My first visit to West Bengal was in the year 1989. This was followed by subsequent tours in 2010 and 2014. Kolkata [Calcutta] was quite an intimidating town then.
The infrastructure had crumbled and there was a sense of fear in the metropolis. It was tough to walk on the streets as there was no place on footpaths.
My visit was about collecting statistics about Urdu education. Hence, I met CPM
leader Salik Lakhnawi.
When I contested his opinion and said that CPM hasn't done anything for Urdu and told him that the class conflict between Bengali and non-Bengali was similar to the situation in Maharashtra, he told me that if someone else would have said it he would have been in jail for such a statement.
That was the end of the conversation as I left the tea in the middle and left the place. The visit in 2010 was short but travelling on the streets and passing by mohallas, one could see the poor condition of Muslims who were living in the Communist ruled state.
West Bengal hadn't moved ahead a bit and seemed to be stuck in time. But when in March 2014, I again went to West Bengal, it was an altogether different state. I was surprised to see that there was no sense of fear in the air.
I found that there were issues about Urdu education but there was no unhappiness with regard to the State government.
Bengal's middle-class or the Bhadralok lives in a world of its own. The Telegraph is their favourite newspaper.
Comparatively, it gives much more prominence to international stories than local reports. This class still lives in the world in which Upper Class society of North India lived in till 1970s.
There is tremendous greenery in rural West Bengal. I travelled from Kolkata to Darjeeling via New Jalpaiguri, for ten days. No where I could see sign that CPM is a force here. There were party flags on very few houses.
In Darjeeling, GJM is the strong party that had supported Jaswant Singh in the last election, with the
hope that BJP would come to power. Unlike North India, in West Bengal, one has to pass through extremely bad roads to reach the hill stations here.
There is huge tourism revenue generated but the money is not spent on infrastructure. As a result, there is a strong support for creating Gorkhaland state in West Bengal.
[This is a guest article. It was originally published in Roznama Sahara, a multi-edition Urdu newspaper. Ather Farooqui is secretary general of Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu Hind]