July 6, 2023

Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the Bhadralok’s political primacy has ended. We also look at the Haryana government’s approval for 24×7 restaurants, among other news.


Has the Bhadralok’s political primacy ended?

In Satyajit Ray’s Ghare-Baire, as one views the world through its protagonists’ eyes, the advantages and appeal of conforming to high culture in Bengal in 1908 become evident. Western education, conservative attire made from Indian fabric, full-sleeved blouses, and engagement with pure Bengali literature were some of the hallmarks of the bhadralok, in the backdrop of the Swadeshi movement.

Bhadralok, the Sanskritised term for the gentry, no longer has the same social and political advantages that it had a century ago in colonial Bengal. When Mamata Banerjee became Chief Minister for a third term, the media was replete with imagery and metaphors of a final nail in the coffin of bhadralok-dom. Does contemporary Bengali politics signal the end of this social group and ideal, or simply a mutation?


Who are some of the famous Bengalis you can remember? For some, Raja Rammohan Roy’s name might pop up, Vidyasagar for others, and some bookworms might even remember Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay. Then there’s Bengal’s former CM, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The common thread between these men from different centuries is their distinct conformity to the bhadralok ideal.

The image of the bhadralok is so tied up with Bengal that we forget the contribution of other groups to Bengali culture. The idea of the bhadralok in 2023 is somewhat ironic, with popular perception painting them as relics of the past, too stubborn to let go of it and too outdated to gel with the present.

Yet, back in its heyday, the bhadralok class were known as the pioneers of the Bengali Renaissance, a cultural and intellectual movement in 19th and 20th century India.

Bhadralok culture took shape when elite urban Indians were getting Western educated in larger numbers, to be employable in a competitive colonial space. Rubbing shoulders with the colonisers reinforced ideas of a pure Bengali identity and language, a marker of cultural identity and a medium of self-expression.

Others, who didn’t conform to this image, were stereotyped as the chhotalok, or the backward classes. They comprised women, poor Muslims, and lower caste and class groups.

It’s an open, non-ascriptive group. There are two levels at which the bhadralok identity performs. One is its role as a social ideal, a culture one can imbibe if one adopts certain characteristics of intellectualism and appropriate aesthetics.

Looking at it this way, it appears caste-insensitive. Although the movement was formed and shaped by upperclassmen, lower castes, women, and Muslims could derive some socio-political benefits by taking a leaf out of the bhadralok book.

On another level, bhadralok culture is tied to the material realities of caste and class differences. After all, it was largely the upper-class elite men who could afford to study abroad or challenge “convention” and tradition without being ostracised. As noted by Sekhar Bandopadhyay, Brahmins, Baidyas, and Kayastha were the main caste groups that formed the urban intelligentsia.

Western education had exposed this urban folk to liberal and socialist ideas, paving the way for the bhadraloks’ marriage to Leftist politics. Notable bhadralok figures like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Vivekananda embraced egalitarian ideas and discussed the concepts of equality put forth by Utopian Socialists.

Early Communist leaders like MN Roy and Abani Mukherjee emerged from the bhadralok ranks, seeking armed revolution and forming alliances with revolutionary parties. The Leftward shift within the Congress party transformed the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee’s programme and politics. The Left-minded Congress workers mobilised peasants and Muslims, advocating for the abolition of Permanent Settlement and suspension of rent payments.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, a CPI(M) leader, embodied the quintessential Bengali bhadralok in his traditional attire of crisp white dhuti-panjabi (dhoti-kurtas). He was not only seen as the “liberator” who envisioned Bengal’s industrial renaissance but is also described as a bhadralok babu who wrote several books and translated Russian poetry.

With the rise of Hindutva politics and the declining appeal of the bhadralok culture, is it safe to say that the high culture is waning?

VIEW: Lost the plot

The rise of a market-driven economy has given way to the emergence of new social classes and aspirations. With the mounting importance of economics as the fulcrum of power, the bhadralok culture of academic superiority and class egalitarianism is taking a backseat. It’s the entrepreneurs and the moneyed classes that wield more social currency.

The rise of the Trinamool Congress marks the end of the hegemony of Leftist principles. New political practices and ideologies have taken hold of the state. The decline of the Left Front was consolidated when CPI(M) was voted out of power. Its class-based ideology satiates neither the palates of the intelligentsia nor touches the hearts and minds of the masses. The bhadralok group is limited in numbers and doesn’t count much electorally.

It’s not just that bhadralok ideas became outdated, but the appeal of underdogs in Indian politics cannot be underestimated. When Banerjee arrived on the scene, dressed in all-white sarees and flip flops, with a cultivated image of a street fighter, and yet an emotionally available didi figure, she snatched up political dividends. The same could be said about the notorious anti-establishment image of Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bengal’s neighbouring state. Populist politics garners more electoral rewards in current Bengal – not to mention the party’s outreach to women.

COUNTERVIEW: It’s not over yet

No doubt, the socio-political configurations in society are different now compared to when the bhadralok had just emerged. While the bhadralok may not have economic legitimacy, bhadralok culture as an ideal of Bengali identity remains dominant in the minds of many. In the 2021 West Bengal assembly elections, the BJP was badly thwarted despite a strong anti-incumbency wave against TMC. The reason? The left-leaning cultural milieu – a relic of the bhadralok past.

Banerjee’s appeal was built not through denouncing left politics but by imbuing it with her image. Her political strategy aimed to earn wider social legitimacy by reconciling with the bhadralok cultural icons and pivotal values, particularly Marxism. She reached out to leftist elements outside the CPI(M) fold, especially Left-minded intellectuals. Many of these leaders even became a part of the TMC later. She frequently hailed bhadralok icons in her speeches.

One reason for the long lease of life of the bhadralok culture is the social monopoly over literature and academia. Their past dominance in print, media, and the public sphere affords them a veritably large role in the intellectual tradition in the state. Some argue that it imbues them with credibility and expertise in political initiatives.

Reference Links:

  • Has the Bhadralok culture in Bengal faded? – The Hindu
  • Caste, Culture and Hegemony: Social Dominance in Colonial Bengal – SAGE
  • The Curious Trajectory of Caste in West Bengal Politics – Brill
  • Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Bengal’s forgotten former CM, is old, sick and unappreciated – The Print
  • Mamata 2.0: Why Didis aren’t ‘Bhadralok’ – The Economic Times
  • How West Bengal Halted the BJP’s Chariot – The Wire
  • Hammer And Sickle: How Communists Lost Relevance In Bengal – Outlook

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The Bhadralok have lost their political primacy in Bengal.

b) The Bhadralok haven’t lost their political primacy in Bengal.


For the Right:

Suspension of SAU Professors and the Growing ‘De-politicisation’ of Universities

For the Left:

Democracy is a Victim in West Bengal But Pro-Democracy Opposition is Silent


Restaurants open round the clock (Haryana) – Deputy Chief Minister Dushyant Chautala announced that restaurants in the state can now be open 24×7. Representatives from restaurant unions recently met with government officials lobbying to have their establishments open 24×7. After a meeting with the Labour Department, the government agreed.

Why it matters: So far, Haryana is the only state in north India where this rule applies. The restaurant unions wanted round-the-clock operations so that people could get food at any time at their convenience. Several companies operate at night, and some feel this decision will be helpful for those employees.

Muslim groups against UCC (Kerala) – As the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) debate has again come to the fore, Muslim organisations in Kerala have vowed to stand united against its implementation. Led by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), they said a UCC will affect Muslims and people of other faiths. Among the other groups against it are the Samastha Kerala Jem-iyyathul Ulama, Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen, and the Muslim Service Society.

Why it matters: VD Satheesan, the leader of the opposition in the state assembly said the BJP is pushing UCC to divide people along religious and ethnic lines. The Kerala Congress is set to meet to discuss its stand on the issue. The CPI(M), the state’s ruling party, has planned seminars against the UCC. The sentiments in Kerala are echoed by many opposition parties across the country.

Of polls and snakebites (West Bengal) – As polling personnel head to the rural parts of the state, their kit will also contain carbolic acid. As the monsoon sets in, snakebites are common in the state. On July 8, the polling date, there are forecasts for thunderstorms in the northern and southern parts of the state. Carbolic acid is commonly used as a snake repellent. It’s part of the kit given by the state election commission to polling personnel.

Why it matters: Most snakebites in the state are reported in the monsoon months between June and August. The state has among the higher reported snakebite incidents in the country. It has four types of venomous snakes – two species of cobras, the Russell’s viper, and the common krait. The state has among the higher reported snakebite incidents in the country.

Understanding the state’s monsoon (Goa) – A group of Indian and American scientists are taking part in an Indo-US study of the warming of the Arabian Sea and how it influences the onset of the monsoon. The formation of cyclones over the past 4-5 years is due to climate change and the warming of the sea. The long-term goal of the study is to see how monsoon delays affect fisheries.

Why it matters: The Arabian Sea is warmer by 2 degrees compared to a decade ago. Their study was affected by cyclone Biparjoy as they were close to the Kerala coast. This year, the monsoon in Goa was delayed due to the cyclone while the cyclone itself didn’t directly affect the state like it did Gujarat.

Kharge meets Congress leaders (Mizoram) – Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge met with state party leaders and declared the people of the state want change. Rahul Gandhi was also present at the meeting. The tenure of the 40-member state assembly ends on December 17, 2023. In a tweet, Kharge stated that the party will do everything in its power to bring in a new era of welfare and development.

Why it matters: The state has assembly elections later this year. The party is looking to return to power in a state where it ruled for a decade but lost out to the BJP. In 2018, the Mizo National Front got a clear majority with 26 seats, and Congress got just 5. The BJP also opened its account in the state.


₹999 – Reliance Jio has launched its new 4G Bharat Phone for just ₹999. The move shows the company’s aggressiveness towards the lower end of the subscriber spectrum.