Oof! Bengali Chauvinism!

By Saswat Pattanayak

Indrajit Hazra, an Editor with Hindustan Times gloats over how the ‘moment has come for fellow Bengalis’ now that Pranab Mukherjee enters “Rashtropoti Bhobon”! And in the tradition of a classic supremacist, he feels it necessary to inflame in the readers regionalistic suspicions that are unfounded and dangerous.

In a way, it is quite predictable that Hazra would choose this path, for this narrow and myopic route seems to be the only plausible manner one can glorify this political selection for the highest post of our country with. Somehow in the figment of Hazra’s repulsive imaginations, Oriyas are upset over Mr Mukherjee’s selection essentially because he happens to be a Bengali. Again within his nauseating scheme of historical imaginings, Oriyas have a need to reclaim Netajee Subhas Chandra Bose or President V. V. Giri.

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And yet again, the Oriyas have become the losers, Hazra surmises. Such losers that, he writes, “the outbreak of celebrations in the state next door has been keeping neighbours in Orissa awake at night.”

As unpalatable as it may sound, Oriyas have certainly lost sleep over the celebrations in the state next door since decades now, just as any oppressed group experiences lack of sleep when a bunch of neighboring racists culturally subjugate it. However, this has to do only with principled opposition to Bengali racism (which continues to violate not just Orissa, but the North-Eastern regions as well) and it has nothing to do with Mr Mukherjee’s unenviable political selection.

Hazra is not naive when it comes to understanding racism. After all, he empathizes with Karan Johar’s victimization when it comes to the racist institution that bestows Academy Awards in America. But he is abominably proud of his own Bengali racism. And his declaration in glee at a “Durga-worshipping, non-Oriya, Kulin Brahmin” President of India completely fits the pattern of his abhorrently racist mentality.

Only if the essay penned down by Hazra were a satire. Alas, it is not. It is a definitive byproduct of a parochial mindset that must claim the President of India and Netaji Subhas Bose as mere Bengalis or the current Prime Minister as just a Punjabi. His joy at realizing that Mr Mukherjee as a President will not have to report to a non-Bengali boss is also a harrowing attempt at claiming “Bengali superiority”.

His contention that Oriyas are at fault for identifying Netaji Subhas’ place of birth, which according to Hazra is an inaccurate identification, for Cuttack was under Bengal Presidency those days, is a deliberate extension of a perverted mind nurtured after myths of cultural purities. It is equally illogical an extension, considering colonial subjects then – according to Hazra’s reasoning – would have to be identified with colonial masters if someone born and brought up in Orissa has to be declared hailing from Bengal. In the same vein every Indian under British rule then would have to be called a Britisher. Hazra’s venomous campaigns to malign the Oriyas has resulted in this deliberate oversight.

While Hazra makes a case for “long-pending ethnic-, religious- and gender-based biases being reversed” in this century, he misses the mark in his own racist overtones. And that is a tragedy. The bigger tragedy of course is that the Hindustan Times, long associated with history of India’s freedom struggles, decided to publish such a racist, casteist and antinational article that can only serve to antagonize one region against another within the Republic of India.

It is prudent to remember that Manmohan Singh is correctly opposed by large majority of concerned Indian citizens not because he is a Punjabi, but because of his relentless McDonaldization of India. Likewise Pranab Mukherjee is not going to be evaluated by Indian people for his birth in West Bengal, but because of his track record of being an accomplice to Mr Singh. The fact that Hazra glorifies the President’s privileges (of being a Bengali vis-a-vis the Oriyas, and of being a “Kulin Brahmin” in a country deeply wounded through upper-caste hegemonies) as matters of pride for the Bengalis speaks about the callous insensitiveness and lack of humanity on his part.

One merely hopes that the “fellow Bengalis” whom Hazra, a racist journalist has beckoned for support in his supremacist march, resent his unfortunate and un-interrogated privileges; and as much as we all enjoy free press, the Hindustan Times stands upto its historically responsible missions in acknowledging its lapse of judgment and morality for having entertained such divisive, bloodthirsty and reactionary a writer.