Kolkata and Bourgeoisie Environmentalism
This project argues that as part of a strategy of reclaiming some role within the world system of cities and regions, Kolkata has over the past two decades embarked on a sustained campaign to remake itself. Primarily under the guidance of Marxist leaders at the municipal and state levels and with active support and investment from various federal governments – both centrist and right-of-centre (and all of them fully committed to liberalization)—Kolkata has been aggressively courting foreign investment and embarking on a growth strategy that bears considerable resemblance to the process Atkinson and Bridge (2005) have termed “global gentrification.” The emergence of new skyscrapers, malls, flyovers, highways, movie theaters, conference complexes, gated communities, schools, and restaurants are all testaments to the power of this new vision. So too is an ongoing cycle of displacement and dispossession, as both urban and rural poor are pushed further and further to the periphery (or into various parts of the informal economy) and can access the newly renovated spaces primarily through their labour in either building or servicing them. The key question that one must ask in viewing this dynamic, is of course, what kind of Kolkata is being built here? Who can live in it, and who is kept out of it? How do we understand the changes that are taking place in terms of the desires and demands of the various residents of this megacity? What we see all too often in the emerging struggles over the city and its spaces, the neoliberal vision of the city aligns well with the bourgeois desires of the middle class – as articulated by a clean, healthy and entertaining (rather than necessarily productive) environment meant to be enjoyed by some, but paid for and restricted to others. As the post-Left Front era in Kolkata and West Bengal unfolds, we will soon begin to see whether the neoliberal vision of a reborn Kolkata remains as generally appealing as it seems to have been so far or whether it will clash with another ideal, one perhaps articulated by the many who are left out of the plans of the global City of Joy.
A paper based on this research entitled “Bourgeois Environmentalism, Leftist Development, and Neoliberal Urbanism in the City of Joy” is in the forthcoming collection edited by Tony Samara, Shenjing He and Guo Chen Locating Right to the City in the Global South (Routledge, 2013).