The first thing that strikes the reader of the volume is the
nature of its constitution. Since it consists of 18
well-researched seminar papers by university teachers in a set
style, it is meant to be an ‘umbrella’ collection which,
while allowing for individual and varying views, still presents,
in the end, a unified structure and a fairly unified vision.
Another point is that all participants in this seminar held at
Jadevpur University (March, 1999) are Bengali intellectuals
carrying a distinct and characteristic mark of identity. A
certain probity, a passionate involvement which still retains a
balance, a Marxian-humanist stance, or the right kind of
"Leftism" are, by and large, at work in these papers.
Nearly each paper presents a distinct summary at the end of a
long argument, or the donnee of the paper in question.
This makes for a capsule summary of a complex, many-sided story
of a massive amount of data available in the volume.
Since in a
critique of this nature it’s not possible to take up each
individual paper, I intend to pick up a couple of key papers
which, to my mind, have not only a rare refinement, but also a
centrality that binds the disparate aspects into a dialectic of
mutualities. For instance, the 28-page essay entitled "The
Philosophy of Silence: Constructing the New Millennium" by
Shibashis Chatterjee and "India Towards the Twenty-first
Century: The Ethnic Scenario" by Samir Kumar Das strike me
as an outstanding work of scholarship which, in this case,
reflects the Bengali intellectual ethos and has the ambience of
that anguish which goes with it.
So, I return to
Shibashis Chatterjee’s long and fascinating piece which traces
"conceptual paradigms" in Indian reactions to the
challenges presented by the new century. All that he argues for
is, of course, already changed in part after the September 11
terrorist attack on the "Mecca" of American power,
followed soon after by a dastardly assault on Indian Parliament,
challenging the very majesty of our State. His treatment of the
fanciful and pontifical pronouncement of the Japanese-American
guru, Franeis Fukiyama, is not dismissive, though it rightly
receives a chilly response. "The end of history" is in
his view reached with the death of the Marxian dream, and the
vindication of the American cold war strategies to destroy the
Soviet Union. Well, thus spake the corporate capitalism’s
ideologue! One wonders how such a pitifully inadequate idea was
greeted with so much enthusiasm and éclat!
Das, who has studied the complex ethnic question, applies his
knowledge and insight to the Indian case which for
geo-political, economic and other reasons has been, particularly
since 1947, a source of much thoughtless violence, confusion,
and fragmentation from New Delhi to Assam, Bodoland and scores
of tribal areas and pockets all across central India. Ethnicity
is today a big academic concern and American writers, in
particular, have felt compelled to project it in view of its
highly mixed and varied ethnic minorities. One thought racial
supremacy (Aryan-Nordic as in Hitler’s Germany) was a dead
issue after the humiliating defeat of Nazism, but as Professor
Das points out vis-ŕ-vis the Indian scene, there has been
ironically a sharp and shrill "resurgence,"
"recrudescence," "explosion," etc.
If I’ve not
touched upon the remaining essays, it’s because the pattern
becomes quite clear when we move from one paper to another. As I
have said earlier, a certain nuclear vision is subsumed in the
volume—a vision of an India rich in human resources and their
judicious use. Thus, health, education, housing and other fields
determining the character of a nation are the primary concern
here, and the volume serves the purpose admirably.