International Trade and Development in Bengal: Perspectives of Mr Chandra Kumar Bose (Aparajita Banerjee and Bhargavi Battala, July 2016)

19th February, 2019

A major part of the bilateral mission for exchanging knowledge and educating countries about socio-political and economic changes, takes place when independent people to people correspondences create an opportunity to further the understanding. The aim of this independent research was to investigate how Australia and India could engage in a symbiotic dialogue that would facilitate both educational and trade interests.

As nationals of both countries and students of Global Media Communications, International Business and Supply Chain and Logistics management from The University of Melbourne and The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, it was crucial to glean potential areas where meaningful work could be done and shared goals realized.

In the words of Jamais Cascio, a writer and futurist specializing in design strategies “Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive” and no other country experiences such extremes in its development sphere as much as India. Its political resolve was put to test in 2014, when the BJP came to power in a landslide victory, however there are still regions in the country where the political infrastructure is amidst a battle between recalibrating its appetite for resilience and maintaining the status quo.

A popular narrative among the youth in recent times seems to bear resemblance to the nationalistic movement once witnessed in 1947, a second independence as some claim, from that of the clutches of Congress. Subhas Chandra Bose (Netaji), the product of the Indian renaissance was born at a time when India was going through dramatic transformations. Old ideas were replaced by new liberal and rational thought, at the same time attempting to keep the nationalist spirit, unencumbered. The atmosphere today is rich in debate and dense with ideas of nationalism, political agitation, educational reforms and above all socio-economic progression. Historically, political reverberations were prominently felt in Bengal, as it had long stood as the nursery of Indian nationalism and progressive thought. It was during those times, when Bose had metamorphosed into a symbol of national independence who would ultimately spearhead the formation of the Indian National Army. His ideology differed from that of Gandhi and his approach towards an independent and self -sustaining India was both pragmatic and rational. The assertion of one of India’s most revered freedom fighter’s strategic and political decisiveness are frequently quoted among defence personnel and government authorities alike. His legacy has left an indelible mark on India, the manifestation of which is seen by the changing public attitudes towards an alternate form of governance which may closely converge with his ideals.

It is therefore no surprise that his grandnephew Mr. Chandra Kumar Bose has undertaken the herculean task of transforming West Bengal and ensuring that the future is as glorious as the past had once been. Educated in Hendon College in London, Mr. Bose had studied economics and eventually joined the Tata Management Training Centre in Jamshedpur. He had joined the Tata Steel as an Area Sales Manager in 1982, in the footsteps of his Grand Uncle who had once been the trade union leader of Tata Steel.

After his resignation in 2000, he opted to run Bose Information Technology private limited, a consulting firm that assists in human resource and skill development and eventually decided to foray into the world of politics as the Vice President of BJP in West Bengal. He is not only the general secretary of the Indian Socialist Democratic Forum that champions human rights awareness in third world countries but also a convenor at an open forum dedicated to the declassification of files on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.

The new face of BJP in West Bengal in one of his interviews in an online editorial claimed “Netaji believed in political, economic and social freedom. During our discussions, Narendra Modi has told me that the BJP will revive the message and legacy of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The social fabric of the country is at stake, we have to bring back the heritage, culture and history of the country. India got political freedom but never got social and economic freedom”1. West Bengal is in transition and the future of its development requires critical analysis of the policies and venturing beyond the nomenclature of the political campaigns.

Independent India is a year short of turning seventy, and though it has seen spurts of growth, the overall tag of ‘developing’ country hasn’t been detached. Scholars of development studies have spent the last few decades establishing and exploring the patterns of development in various countries and we can see that most developing countries follow a template for development, and modernisation/ urbanisation seems to be the norm now. India is a comprehensive case study for understanding the various development theories from dependency during the colonial rule, to modernisation, to globalisation1   and recently, human development proposed by Amartya Sen. (Globalisation is more of a phenomenon than a development theory. But in development studies it is used as a term to explain the effect of international trade and digital technology on development in Third World countries.)

Currently, India is going through a major transition due to its huge youth demographic and the political atmosphere has become even more dynamic than before. Mr. Bose is concerned that the Forward Block has drifted away from Netaji’s ideology and feels that BJP’s current ideology combining socialism and nationalism is closer to Netaji’s vision for India.

When questioned about the recent national vs. anti­national debate and the incident at JNU, Mr. Bose rightly pointed out that being a national is a simple concept and alludes to being a good citizen of our country while being aware of our rich history, heritage and culture. We then moved on to the political and developmental grounds and spoke about rights­ based development and his plans for West Bengal. The grounding of rights based approaches in human rights legislation makes them distinctively different to others, lending the promise of re politicising areas of development work—particularly, efforts to enhance participation in development, that have become domesticated as they have been ‘mainstreamed’ by powerful institutions.

Amartya Sen envisaged the concept of human development, extending from rights- based development, keeping countries like India in mind. Though the development of infrastructure needs to take prime importance, it is also important to take a step back and look at how the formulaic pattern of development has created inequality, globally. During the course of the interview, Mr Chandra has mentioned about the ‘Indian way’ of development numerous times. He talks about customising development patterns to India and not just blindly following current trends. His experience as the General Secretary of the Indian Socialist Democratic Forum, has allowed him to identify the issues in the current developmental work that Governments of various states in India are undertaking and is of the opinion that a holistic approach has to be designed where development takes place after taking into view, the basic human rights of the citizens.

Mr. Bose is positive that the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will be a turning point for BJP in West Bengal, if they are able to establish an efficient organisation by then. He suggests having a recruitment drive, similar to what corporate organisations do, to recruit interested and eligible people into politics.

West Bengal has been known as the former capital of British India. International market summaries have frequently highlighted its lead in the steel, mining, railways and the tea industries. Having a natural geographical advantage of being the gateway, both to eastern and north eastern India, it is also ideally positioned to leverage on market synergies from the Southeast Asian countries.

However, reflecting on the current development scenario of West Bengal, Mr. Bose shed light on both the issues and opportunities surrounding industrialisation in the region. When questioned about the manufacturing void in the state and the withdrawal of Tata Nano in 2008, he attributed ineffective land policies by the previous governing party as the main obstacle in hindering industrial progress. The 34 year left rule according to Mr. Bose neglected the core sector industries in favour of the agricultural sector.

One of BJP’s national agendas include the development of the eastern region, the key deliverables of which would be “clear cut land policy” and job creation. A pivotal part of good governance promoted by the Modi government involves an efficient process for land acquisition and other relevant alternatives. In line with the “ease of doing business” index, BJP aims to implement a “single window” point of access which would allow for the consolidation of services including an end to end policy advisory for potential investors. Mr Bose emphasized that a governmental department dedicated to the issue of land acquisition would essentially eradicate the need for third party interventions and improve transparency among the stakeholders.

A regional consensus about re-configuring the brand of Bengal, converges with the national developmental agenda focused on the north eastern and eastern regions of India. This is partly due to the impact it would have on the success of the “Act East Policy” (AEP), initiated by the Modi (and the National democratic Alliance) in 2014 and partly due to the marketing required to attract new entrants into Bengal. Under the leadership of Prime minister Modi, the AEP has also expanded its geographical coverage beyond ASEAN alone, and have included countries like Japan, Australia, Pacific Island nations, Mongolia and South Korea, therefore the influence of soft power would be crucial in establishing new trade relationships.

Additionally, cultural exchanges would be pivotal to promote uncharted yet profitable regions such as West Bengal. An obvious sector that would require considerable infrastructural and human resource development is tourism. Mr. Bose is keen on reviving the wildlife of Bengal. Sundarbans would be an ideal tourist attraction as would the heritage and cultural sites of Kolkata.  He further elaborates “So we would try to see that Bengal is on the map, especially in Australia and other nations who are looking towards India now”, stressing on the importance of culture, history and the arts as soft powers of West Bengal which require further exploration.

However, community participation on such efforts conventionally depend on student and other cultural bodies, which have not been active on this front in recent years. Primarily, due to increased regional mobility, students leave West Bengal after their tertiary education in search of better employment opportunities and partly due to the lack of connectivity between educational institutions and the industry.

Nevertheless, enormous collaborative opportunities permeate across the educational sector of West Bengal. Strategies involved in repositioning Bengal as a knowledge hub would both leverage on its rich intellectual and academic capital along with the latest international recognition of premier institutes, such as IIM C (Indian Institute of Management Calcutta). In 2015, IIM C won the EQUIS accreditation, granting it the “triple crown” status and making it the “first business school in India to be accredited by all three major accreditation agencies in the world.”2 which would ideally make it a preferred institution for international collaborations.

According to “A very short Policy Brief “by the Australia India Institute (2016), the Australian and Indian bilateral relationship could be deepened through exchanges in their educational sectors. Since Australian universities have in the past benefited from engaging with India’s education sector, AII continues to showcase successful academic and research collaborations between the countries and claims that ‘a sustainable approach to increasing the flow of students would require more long term partnerships between the universities of India and Australia.’3

Mr. Bose welcomed the idea of cross institutional engagements and recommended customized courses specifically in the space of skill development designed for Australian Universities. This resonates with the AII’s analysis on mutual benefits that could be derived from the “history of strength” for specific disciplines attributed to the countries. For example, Australian universities could be instrumental in revolutionizing the social science and arts area, whereas Indian science and Information Technology could share innovations with their Australian counterparts. He was positive about future developments and thought universities in West Bengal would be eager to have experienced people from Australia who could visit Bengal and share their knowledge.

It is unfortunate that West Bengal has not been at the forefront of collaborations initiated by Australia due to a lack of awareness and an established familiarity with Northern and Western regions of India. Conversely, West Bengal has inherently been predisposed to British education, with majority of student exchanges taking place with England and United Kingdom in general. Mr. Bose acknowledges the overall lack of awareness about Australia in West Bengal but also realises the tremendous potential for greater socio-cultural exchange in this space.

While Australia attempts to expand and forge new alliances in the Asian century, unexplored markets such as West Bengal would play a pivotal role in the exchange of innovative ideas, resources and collaborative pursuits. Simultaneously, as Bengal ushers in a new era of trade and development, Australian businesses and institutions can assume a first entry advantage and provide enormous leverage for a more symbiotic and sophisticated bilateral relationship with India. Amidst the change, leaders such as Mr. Chandra Kumar Bose, who are both decisive and clear about progressive strategies also have an emotional connection with the region, which is essential for Bengal’s future. His alliance with the BJP offers Bengal the much needed transformation and an opportunity to phoenix from the shadows of its stagnation.


  2. IIM-C Triple Crowning
  3. A very short policy brief (AII)

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