Facebook’s Maverick Queen
Writing about the facebook page of a public figure, especially that of a politician, can be as pointless as reviewing a stripper’s overcoat. Anyone who has the time or inclination (or the job description) to follow social media platforms of such an entity will find the old media format of the press release or “party organ” (not a pretty term, that) hoisted on to the new, flashier formats of facebook or twitter. And sure enough, as I write this, the Prime Minister’s latest tweet was a link that opens up to the website of the Ministry of External Affairs,which in turn leads us to his scintillating “Statement to the media at the conclusion of the G20 summit in Los Cabos”. If there were more folks on twitter like our PM, the future of journalists is certainly secure.
But Mamata Banerjee’s recently set up facebook page (www.facebook.com/MamataBanerjeeOfficial) is a different kettle of pots. Unlike other worthies, here Banerjee uses facebook the way it’s supposed to be used – as a direct interface between her and folks coming to her facebook page. So even if the page is run by some Trinamool functionary from the precincts of the Dalhousie Institute Club in Kolkata, the Mamata Banerjee page (and there are some other unofficial ones for you to get waylaid by) works.
What, of course, makes me doubly interested in Banerjee’s posts is the fact that this is the same lady who not too long ago was supposedly threatening facebook for “carrying” opinions which were unflattering towards her. And setting the cops on anyone posting anything against her on facebook.
But if there’s one thing our favourite Trinamool facebook friend has quickly learnt is what Russian President Vladimir Putin (then-Prime Minister) had said when asked about his opinion on the internet: “If the authorities do not like what is happening on the internet, there is only one way of resisting. On the same internet platform you have to propose different answers… and collect a larger amount of supporters”.
Banerjee had inaugurated her facebook with a post that started quite predictably with probably the only Rabindranath Tagore quote known to most English-speaking non-Bengalis: “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high… Yada yada yada”. Using that as a preamble, she had launched forth on June 15th her pitch for APJ Abdul Kalam as presidential candidate. In typical facebook style, she veers from the humble (“I am a humble, transparent, common person like the vast majority of you” – although I’m not sure whether a humble person calling oneself humble remains humble) to the arrogant (“I have already given a clarion call to other parties to support Dr Kalam as President”). And in facebook, if ‘likes’ are transferable into votes, the 10,086 people ‘liking’ Banerjee’s first facebook post, should have already resulted in Kalam being in Rashtrapati Bhavan right now exclaiming, “Oh look, they’ve still kept my copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the library!”
Two days later, Banerjee posts her thanks -“for your overwhelming response, in such a short span of time, for this great cause of nation (sic)”, adding that – “it is most unfortunate that politics in our great nation has become murky and values, public interest have been compromised through the use of money, power and scams… I appeal to all Indian citizens and of course, the young generation of India, to raise their voices and be counted to fight against corruption, back-room deal making, Machiavellian manipulations and machinations”. In other words, someone with a very decent (although old-fashioned) grasp of English has written this heart-tugging facebook editorial, while the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav had been busy meeting Congress leaders behind firewalled doors.
On Monday, she updated her facebook Timeline cover picture to include the English translation of the original Bengali line stating, “I am your person, that’s all I want to be known as”- (the ultimate Facebook friend request) – which accompanied the photo of her painting what looks like a Cucumber Woman. And the next day, she uploaded the photos of the letter Kalam had sent her (“I am extremely sorry for the disappointment I have caused to you”) and of the letter she had sent as a reply (written on her chief ministerial letterhead with her name and designation marked on top in Bengali, Hindi, Urdu and English). Tagged as ‘Letters from the heart’, the post paradoxically underlines on the internet the importance of letters in ‘hard copy’.
All this is very fine and wonderful and moving. At certain points in the facebook page, Banerjee makes my eyes be covered with a film of water that doesn’t quickly evaporate even in the treacherous heat of Machiavellian Delhi. And more people than the number who will ever read what I’m writing now clearly read, agree and love what Banerjee posts on her facebook page. (My favourites have to be Pukun Deb’s and Subhadip Chatterjee’s heartfelt comments in response to ‘Letters from the heart’: “Di Di I luv u.nd respect u” and “You have to overcome the herdels… I am always with you.”)
It is necessary and important for Mamata-watchers to follow her on facebook. If not to follow her gush and rage which is all so evident whenever she’s in the news, we should track her page to gauge and figure out what those many folks who love and support her, despite her going loco from time to time, see in her as a person who is a leader. It’s one thing to know that Mamata Banerjee’s reaction to a satirical image on the internet – later followed by many other satirical images – bordered on the psychiatric. It’s another thing to try and figure out why so many people found nothing wrong in her fury against an emailed cartoon that, for a while, became a launchpad for hundreds of anti- ‘Didigiri’ facebook uploads.
But I hope Mamata Banerjee realises that just because I pressed ‘like’ in response to her facebook cover photo of her painting the Cucumber Woman doesn’t mean that I’ll be unwavering in my support of everything she does or say. And let that be a message to not only her, but everyone who misunderstands the term ‘facebook friend’.