It happened two years ago as well. The French consulate in Kolkata and its cultural wing, Alliance Francaise, had actively participated in the Durga Puja festivities in south Kolkata. In 2018, it appears to be the turn of the Chinese embassy. Earlier this month, it was announced that the “Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Kolkata will for the first time be associated with a (Durga) puja organiser to promote the India-China relationship”. It was also clarified further that “a Chinese structure would be replicated at the pandal and Chinese artistes will perform dance, songs, and martial arts at Salt Lake”, the sprawling upscale residential-cum-commercial hub of northeast Kolkata. There will also be a “spread of Chinese cuisines for the peckish”, the Chinese consul-general declared at a press conference, flanked by members of puja organising committee, “to enhance China-India friendship… and to build mutual trust”.
That all sounds extremely positive, and certainly music to the ears of many, particularly to the much-maligned Nehruvians of the “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai” era of the 1950s. But the words “mutual trust” need to be explored carefully today. Things are certainly not as simple as they are often made out to be. In reality, a barrage of questions need to be answered. All the more because pre-1947 Bengal and post-independence West Bengal has been a laboratory for political experimentation by many interest groups, ranging from the British to the Muslim League to the Congress Party to Hindu leader-led Communists of various shapes, sizes and strengths. Moreover, being geographically adjacent to three nations — (Muslim) Bangladesh, (Buddhist) Bhutan and (Hindu-majority) Nepal — and a stone’s throw away from (Buddhist) Tibet and (atheist) China, even in the best of times, one simply can’t take things easy in Bengal.
Let’s try to see the bigger picture first. China outwardly has a Communist state structure but its psyche is outright capitalist, focused only on its economic self-interest, and seeking profits, pursuing commerce, creating employment for its people and exploring the market for the export of its goods, hankering after the Himalayas’ inexhaustible water resources and pushing for access to the Bay of Bengal (the Arabian Sea has already been accessed through Pakistan). There’s nothing wrong with any of that, so long as it is recognised for what it is. Now, in Bengal, it is hoping to use Durga Puja and Kali Puja (Diwali in North India) to ease its access to the consumer market of millions of Indians.
But Durga Puja is a Hindu socio-religious festival and Communist China is, officially at least, “anti-religion”! That too has a history, and one needs to look back to the 34-year-long Marxist rule in West Bengal, that ended only in 2011. And then go back to the predecessors of the Hindu Bengali Marxists — the Hindu Bengali Maoists! Remember the havoc they had wrought in West Bengal — destroying culture, education, the social fabric, polity, economy and industry. And their utter failure to stop illegal migration!
Have we forgotten it was the Communist China of Mao Zedong which had destroyed West Bengal through their “strategy indirect approach”? In which Hindu Bengali Naxalite leaders played the leading role as foot soldiers of Beijing in West Bengal? Who benefited from the destruction of industrial West Bengal and the crippling of the entire fabric thereof, beginning in 1967? Do we realise that whereas West Bengal, once seen as the “Ruhr of India”, is a thing of the past, it is China’s industrial goods that are now exploring, and hankering after, new markets?
So one can only wonder at China’s sudden love for Durga Puja in West Bengal. This is the same China that in its own backyard has declared a virtual war on the Tibetan Buddhists, the Muslims of Xinjiang and hinterland Christians over their religious beliefs, rites and rituals. Media reports have claimed that Beijing’s tough stand on religion and believers are already creating some internal turbulence. Have the Chinese decided to go soft on Hindus and Indians? Or have they got hold of the weakness of Hindu Bengalis and found the potential profitable knob of commerce and cash through food, festival, fun, fiesta and frolic of feisty times?
It may be advisable for the Government of India to tell foreign diplomats not to go too deep into India’s polity, society and economy. Of late too much activity has been seen by certain foreign diplomats across India’s interior. If this is not checked swiftly, such unrestricted “diplomatic” activity is bound to be counter-productive in the near future.
Since most Indians go ga-ga over foreigners, unlike the Chinese, we must realise that foreigners are here only to further their own national interest and not that of India’s. China considers itself as a “benign superpower”. If so, one must remember that no superpower thinks of anything except its own interests. West Bengal has a tradition of self-destruction. Should we forget that?
Just a few decades back, West Bengal had almost got destroyed between the late 1960s and 1970s. Do we recall the names of Nisith Bhattacharji, Kanu Sanyal, Souren Bose, Shyamal Ghosh, Sadhan Sarkar or Charu Majumdar? All of them had come under the influence of the Chinese Communists and their “chairman”, Mao Zedong, and who almost set West Bengal on fire after the 1962 Sino-Indian war? Just go back to a classic, Maoist Spring Thunder (published 2007), written by a brilliant West Bengal IPS officer, A.P. Mukherjee. In which Charu Majumdar stated: “In 1968 the Chinese Embassy in Nepal sent a sum of Rs 10,000 in Nepalese currency. This came through Dipak Biswas, who personally approached the Chinese embassy in Nepal.” The Chinese saga in India continued when subsequently “Souren Bose and Dipak Biswas visited the Chinese embassy in Nepal and apprised it of the revolutionary conditions in India”.
Our countrymen and women need to be extremely watchful, and not get taken in by the dragon’s charm offensive. What has China failed to do via chaos, confrontation and civil war-type situations in the Northeast and in West Bengal five decades ago will be tried in future through cash, commerce, consumer goods, culture and now Durga Puja!
Beijing’s hope is to sow internal dissension and doubts and to create a powerful Chinese lobby deep within India. The gravity of the Chinese involvement deep inside India was narrated by Naxalite leader Souren Bose, who met Zhou Enlai in Beijing on October 29, 1972 to brief the Chinese leadership on the “Indian revolution”. New Delhi must ensure we don’t go down that path once again and that Beijing’s representatives in this country remain within their proper boundaries.