Art and culture lend a dash of colour to Bengal elections

By Saibal Gupta

Kolkata, Apr 16 (IANS): With elections just a few days away, local women of Dattabad area in Bidhannagar where Trinamool Congress' Minister-of-State for fire Sujit Bose is a candidate, have started painting 'alpana' designs, 'ghot' (Earthen pot) and 'patachitra' images (cloth-based scroll painting), trees, leaves and other designs, along with the candidate's name.

This is not a one-off example but, in this election, the creative images have lent an aesthetic touch to the wall writings, some send out strong messages to save trees and protect the environment. The poll graffiti -- usually the drab clichéd slogans and repetitive innuendo -- have been replaced by more vibrant and artistic form, sometimes with a green message but more often highlighting the rich cultural heritage of the state.

"Occasionally the walls look dirty because of political slogans. We want to change this mode of campaign. The campaign should be such that makes an appeal to the voters and by making creative designs we think we can reach out to the people. So, we want to campaign not by being nasty or aggressive on the wall but by drawing 'alpana, 'pata chitra' and trees that project our rich cultural heritage. We also want to send out a green message, stressing on the need to plant more trees to save and protect the environment," a senior Trinamool leader in charge of the campaign for the party said.

Not only in case of graffiti, but this election showed signs of revival of the artistic heritage of the state which was found missing in the last few elections. With chief minister Mamata Banerjee's jibe at the BJP leadership terming them 'outsiders' and a destroyer of Bengali culture the party swung into action with their election theme song 'Khela Hobe' (There will be a game). A song adopted by Trinamool young leader Debangshu Bahttacharya from a slogan coined by Bangladesh MP Shamim Osman four years ago, 'Khela Hobe' became the lip-song of the younger generation.

Trinamool's 'Khela Hobe' was countered by the BJP by appropriating a 19th-century Italian protest song: Bella Ciao or Goodbye, Beautiful- for its campaign. The parody video refers to Mamata Banerjee as "pishi" (aunt) and, rhyming with the words "bella ciao", declares, "pishi jao" (Aunty, you must go).

The BJP has pushed hard to accuse Mamata Banerjee of corruption, nepotism and playing dynasty politics. Through its lyrics and visuals, the song tries to create a sense of Mamata Banerjee's alleged misrule in Bengal. The "pishi" or aunt reference attempts to berate Mamata Banerjee for purportedly favouring her nephew, Abhishek Banerjee.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) released a parody of the popular Bengal song Tumpa Sona, a musical invitation to voters to attend a Left election campaign rally at Kolkata's Brigade Parade Ground on February 28.

It went viral immediately. The street-smart vocabulary used in the song to criticise Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party and Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress sparked a debate among Left supporters. "I don't know who is criticising it," he said. "Cartoons, graffiti, rhymes, slogans are part of Bengal's political culture. Parody is also part of our culture. I will congratulate those who created this video," CPM leader Sujan Chakraborty said.

Innovative slogans have long been part of Bengal's political vocabulary. A state that in the 1960s used to chant "Tomar naam aamar naam Vietnam" (your name and my name is Vietnam) in solidarity with communist guerillas in the South-East became "Tomar naam aamar naam Nandigram" (Your name and my name is Nandigram) as she led a movement against the ruling Left government to oppose the acquisition of farmland for a special economic zone.

Interestingly these slogans have always added colour to the political campaigns. In 2006 Left's Amader "Bhitti shilpo amader bhabishyot" (Agriculture is our foundation, industry is our future) was pitted against Mamata Banerjee's "Hoy ebar noy never" (this time or never). In 2011 Trinamool Congress' slogan "Badla noy bodol chai" (Not revenge, but change) voted for the change in Bengal and ended the 34-year Left Front rule. But there was again a change when BJP's "Chup chap fule chhap" (Vote silently for flower symbol) in 2019 gave them 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats.

In these 10 years Mamata Banerjee is no more the "satotar protik" (symbol of honesty) or symbol of Ma-Mati-Manush (Mother-Earth-the People). She is now the insider who will protect Bengal from "outsiders".

So, the party coined the latest slogan, "Bangla nijer meyekei chay" (Bengal wants its own daughter to be elected as the chief minister) who will protect against the so called 'outsiders' of the state. Now it is interesting to watch whether the state opts for BJP's 'Asol Poriborton' (The Real Change) or rest their faith on 'Nijer Meye' (Own Daughter).



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