum

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Jan 23 15:30:34 UTC 2007

The bungling goes on

The ongoing industrialisation initiative of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
government and the cycle of protest and violence it has triggered show the
Marxists have learnt nothing, forgotten nothing. The Singur lessons only
confirm this.  In the first flush of their revolutionary fervour, the
Marxists abolished English from the primary curriculum as the language,
according to the then party ideologues, was a hideous relic of the
colonial era that had to be dismantled.

With the Opposition in tatters and its credibility down to zero, the
Marxists bulldozed public opinion that shuddered at the prospect of
children forced to learn the English alphabets from Class VI and ending up
in scarcely mastering the skill of framing a single sentence correctly.
Smouldering public rage, generations of intellectually crippled students
and a long- drawn movement by the SUCI forced the Marxists to reverse the
policy that was followed for nearly two decades.  The experiment of using
millions of young students as guinea pigs didnt cost the Marxists much, as
it mostly affected the urban and semi-urban population whose intellectual
aspirations only got thwarted, whereas the rural people, who comprise the
backbone of the CPI-Ms support base, were rather untouched by the
linguistic upheaval.

In fact, a rationale behind the policy as put forward by the
revolutionaries was that the majority of students belonging to families of
farmers had no use of English which was for them a stumbling block for
learning the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic,) through the
vernacular.  The policy failed because it was implemented without laying
the groundwork and preparing the peoples mind for the radical shift which
turned out to be essentially a theoretical exercise without much bearing
on the socio-cultural history and reality of the land.  The Marxists got
away with their ill-conceived and poorly executed plan as it only affected
primarily the cerebral region of the urban populace rather than their

But the Singur and other industrialisation initiatives, including the
chemical hub planned at Nandigram, threaten to impoverish a large swathe
of the rural population at one fell stroke. The farmers are dead scared
that their livelihood is being taken away. No amount of theorisation, as
Mr Bhattacharjee is indulging in, that the trajectory of history or
civilisation is from an agrarian society to an industrial one, can
convince farmers, comprising 65 per cent of the population, that they must
give away their land and help the advancement of civilisation.  The
strategy has backfired simply because the Marxists have refused to learn
and forget. What are the lessons of Singur? State officials admit that no
groundwork was made to inform the people, whose land was to be acquired,
about the whole project and the imperative of a transition from a
predominantly agrarian economy to an agriculture-industry mix.

Similarly, the Marxists havent forgotten that they continue to enjoy
majority support at the hustings just as they did when they shoved their
language policy down the throats of the people. So, they are in a position
to impose their policy without caring a fig for the opposition.
But the mistake they made in their calculation is that now their policy
doesnt touch the cerebral region of a relatively small urban population,
never considered their safe votebank, but the stomach of a much larger
rural concentration of people from whom they draw their strength to cling
to power and enjoy the benefits and privileges of a parliamentary
democracy. The typical Marxist mindset was reflected in Mr Bhattacharjees
arrogant assertion: We are 235 (the Lefts tally of Assembly seats) and
they are 30 (Trinamul Congresss 30 seats).

His hubris played its trick on him and he glibly went on claiming that all
the plots at Singur were acquired with the farmers consent. Soon, it
turned out that the statistics about consent were fudged. Once the claim
on consent couldnt be substantiated, the Marxists started singing a
different tune that smacked of deceit. They changed their position and
said consent was not required as per the Land Acquisition Act which
allowed the state to take away land for any public purpose. It was the
state governments magnanimity that it had passed an order to accommodate
peoples consent.  The duplicity immediately shows up as it states even if
consent is withheld or compensation not accepted, the government can
acquire land for public good. One cant , however, figure out how a private
groups small car project can be equated with public purpose as stipulated
by the Act.  Had the Marxists learnt their lesson from the botched-up
language policy, they would have done the spadework before embarking on
their industrialisation initiative.

Had they remembered that majority support doesnt give a party a carte
blanche to do whatever it likes without caring for the dissenting voice,
they would have engaged in a debate before launching such mega policy
initiative. The tragedy for Mr Bhattacharjee is that time is running out.
He is sincere in ushering in an industrialised Bengal. But opportunism and
corruption have struck such deep roots in the party during the past two
decades when self-seekers swelled the partys ranks and the Marxists turned
into Red managers (only to feather their own nests)  that the state
slipped irredeemably. The chief minister is keen to deliver, however brash
and intolerant he may be, but he has to race against time. Hence, nothing
can be learnt or forgotten.

(The author is Special Representative, The Statesman, Kolkata.)


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list