Do those who criticise Kolkata and Bengalis harbour a bias against the city and the community? Before trying to look for answers to that charge, it would be worthwhile to conduct a dispassionate analysis of Kolkata. Such an analysis would hold good for the community as well since the two are so closely inter-linked—Kolkata reflects the face of the community and vice versa.
One doesn't need to go much beyond the state of the city's infrastructure. Bad roads, ill-designed flyovers, overflowing drains, archaic vehicles belching noxious fumes, chaotic traffic, contempt for traffic rules, stinking garbage all over, limited road space and tens of thousands of illegal auto-rickshaws—this is what Kolkata's infrastructure is all about. The British built Calcutta, and Bengalis ruined Kolkata.
After Independence, and more so over the last four decades during which Bengalis decided to make their state the last bastion of a subversive and redundant ideology, no major improvement has happened to the city's infrastructure. Kolkata has grown, but in an extremely unscientific, haphazard and bizarre manner. New townships--save for Salt Lake and Kalyani that happened thanks to the visionary B.C. Roy--that have mushroomed all around are little more than an ugly agglomeration of unsightly buildings crowding narrow, cratered lanes lined with clogged and stinking drains. It is only but natural that those who stay in such miserable conditions will have their psyche conditioned by their wretched surroundings and ambience. To expect art, culture, intellectualism and learning to flourish in such settings would be akin to hoping Narendra Modi would turn secular.
Yes, many parts of Kolkata have got a facelift and new projects like flyovers. But here, too, good intentions have been marred by colossal stupidity of their planners. Flyovers, for instance, have done little to ease vehicular movement and traffic congestions. Traffic jams are a regular feature in all cities of the world, but it's only in Kolkata that one gets stuck in a jam every couple of hundred metres.
Calcutta was once home to high-class institutions of global repute. These institutions spawned high-end research and researchers. They were, truly, world-class centres of excellence. But over the past three decades, these have been reduced to pale shadows of their former glorious selves. They've been stuffed with men of straw whose only qualification to enter the hallowed portals of such institutions is their communist leanings and subservience to the CPI(M). The Marxists have systematically and viciously destroyed all these institutions.
Where they have not been able to appoint unqualified partymen to faculty positions (as in Central government-run institutions), they have encouraged the employees to become undisciplined, shirk work and sabotage the institutions. This state, like all other states, still produces bright young men and women. But all of them migrate to other states due to the poor standard of colleges and universities here.
One Presidency College—and the quality of even this institution has declined immensely—does not matter; Calcutta University is little better than, say, the violence-wracked Lucknow University in terms of teaching standards and research. Only some private institutions, like St Xavier's and Loreto College (and the private, especially Christian, schools), can lay claim to fame; and here, too, the CPI(M) wants to poke its dirty nose by arm-twisting the authorities to appoint teachers of the party's choice.
It would be appropriate here to bust the myth about Bengalis' superior intellect. Calcutta had these famous institutions because the British set them up. Bengalis took advantage, and rightly so, of these institutions of scientific, western and higher learning to become doctors, engineers, scientists etc while people in other parts of the country lagged behind due to the absence of similar institutions in their cities and towns.
There is, thus, no reason to think that Bengalis have been blessed with a superior intellect, as Bengalis so proudly claim. And anyway, a community that reposes faith in a discredited ideology for there decades can hardly call itself intellectual. The CPI(M) has destroyed institutions because we allowed them to do so; we don't have the guts to stand up and protest Marxists' depredations. Let's accept this fact.
Pollution & public transport
Okay, so nothing much can be done about road space and there's little space left to build more flyovers; going underground isn't a viable option either in this overcrowded city with a severe shortage of open public spaces. But a lot can be changed within these limited parameters to make travelling around the city less tiring.
It could not have escaped the mind of the planners, even the ones with limited or below-average intelligence that we have in this city, to augment the public transport system so that more people use buses, trams and trains rather than their private transport to get around the city. For that to happen, the quality of public transport needs to be improved drastically. We need good, comfortable and more buses, including air-conditioned ones, on the streets. We need high-speed trams that are convenient to board and disembark, we need to expand the Metro Rail network and we need to increase the frequency of suburban trains so that they aren't crowded and can offer a comfortable journey.
This will encourage more people to settle down in the suburbs and will even motivate offices to move out of the city, thus decongesting Kolkata. And we need to take the highly-polluting buses, trucks, taxis and auto-rickshaws off the streets. But will all this happen, and fast? Not in a hurry, maybe never.
The reason being that there are too many vested interests in letting things continue as they are. The autos, the most polluting vehicles on Kolkata's roads, enjoy the backing of the powerful CITU and will never be taken off the roads. They can't be forced to convert to CNG because of the CITU's patronage. Those jalopies called buses will continue to ply because their owners, drivers and conductors are all affiliated to the CITU. Ditto for taxis.
For the CITU, clean air holds no importance. But one would expect the government to understand that the financial and social cost of treatment of lakhs of Kolkatans who fall victim to various ailments due to the foul and poisonous air we breathe in is far more than that of a few thousand autos going off the roads. Unfortunately, this government is too short-sighted to comprehend such matters and is happy to preside over the mess and chaos that Kolkata has been reduced to.
Kolkata boasts of as many as four medical colleges, one post-graduate medical institute and a number of other medical institutions, not to speak of a plethora of private hospitals. But despite all these, healthcare is perhaps the worst in Kolkata as compared to all other cities in the country. Newspapers carry reports on cases of appalling negligence and callousness by doctors and nurses nearly everyday. Attacks on errant doctors by angry relatives of neglected patients are an everyday occurrence in the hospitals. No treatment worth the name takes place at even district-level hospitals and since all patients are referred to Kolkata even for small ailments, the government hospitals here are horribly overcrowded.
To make matters worse, CITU-affiliated non-medical staff at these hospitals and medical colleges play truant and shirk work. It's virtually impossible to get a bed or even a simple analgesic at a government hospital without the help of touts. Doctors, with some honourable exceptions, are more bothered about their private practices. Archaic rules and procedures and frustrating red-tape deny critical patients the attention they urgently need, resulting in frequent deaths.
There's a huge scam in supply of medicines and equipment to government hospitals. The private ones are good only for those who can afford to pay; they're known to frequently flout rules to deny treatment to even emergency cases. Kolkata tops the list of cities with complaints of medical negligence.
While it is no small wonder that hospitals function at all, the whole system runs the risk of collapse any day. And to think that these very same medical colleges once produced the best doctors in the country! Why don't they do so anymore? And why do all the best doctors, like the best and brightest in all other fields, hurriedly leave the city for better pastures elsewhere in the country and abroad?
It is, however, futile to blame only our rulers for all the ills afflicting Kolkata and for the sorry state that Bengalis find themselves in today. As they say, we get the politicians that we deserve. Forget the dogmatic Marxists who rule over us today; enough has been said about them and we all know what they're all about. But even those in the opposition inspire little confidence.
The chief of the principal opposition party is whimsical, visionless, mercurial and devoid of any intellect or intelligence. Her followers today are little more than goons and dalals. The leaders of the only other opposition party of any significance are either in the payroll of the Marxists, or are eagerly awaiting small favours from the latter. In which other state do we find such despairing lack of politicians with a vision and purpose? In which other state are politicians, without exception, so banal and unintelligent? In which other state can politicians get away by making puerile and inane statements? Which other state rewards its rulers decade after decade for presiding over the state's decline?
One reason why we have such politicians is that we are loath to hold them responsible for all that's wrong with our city and state. Because a large section of us would still blame New Delhi for all that's wrong with us and our state and, hence, absolve our own politicians of all blame and responsibility. But this nonsensical game of blaming New Delhi has gone on for far too long and Bengalis would do themselves a big favour by admitting that a state and community that wishes to surge ahead will do so irrespective of the Centre's "neglect" or "step-motherly attitude" (two terms we love to use).
Let us be honest with ourselves and introspect, identify our faults and shortcomings and strive to rectify them, while also recognize our strong points and leverage them. It's high time we accepted responsibility for our plight and stopped blaming others for our sorry state.