It is a truth universally acknowledged that the announcement that a person of Indian origin has won a prize from a Western institution will set off a cycle of feverish activity back in India.
As Abhijit Banerjee won the Nobel Prize for economics on Monday along with two other academics, Tanvi Madan of the US thinktank Brookings, tongue-in-cheek, explained how the reactions in India would proceed.
While Madan’s description was fairly accurate, a small but significant tweak is in order. The element that was highlighted for discussion and debate was not Banerjee’s background as an Indian citizen but his ethnic identity as a Bengali.
Bengaliana celebrations were not limited to India. One Dhaka newspaper put Banerjee’s ethnic identity in its headline.
One Bengali user even methodically ranked subcontinental ethncities by the number of Nobels won (naturally, Bengalis were #1).
Some of this commentary hit a darkly competitive edge, even taking into account the politics of the National Register of Citizens, which has been criticised for allegedly targetting Bengalis in Assam.
One user was even angered by the fact that a news outlet highlighted the fact that Banerjee had been born in Mumbai in its headline rather than his ethnic identity
Not uexpectedly, the scale of Bengali gushing led to a response. One user pointed out sarcastically how it seems like every Bengali across the globe believes they had won the Nobel.
Writer Manu Joseph verbalised what was maybe a common complaint in the wake of the enthusiastic celebrations.
Others were even more blunt.
Some of the counter reactions also descended into straight-up talk about ethnic competition. People pointed out how Tamils were better, the poor state of West Bengal and why eating dhokl isn’t as bad as it was being made out to be.
Meanwhile, as Indians and Bengalis discuss Banerjee’s community affiliations, he himself seems to have chosen a life in the United States. Banerjee lives in Massachusetts and took American citizenship in 2017.
Away from the debate about Bengaliness, others celebrated Banerjee’s prize by describing their association with him over the years.