Sankar’s Jana Aranya and the Attributes of International Politics


Mani Sankar Mukherjee, widely known as Sankar in Bengali Literature, wrote a famous novel ‘Jana Aranya’, later adopted as a film in 1976 by Satyajit Ray under the same name. In his seminal work, Sankar portrayed the socio-economic structure of the 70s India which demonstrates the sympathetic portrait of human striving and shrewd understanding of the ways of the world. This remarkable book beautifully evokes the complexities of international politics in a rapidly changing landscape, especially post-pandemic aftermath. Shankar’s work is an insightful exploration of the uncertainties that arise when ideology trumps reason and the devastating effects of that phenomenon on individuals and societies. Against such a backdrop, this book is as relevant today as it was when it was first published in 1971, given the continuing political turmoil around the globe.

The Plot of the Book: In a Nutshell

The book illustrates the complexities of international politics through the eyes of this story’s protagonist Somnath, a young man who represents the struggle of middle-class society in a time of recession and political mayhem. Somnath’s quest for idealism and social justice drags him into a place where he is entangled between his beliefs and success. He quickly discovers that the world is a more complicated place than he had ever imagined. He encounters political corruption, nepotism, violent extremism, and the dangers of blind allegiance to an ideology. However, the book explores how Somnath navigates these challenges and learns to find his place in an often complex and often bewildering world.

The Relevance of Jana Aranya in the Present Context

Jana Aranya indeed depicts some of the attributes of the current world order, especially the geo-political rifts and economic tumult. Across the globe, we are witnessing the rise of ideological battles, the resurgence of nationalism, and the breakdown of traditional alliances where international laws and norms for morality are set at the bottom of the bottle. The world seems to be moving towards a new era of conflict, where old geopolitical structures crumble and new ones emerge. As we move forward in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war, the world will face new challenges in the years to come. The pandemic has exposed the fragmentations of our global systems and highlighted the urge for greater international cooperation and solidarity.

One example of this chaos is the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. The roots of this conflict date back decades, but it has been inflamed in recent years by the rise of extremist political agendas, populism as well as the changing geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. The conflict has led to widespread violence, displacement, and human suffering, with no end in sight. The sense of humanity is nowhere and the Palestinians are forced to live like Somnath by giving up their hopes.

Another example is the ongoing plight of refugees all over the world. The state itself has become a perpetrator claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and displacing millions of people. Moreover, inter-state conflicts have been fueled by the involvement of regional and global powers, including Russia, China, and the United States. Here, like the upper class portrayed in the book, the superpowers are diving into the game of interest for their parochial mindset rather than pursuing greater global goods. It is just a mere exchange of characterization between the book and the global powers.

A third example is the rise of far-right nationalism in Europe and North America. In recent years, we have seen the election of leaders who espouse xenophobic and racist rhetoric, and who seek to close their borders to refugees and immigrants. This trend has contributed to a rise in hate crimes and has put a strain on international institutions such as the European Union. The immigrants and refugees and the people suffering from the far-right movements are the “Tram” which wants to find its place in a chaotic world but nobody cares for it.

Ironically, some of the countries from the global south like Bangladesh which are focusing on their economic development and are inclined to follow a policy of non-alignment are between the devil and the deep sea. Like Somnath, they are facing great difficulties to maintain a balanced position based on their moral values and norms in the super-power battle exposed by the Ukraine war. It remains unchanged, unmoved, it is just the continuation or amplification from a smaller pallet of the book to world politics. Besides, the growing tensions between the United States and China have long been engaged in a complex economic and political relationship, but in recent years, that relationship has become increasingly strained. The Trump administration pursued a policy of economic nationalism, imposing tariffs and other measures on Chinese goods, while China has responded by increasing its military presence in the South China Sea and pursuing a more assertive foreign policy.

The Ukraine war adds a nail to the coffin of world politics and the global economy which led to widespread economic disruption and the loss of millions of lives. Along with Covid Pandemic, it has also put a strain on international institutions and alliances, as countries scramble to secure vaccines and medical supplies for their populations. However, in it, countries still do not opt to lose their grip on the nerve of politics and henceforth the term Vaccine Diplomacy came to the stage of global politics. Now, the lessons of Jana Aranya are more relevant than ever, as we grapple with these complex and urgent issues. The book reminds us of the importance of reason, compassion, and critical thinking in navigating the complexities of international politics. It is only through these values that we can hope to build a more peaceful and just world.

In the end, we want all the Somnaths to get the chance and rostrum to uphold their moral values. Wewant them to write poems, as Somnath did in his good days, and the poems should reflect their true nature of them which are based on social norms and universal morality which will uplift the solidarity among them in the smaller ground will collectively make the world more cooperative and fuller of pearls of wisdom.

– Syed Raiyan Amir and Saume Saptaparna Nath are Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in Dhaka Courier [Link]