Stars, planets, black-holes – West Bengal’s glamorous turn
By Pratik Deb for AlalODulal.org
The recent announcement of candidates for the upcoming parliamentary election by Trinamul Congress supremo and the current chief minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee created unprecedented uproar and commotion in the state as she chose a large number of candidates belonging outside of the political arena. From famous present day Bengali movie star to ex-captain of national football team, from the history professor of Harvard University to the singer who used to be on the opposite political camp: Ms. Banerjee certainly brought all the glitters she could possibly master. Stealing a page from her own book, Ms. Banerjee upped the game she started during former elections when she was throwing away tickets to former film stars out of apparent flippancy that had been a trademark of her politics since time immemorial. Yet what made this occasion distinct are not the frivolity, but the brazenness and boldness with which she ‘depoliticized’ her party high command.
Using the so-called ‘star attraction’ to entice public opinion into vote-bank is nothing new. We are used to see jobless Bollywood veterans or former cricketer turned color commentators vying in election, thanks to the usual myopia of the mainstream political parties. But compared to national stage, West Bengal had showed some restraints on this front, thanks to the goodwill of the people who usually refused to elect exported vacuous magnetism of celebrities. Only time will tell us if Mamata was able to unilaterally destroy that tradition or not. Given the dismal state of the opposition and with the heinous crimes they committed while in power still fresh in people’s memory, chances are Mamata would be able to get most of these straw men she handpicked elected to the parliament.And there await the disaster.
In spite of its apparent frivolity, the leadership of Trinamool Congress, mostly comprising of the supremo and her long shadow and a few individuals surrounding her, fawning and sniggering all the time in an ingratiating manner, must have thought the entire ordeal through. They must have anticipated the vitriol and lampooning being spewed at them. All that, they must have thought, a small price to pay to retain the general motto of their party democracy: choosing people so inconsequential in their own political prowess that they would never be able to question the authority of the existing leadership. And where would you find better yes-men with general mass appeal than from film industry. The slogan of Ms. Banerjee, for the last state election was also similar as she asked the constituency of West Bengal to cast their vote as if she herself is the candidate in all the seats. So the seed was always there, only it took a little time to germinate.
The onslaught of idiocy and senselessness that Indian democracy has to handle from its very inception has been much worse. We as a nation sunk into emergency, witnessed multiple riots being perpetrated to destroy the multiethnic value of the country, and even saw the use of an Osama bin Laden look alike being used to woe voters. So it would not be fair to suggest that Mamata’s action would rank even amid the top notch discombobulating moments of Indian politics, but it is certainly a shift of gear for the politics of West Bengal. And certainly it indicates the shift of political perspective in entire subcontinent.
The sensationalisation of politics is more or less complete at this point. The conversation of principles and tenets of the political discourse has been converted merely into the talking points of television shows where self-proclaimed political pundits and talk-show hosts have shout-fests at each other. When the general election is reduced to something akin to a local soccer match played by two local rivals that people can watch sitting glut in front of their television sets, the state of the political system does not just become preposterous but ominous. The players of entertainment had to be different from the policy makers, and who can put up a better show than some veteran actors finding a new center stage on different settings?
Politics, it has been argued, has always been a form of performance. No matter what the ideology is, the dramatic element is essential for its dissemination and consumption. And when the ideologues are getting thinner to the extent of being non-existent and its consumption as a cheap form of public amusement is becoming ever so salient, the theatricality has to but be all that is. The depoliticisation of politics is, perhaps, the biggest tragedy our generation is witnessing, alas with a celebratory demeanor. Thus in a way Mamata may be the harbinger of the new era that is dawning upon us, the usher of the brave new democracy where we elect entertainers rather than policy-makers, we choose to be entertained than to be engaged into political dialogue, we choose to be the consumer of our democracy rather than its arbiter. It is high time we woke up to the perverseness of the political circus of this sarcastic politics.
Pratik Deb is a medical doctor and former independent student activist of Kolkata, currently a doctoral researcher at Rutgers University.