The Great Bengal Laughter Challenge

The latest from the Bengal Guffaw Factory — after arresting citizens for posting a political cartoon online —  is the marriage market embargo declared on the Reds by the Greens.

Well, I say embargo. What happened was that Jyotipriya Mullick — him hon’ble Minister of Food and Supplies; drop your salutes here, people — merely said, in a private conversation with TMC workers, that one must refrain from socialising with people one ideologically disagrees with. So says his colleague, TMC spokesperson Derek O’Brien. Besides, says he also, Mullick’s comments were taken out of context. (This is the rider without which no contemporary press-statement feels complete.)

The loyalty and spirit in O’Brien’s defence is admirable, particularly since this ‘private conversation’ was conducted at a public rally. Via microphone.

We in Kolkata have, of course, laughed ourselves silly these last few days. An entire government all a-flutter because someone emailed a scrap of political parody! The CID asked to remove anti-government cartoons from Facebook! TMC workers, haha, listen to this, TMC workers asked to turn their faces away if they meet their CPI(M) peers at tea stalls. Tea stalls, for gods’ sake! Bengal’s one-stop neutral territory, [male] community centre, and world-analysis headoffice! It is at this Mecca of bonhomie and expansive tolerance that one is supposed, literally, to turn the other cheek? Hah! And oh, as if banning dissenting newspapers from public libraries wasn’t dictatorial enough, the Chief Minister has now ‘advised’ citizens to watch entertainment channels, because news channels spread anti-government propaganda? Which breed of sheep does she think she is the supreme ruler of, exactly?

And of course, from the small minority that cares about such things, there have been suitably horrified gasps at the wave of violent misogyny in the state: The casual dismissal of rape charges — filed by the family-friend of a former Left Front Speaker of the House — as ‘attempted slander’ against the government and the city police; the instant demotion of the state’s first female Commissioner of Police, who proved those charges; and this week, TMC goons assaulting and stripping a woman in her home, then shoving her out into the streets.

In short, a very satisfactorily condescending time was had by all (except perhaps those that were directly involved in the events above). We were amazed — but not demonstrably terrified — by the ‘fascist’ overtures of our newly-elected government, deeply amused by its visible insecurity, mildly discomfited by its violence against women, and deeply embarrassed by its crass celebration of hard-won power. There is no question that Banerjee’s government deserves this condescension and this mockery. But it is the nature of this mockery, in form and in content, and not Banerjee’s government, that indexes the imminent death of Bengal’s democracy.

There is, of course, no question that Banerjee’s government deserves this condescension, this mockery. But if the labels — fascist, totalitarian, dictatorial — we scornfully applied to our government are in fact accurate, then that scorn should have been sandwiched between knee-knocking fear. Which is rather conspicuously absent. Most social media activism against the spate of malicious insanity above has had a strong element of parody. Fun is being poked, the offending cartoons and new ones are being given ether-time in considerable excess of their wit, and resident citizens are predicting each others’ imminent arrests for so doing. What appears to have been lost in this general air of democratic merry-making is the realisation that if we — a rather small socioeconomic section of the Bengal electorate — are not footing our ‘fascist’ government’s fear bill, then someone else is. Who might that be?

Before fetching our deerstalker, let us consider our new CM briefly. What is Mamata Banerjee, but an ideological tabula rasa upon which we have projected all our aspirations? Well, for one, she is the embodiment of that old adage, “the more it changes, the more it remains the same thing”. The urbane modernity of the internet-enabled, socially conscious demography have been outraged by the touch of the tantrum-prone desperado in Didi’s style of government, but their implied assumption that she is introducing new horrors in Bengal’s political horizons is alarmingly — and I use the word advisedly — naive. This comically horrific whip-cracking has been the hallmark of our administration in rural, suburban and urban fringes for as long as Mamata Banerjee has existed politically, and she has learnt her lessons well. The only difference between her reign and that of the CPI(M)-led Left Front, apart from the former’s terrible party infrastructure, is that Mamata belongs to the social class dismissively labelled “chhotolok” – the crass lower classes – and hasn’t quite learned that the Kolkata demography requires a few cushions to soften the blow of living in a totalitarian regime. Besides, she lacks, or perhaps deliberately eschews, the finesse granted by velvet gloves on even the bloodiest iron fists. Given that she grew up in a political climate where the right to live safely in a neighbourhood, to enrol one’s children in school, to get food aid from the ration shops, hell, to register one’s existence with the authorities, depended on one’s political loyalties, she might well be bewildered and infuriated that the rules of power appear to have changed just when, after decades of being beaten bloody and starved of privileges, she and her party have ascended the throne.

Of course, they haven’t — such rules seldom do — and sooner rather than later, her politically green, power-drunk party will work this out and start padding their fists. With cushions made of organic fibre and embroidered with ethnic needlework. And the People’s Ire of the Metropolitan Area will slowly subside into a comfortable lull of ignorance and indifference about those that shall continue to foot the fear bill, with blood, sweat, and empty stomachs.

Till then, however, we should keep protesting loudly and observe closely as the government pays us no heed at all. It will be good practice for later.



  1. I had been absent during that time but why do you think that people voted her in? The fear of being denied their factor inputs on the basis of party fealty or insecurity about adapting to a less rooted economic system?

    Ofcourse, you needn’t worry.Derek O’Brien did say TMC wasn’t monitoring the web.And Didi can’t triangulate your position based upon your mobile.


    Use TOR networks.

    (footing the fear bill)

  2. I didn’t understand what you meant by “the rules appear to have changed just when, after decades of being beaten bloody and starved of privileges, she and her party have ascended the throne.” Doesn’t everything depend on one’s political loyalties even now? I should imagine from the news we get, that one is laid open to all kinds of lumpen atrocity if one doesn’t have clout with the local police or the local TNC politician.Khanikta motsonyay er moto noy ki? Is the Didi even capable of controlling her goons?

  3. “Bribed tools of reactionary intrigue” is how Marx described the lumpen proletariat. The subtext of governance all these years (by the bourgeosie reactionary Basus ,Boses and Dasguptas in the guise of communists) has always been personal profiteering and free reign of state institutions – with the aid of private armies of these bribed tools. But the situation is rendered piquant when the CM’s chair is occupied by one such specimen. Without an iota of sophistry or understanding of realpolitik in changed circumstances.

  4. ‎’world analysis head quarter’, footing the fear bill,chhotolok, the shift in public expectation- excellent stuff.

    Disagree only with the prediction of coming lull. She is a faux pas factory and she has brought political trouble right into our circles. She won’t stop. Also, mark my words- some of the dictated and trampled m.p.s and m.l.a.s are going to break away from the party.

  5. I agree with Pathikrit da above. The promise of better Bengal was imposed upon us “First as tragedy, then as Farce”. A big mistake she has made is by antagonizing the media. And if you factor in two issues – the growing rural to urban migration that means more people are joining the urban votebanks which tend to be more politically aware as well as the increment of media even in rural Bengal, her mismanagement of political communication can be politically suicidal. Also take into account her strategy to mollycoddle the rural masses who were traditionally left supporters at the expense of the urban bhadraloks. On the face of it, that is a sound strategy. But not her vote share which is around 48%and likely to decline. Where as the left still got 42%. A party which is devoid of any program or ideology cannot hold sway by merely appealing to primordial instincts. She is trying to win them over overnight without making an effective policy changes. For all you know, the left might make a comeback in the next panchayet polls. As far as the urban voters are concerned, we have to be afraid but not by much as our democratic institutions still remain strong and her strategy is brazen enough for people to remain aware unlike more surreptitious measures taken by the central govt. So a lull might not eventually come as long as she continues to – Desher mukh ujjwal korchen, She is burning the face of the country (as was put by the inimitable Utpal Dutta in Sriman Prithviraj).

    • Pathikritda, the right has already risen, even if not perceptibly so yet. Statistically, the BJP doubled its usual number of seats last time — remember? But I do think there’s a slim chance she will learn the ropes within the next year, and lull the urban demography into a sense of false calm. Of course, as I said, she has awful party infrastructure and may not be able to implement a more sauve public face even if she wants to.

  6. All this is good in the long run, no? Mamata’s anarchy is clearly an extension of the worst elements of CPI(M) policies and practices. If CPI(M) was the B-team of Congress, TMC is clearly CPI(M) 80s all-stars. During last election, people realized they had the power to vote out CPI(M)’s party machinery. In next election, they will vote out CPI(M)’s policies. The cycle of nepotism, chaos and mastan-raj will finally end. Memories of CPI(M) misrule will be too fresh to go back to them. So the demand for efficient governance and economic growth will seek out interesting alternatives.

    • The horrors of SS Ray’s govt and the atrocities that took place at that time left permanent scars in the Bengali psyche. The people of WB voted in the Left Frond – read CPM – for the next 34 years. What you would call hitting the spade on one’s own foot 🙂 Now as a reaction to the horrors of those tears they voted in Mamata. Gets worse and worse, doesn’t it?

      • 77 was different. Not just the horrors of SS Ray. Emergency, (promises of) land reforms. Declining but still-alive global appeal of communist ideology, regional cultural appeal (little mags, street theater etc.) to urban elite and above all a deep cadre base. Enough to last 34 years. What does Mamata have in comparison?

    • “80s all-stars” is great! Kintu optimism ta maante parlam na. CP(I)M er policy alternative ke debe? Jol-e kumeer, dangaye baagh er scene e third alternative ki?

      • I root for Nitish. 80s all star very good but just as good is the flip side of the dead fish. Current times fertile in expressions, like a culture medium. Just read a series of jokes on her. Stuff like why did M cross the road? A:To walk you to jail.

      • I don’t know what the alternatives are. I can see BJP gaining strength. I can see pro-industry factions of CPI(M) branching out. Probably an alliance-based power sharing between 3/4 parties. I just do not see another 34-year long stasis ruled by a “chhotolok bostir meye”.

        • Dipanjan, this is in fact what I hope will happen, the emergence of a new political platform of diverse variables. Kintu coalition politics can far too often be an euphemism for a passing-the-buck system of horse trading, with even less room for the people to hold their ‘elected’ representatives responsible. There is certainly no room for another 34-year rule, but my fear is that the in four years Mamata has left — I strongly suspect that unless she fights in a stronger coalition next time, TMC won’t be returning — our sudden surge of democratic protests will fade to black.

  7. err, ekta bangla hit cinema’r gaan acche, “shopno, shopno, shopno..shopno dekhe mon” when crtain people even in my immediate family supported bjp here, it was cos of the anti-Left thing. ditto for this regime. dipanjan’s premise is the most interesting and kinda hiopeful of the ones i have heard so far, everyone around me seems so deeply polarized it’s difficult to even start talking about this. m cynical enough to say things like a dead fish when u turn it over, still remains dead.

    ps. i wasn’t in the state too when the shindig happened. but my relative in ahmedabad, the ones whom i was staying with? he was supprting mamata from there as if he was voting her in,himself :p ah, baangali sentiments :):)

  8. when i was getting indignantly caught up in all the fb outrage and tamasha, my bro, ten years younger to me, just said something i felt very pertinent. he said, didi, fb/social networking in the way we know it, didn’t exist many many years back. and then i began thinking, social networking for a certain section allows us to voice opinions which used to be kinda freelythrown about, maybe at a neighbourhood chaa’er dokaan. but unlike those, these are documented, shared..networked further. and of course manipulated/morphed whatver. m kinda thinking if this one is using the tools of the present times to control/try control, that one perhaps, if it had those tools, wd’ve tried similarly. it’s simply conjecture tho, and a controversial thing to say, i know. but yep, i just said it.

  9. “she has brought political trouble right into our circles. ” meaning? wasn;t political trouble always a part of “our circles”? in insidious ways? or maybe m mistaken, dunno.

    • People like us are getting arrested and pushed. I had faced both red leaders and tmc leaders of a union having maybe 3 or 4 thousand members. The reds were almost gentlemen compared to the tmc louts.

      We have received a circular dated 13.3.12 from delhi to deduct the pay of those who failed to attend office on 28.2.12, the day the left called a strike. This is the use she puts her clout in the ruling coalition to! The state govt. people atleast got fair warning of the coming madness. Her long struggle has messed up her mind. She wasn’t bright ever i think. She was necessary. The insane to remove the insanitary. Now may we have some JD(u) or something sane and largely clean?

  10. th thing is, m not really sure what the person on the road, the non-fb using person, is saying. tho i try listening in on convos in autos n things. but ‘comfortable lull’? i dnt think that will happen. opinions are way too polarized and red in the sense of angry for a ‘comfortable lull’. but the alternative? dunno.

    • Priyanka, to address your questions very quickly, our chief shared concern here seems to be this: earlier, as your brother pointed out, we in the metro cities seldom noticed the atrocities the super-efficient CPI(M) cadres carried out all over the state, because the party’s behaviour within the middle-class Kolkata circle was quite different. “People like us” used to be just as powerless then, but not as openly persecuted. With the TMC, this difference has slowly dissolved, and as a consequenc, we see the social media outrage you refer to. The point is, though, that if the TMC learns how to coddle the urban, ‘educated’ demography instead of flaunting its power in their faces, there is a very strong possibility that we shall go back to not knowing and not caring in the rest of Bengal.

      And that is partly how democratic structures crumble.

  11. “The urbane modernity of the internet-enabled, socially conscious demography have been outraged by the touch of the tantrum-prone desperado in Didi’s style of government, but their implied assumption that she is introducing new horrors in Bengal’s political horizons is alarmingly — and I use the word advisedly — naive. This comically horrific whip-cracking has been the hallmark of our administration in rural, suburban and urban fringes for as long as Mamata Banerjee has existed politically, and she has learnt her lessons well. ”

    Couldn’t agree with you more about that.

    But I am much more than “mildly discomfited” by the ever-increasing acts of atrocities against women…

    • Shuki, you’re more than mildly discomfited because you belong to both the potential victim demography, AND the tiny conscientious crowd that cares. If you dilute the amount of concern to the total population, “mildly discomfited” might actually be an overstatement. Have you noticed how all media reportage on the woman being beaten and stripped has become narratives of “a father’s wait for justice”? Not that it can’t be both, but notice the preferred rhetoric?


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