Where did West Bengal go wrong?

history : Where did West Bengal go wrong?
West Bengal had some of the brightest and creative minds in India/world such as Tagore, Aurobindo, Vivekanand to CV Raman and Satyajit Ray, Jagdish Bose etc.

But last time I visited this state I was appalled by poverty in the state. Everything that could go wrong seems to have gone wrong with this state. Why is that?

Some people might put the blame on Communism but people could have voted them out.

Answer by Balaji Viswanathan:

  1. Moving the national capital from Calcutta to Delhi: In 1905, Bengal was partitioned by Lord Curzon to counter the power of Hindus. This brought a strong opposition from the Hindus, the event that led to the rise of a strong freedom movement. The British government was quite anxious over this and moved the national capital out of the Bengali heartland and reduce the influence of the Bengalis in the national scene. Bengal never recovered from the move.
  2. End of World Wars: World Wars affected Calcutta in many ways. During the war, the Calcutta economy grew as the city became a center of production for things related to the war. Birlas and other trading communities really used the opportunity to build factories. However, at the end of the war, activities dropped as many of the things were no longer necessary. Also, in the case of the second world war, the later stages were characterized by huge famines: Bengal famine of 1943
  3. The impact of India's partition: The riots leading up India's partition in 1947 deeply scarred Calcutta and rest of Bengal. Direct Action Day.  West Bengal was cut off from the key port of Chittagong and many of the fields of East Bengal (now Bangladesh). Until 1947, jute processing and other factories were in the west and all the farms were in the east. The partition put both sides at a huge disadvantage. It took a while to recover.
  4. Freight equalization policy: As Santanu Chatterjee mentions in the comment below, this is also an important policy change that affected the eastern states. In 1952, Indian government introduced this policy that states that all essential quantities will be available to industries, anywhere in India, at the same price. For instance, if you open a steel plant in Mumbai, the government will give you iron ore at the same price as you get at the source in Jharkhand. It was done to spread the  industrial development all over India, while raw materials were primarily available only in eastern India. However, the side effect of this is that, businesses in the rest of India were no longer compelled to move to Bengal to tap its coal and iron ore. They could set up factories where it was comfortable to them – mostly in the west and south.
  5. Naxalbari movement: Unlike many other states, the West Bengal government didn't push enough on the abolition of the discriminatory zamindari system that put too much power on the landlords. This slowly fomented resentment among Santals and other tribals leading to a major riot in Naxalbari in north Bengal. That eventually led to the Communist revolutionary Naxalite movement that disturbed much of Bengal. I have a detailed post on this here:  Chapter 8: Political Calculus: Differentiation and Integration of India's Forgotten Communities
  6. Communist sentiments: The Hindu upper castes in Bengal shifted much more towards Communist party and this spooked whatever remaining of the businesses. Birlas and other entrepreneurs voted with their feet.
  7. Negative perceptions: In college, my friends and I traveled to Bangladesh. It was a long journey from South India through buses and trains and we had to go via Calcutta. My friends were more scared of Calcutta than Bangladesh. That is the kind of negative perception that media has created of Calcutta. My parents lived in Calcutta for a while and I always had the positive perception of Rosgolla, Robindranath and Rani Mukherjee. Thus, I got them convinced to go to Calcutta. The outsider perception of Calcutta is that it is a troublesome, lazy city where shopkeepers sleep in the middle of the day and people leisurely jaywalk busy roads. The Bengali elite has not worked significantly to change this wrong impression and this impedes outside investments.
  8. Excessive dependence on Calcutta: For a state with 91 million people, there is only one major city. To make it worse, there is not a major metropolis in like 1000 kilometer radius of Calcutta. This makes Calcutta a big magnet not just for poor Bengalis, but also migrants of all other surrounding states and even Bangladesh. The increasing influx broke the tolerance limits of this former national capital.

Where did West Bengal go wrong?


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