PAPER TRAIL

A rather pathetic attempt by Mamata Banerjee to subvert democracy and stem criticism of the TMC.

WrittenBy:Madhumita Bhattacharyya
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There is a land, far, far away, where ordinary citizens cannot read what they wish to. Where TV channels can be blacked out at will. Where there is a great wall blocking those websites where popular opinion cannot be hemmed in. Where newspapers are merely mouthpieces of the ruling class.

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We won’t go into the details, but we will reveal this telling piece of trivia: The country follows a system of government that starts with a ‘C’. In fact, let’s call it Country C for now.

And then there is another land, not so far, far away, where the government has decided that only eight newspapers will be stocked in its libraries.

Yes, we must admit that keeping some newspapers out of libraries is a rather paltry, some might even call it pathetic, effort to subvert democracy compared with the illustrious methods employed by Country C. When was the last time you got your news from a state-run library anyway?

But a girl has got to start somewhere.

We will name this land of only eight newspapers: It is our very own Paschim Bongo under Mamata Banerjee, who, as you may remember, came to power not so long ago by ousting the CPI (M).

Ah yes, another ‘C’. The same ‘C’, in fact.

Why this sudden, strange ruling? If you insist upon looking for reason in the increasingly erratic ways of Ms Banerjee, you will find that it is no more than the logical culmination of her recent paranoia, as she becomes more and more convinced that the media is out to get her.

She is probably right. However, she has not taken the business in the best spirit, resulting in a poorly veiled war with the English media, and just about any other publication, TV channel or magazine that dares to question the Trinamool might and right.

So, in an attempt to protect the masses from allegedly coloured reportage, she has banned the offending papers from the only places she could – about 2,500 state-run and state-aided libraries. After all, she couldn’t close down the media houses outright, now could she?

This is not the official version, of course. The logic stated in the directive, presented by way of a circular to libraries, is revealing. All papers owned, or purportedly owned, by political parties are to find no berth in libraries. And yet only one paper out of the banned lot – the decidedly (and openly) red Ganashakti – is actually run by a political party. At the same time, two of the publications on the permitted list boast proprietors/editors who have been named Rajya Sabha MPs by a political party. Guess which one? It’s the Trinamool, of course!

But politics is not the only reason Ms Banerjee has chosen to wiggle her unpedicured toes in a matter as bourgeois as her subjects’ reading habits. The circular also helpfully points out: “It is felt that the newspapers/dailies… will, besides promoting language, particularly among the rural masses, significantly contribute to the development and spread of free thinking among the members.”

One can only hope that her subjects, for Ms Banerjee’s sake, drunk on all this free thinking, are not tempted to exercise their discretion as to which paper they feel is worth their time and indulge in the revolutionary act of going out and buying a copy.

We will also employ our right – so generously granted by Ms Banerjee – to think for ourselves and come to the conclusion that, last we checked, English was most definitely a language. So we can only interpret these words to mean that the state government wishes to nurture regional languages native to India.

Perhaps the kind of free-thinking Ms Banerjee has in mind can only take place in the vernacular? This too will sound familiar to those who remember Bengal before the Bongo days, when the CPI (M), during its epic rule, stopped the teaching of English at the primary level in state-run and state-aided schools. Ms Banerjee might consider reviving such measures. How else to control the dangerous spread of ideas amongst the proletariat? Sorry, wrong party. We’ll call them ‘the peepuls’.

This wouldn’t be the first time Ms Banerjee would deign to borrow a page from her predecessor’s book. It was her opposition to industry and the evil hand of Capitalism that got her to power in the first place, as it is impossible to forget. Particularly if you reside in Singur, where you can’t buy a factory-price Nano but you can ride the Andolan Express as far as Howrah.

The irony is that it would be a bit rich if the current Opposition in Paschim Bongo started bandying about the ‘C’ in their acronyms by way of criticism of Ms Banerjee’s censorship efforts. So they chose another ‘ism’ as the enemy. “This is worse than censorship; this has shades of fascism,” said CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, in response to the news of the paper ban. We all know what he really meant, now don’t we?

But Ms Banerjee is perhaps on safe ground when it comes to accusations of hypocrisy, for it is perfectly acceptable for a politician to change colours, chameleon-like, when the occasion demands it. For years, certain senior Congress party officials have been referred to as ‘torbooj’ or watermelon, in Bengal. On the outside, they are green; on the inside they are red. Get it? Though Mamata has chosen baby blue as the colour of Kolkata under her rule, her true shade is the green of the blades of grass of her party’s symbol. (Served rare, with a gushing red interior.)

And finally, those who feign surprise at this latest measure from Ms Banerjee are being more than a little disingenuous. Can they really claim they didn’t see this coming? To paraphrase Maya Angelou liberally, Ms Banerjee has shown us what she is time and again; so it is time we started believing her. We present the evidence, in the words of Ms Banerjee herself, more or less.

Babies die in hospital: Not my fault; they were conceived during Left Front rule!

A woman is raped: It is a “shaajano ghotona”! (A “dressed up case” as some may call it; or in other words, a fraud.)

Reporters are attacked: It is a conspiracy!

The mean media won’t stop writing wicked stories about me, no matter how hard we beat them: We’ll hide them from the peepul, and pretend they don’t exist!

That’ll show them!

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Image: [ Rajkanwal Suri]

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