West Bengal: A Ground Zero governor and an all-new Kabuliwala

From Bose vs Basu to the declining nutritional value of rice, from protesting school teachers to a sacked interim vice-chancellor

What was in the sealed envelope that CV Ananda Bose (left) sent to Mamata Banerjee?
What was in the sealed envelope that CV Ananda Bose (left) sent to Mamata Banerjee?

Uttam Sengupta

Bose vs Basu/ Writer vs Writer

When West Bengal Governor C.V. Ananda Bose completed one year in office in November, he declared that he wanted to be a “Ground Zero Governor”, on the field and among the people. Whatever he meant by ‘ground zero governor’, Bose, a former IAS officer of the Kerala cadre, is doing enough to stay in the news. While he has avoided attacking chief minister Mamata Banerjee on social media, he and the state’s education minister Bratya Basu have been waging a proxy war.

When Basu accused Bose of destroying higher education in the state as de facto chancellor of several universities, the governor warned the media to wait for ‘the stroke of midnight hour’ when they would see what ‘action’ meant, he promised. In the event, action turned out to be a sealed envelope dispatched to the chief minister from Raj Bhavan at midnight.

It ended in an anti-climax when neither Bose nor the chief minister would reveal what the content of the mystery envelope was. Basu, meanwhile, posted in mock horror that there was a vampire on the prowl in the city and citizens better beware.

The never-ending antics saw Bose dismiss all vice-chancellors of universities in August and appoint ad-hoc interim VCs. The dispute reached the Supreme Court, which advised the governor and chief minister to meet and resolve the issues while maintaining status quo.

Dismissed Jadavpur University officiating VC Buddhadeb Sau
Dismissed Jadavpur University officiating VC Buddhadeb Sau

However, annoyed with Jadavpur University going ahead with its convocation on 24 December (it has always held the convocation on this date) against its advice, Raj Bhavan withdrew the authority of (dismissed?) officiating VC Buddhadeb Sau a day before the convocation. Yet, the convocation was held with the blessings of the state government, and presided over by the pro-VC.

The tug-of-war between Bose, who fancies himself as a writer, and the education minister, who is an established writer, playwright, and director, continues. The former says the department and the VCs are corrupt, the latter maintains that Bose is arbitrary and ignored norms, statutes and recommendations of search committees.


Calcium, iron and zinc

At least 16 of our rice and wheat varieties, studied by agriculture scientists, have lost essential minerals including calcium, iron and zinc and the minerals are now between 19 to 45 per cent lower than in grains from the 1960s. Calcium is needed for bone formation, iron for haemoglobin and zinc is important for immunity and reproductive and neurological health.

The study, led by scientists in Bengal, shows that several varieties of rice cultivated across the country have nearly 16-fold higher arsenic and four-fold higher chromium levels than in the grains from the 1960s. Present-day wheat grains have, however, been shown to have lower levels of arsenic and chromium than wheat from the 1960s, indicates the study published in Scientific Reports.

Biswapati Mandal, a professor of soil science at Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vidyalaya, Mohanpur, pointed out that “the Green Revolution was focused on increasing yields and breeding varieties that were tolerant or resistant to pests and other stresses — no one cared much about the elemental make-up of the grains.” Mandal and his colleagues from other agricultural research centres and a scientist at the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, have expressed concern that the depletion of essential minerals might have adverse health impacts on the population.

A senior ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) scientist, however, said more studies are required. “We have released over 1,400 varieties over the past decades — the study has sampled only 16 varieties of rice and 18 varieties of wheat,” the scientist said.

A scientist at ICAR’s National Rice Research Institute, Cuttack, said the crop breeding community had been involved in efforts to develop biofortified varieties. Examples are rice varieties that contain high levels of protein and zinc, the scientist said. “The earlier efforts were aimed at food security, we’re now pursuing nutritional security.”


Mithun as Kabuliwala

“…the story that Tagore had written in 1892 is still so relevant. The friendship between a much older person — who comes from a different country, religion, culture and language — and a five-year-old Bengali girl is a comment in itself,” said Suman Ghosh, director of the third reiteration of Tagore’s short story Kabuliwala (1892), which released on 22 December.

West Bengal: A Ground Zero governor and an all-new Kabuliwala

In the two earlier films of 1957 and 1961 based on the same story, thespians Chhabi Biswas and Balraj Sahni had played the role of Rahmat, an Afghan dry fruits seller who strikes up an emotional bond with five-year-old Mini, who reminds him of the daughter he left behind at home. By all accounts, a versatile Mithun Chakraborty as Rahmat in the latest version, too, manages to strike a chord.

The contemporary relevance is unmistakable. The othering of the Muslim minority in India, police brutalities against Muslim salesmen and traders, from Kashmir or beyond, the suspicion and distrust they evoke are so routine that they have dulled our senses. A displaced Afghan’s quest for love and belonging in an alien city, the bigotry he faces, makes the film a timely mirror of our times in India and beyond.

Ghosh has woven in elements of racial discrimination, bias, rumour-mongering, and vigilante mob justice, mirroring the current socio-political situation in the country. Rahmat is often called a Pakistani and threatened with dire consequences if he doesn’t return to his country. Rahmat-Mini’s relationship thus becomes a metaphor for tolerance and acceptance.

Chakraborty, who is ironically with the BJP in his political avatar, has dedicated his performance and the film to a real-life Afghan, Jamaluddin, who had helped the actor during his struggling days in Mumbai. He does not know if Jamaluddin is still alive, but says that his performance is a tribute to the Afghan.


Aspiring teachers stage a sit-in protest in Kolkata (photo: @tapaspramanikES/X)
Aspiring teachers stage a sit-in protest in Kolkata (photo: @tapaspramanikES/X)

Teachers await judgment day

With CBI and ED inquiries into the school teachers’ recruitment scam approaching the deadline set by the Supreme Court and the Calcutta High Court, speculation is rife in the state about the political fallout. A section of observers points out that a series of alleged scams investigated by the central agencies over the last 10 years, including the Sarada chit fund scam, Narada sting, alleged coal pilferage and cattle smuggling cases, have not made a dent in the electoral fortunes of the Trinamool Congress. After winning 22 of the state's 42 Lok Sabha seats (the BJP won 18) in 2019, the TMC went on to win 212 seats in the 290-member assembly in 2022.

Other observers, however, believe that the teachers’ recruitment scam will have far more serious consequences. Several ‘ministers, ruling party MLAs and officials’ are already in custody, and central agencies recovered Rs 50 crore in cash from former education minister Partha Chatterjee and his aide in 2022.

It has been alleged that of the 42,500 candidates recruited as primary school teachers in 2016, as many as 36,000 did not have the requisite qualifications, or did not go through the required aptitude test, or scored less than those who were left out. Candidates who missed out on appointments and those who were appointed but lost their jobs have both been protesting and demanding employment. A spate of litigations remain pending in court, and some candidates have been on a sit-in protest for more than 1000 days. 

The lawyer credited to have brought the scam to light, M. Shamim, claims that the investigation has revealed some 9,000 cases of manipulation of marks. It was an elaborate scam involving jobs in return for money, he points out.

How damning will the investigation report be? The CBI had investigated the Sarada and Rose Valley chit fund cases too among others, but failed to cause much sensation. With the Lok Sabha elections months away, talks of deals are thick in the air though, as people wait for judgment day.


Tujhse Naraz Nahi Zindagi…

Outside Bengal, he was known as the playback singer of the iconic number Tujhse Naraz Nahi Zindagi, Hairan Hoon Main… in the film Masoom (1983). In Bengal, he was known as Satyajit Ray’s choice as singer in Goopi Gayen Bagha Bayen (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha, 1969) and Hirak Rajar Deshe (Kingdom of Diamonds, 1980). Ray’s son Sandip Ray turned to him to sing in his 1992 film Goopy Bagha Phire Elo (Goopy and Bagha Return). Anup Ghoshal was, however, best known as an exponent of lyrics penned by the poet Nazrul Islam.

Why didn’t he last in Bollywood despite having made a mark on his debut? His fans have an explanation. They recall that the late Hementa Mukherjee had asked him to sing a light, romantic song but Ghoshal refused. “I cannot sing this song; I will receive a scolding from dad,” he had explained. He was such a prude that he had no chance in Bollywood, they sadly reflected after Ghoshal passed away on 14 December.

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