“In a country of censorship, every forbidden piece of printed matter, i.e., printed without being censored, is an event. It is considered a martyr, and there is no martyr without a halo and without believers.….. The censorship makes every forbidden work, whether good or bad, into an extraordinary document, whereas freedom of the press deprives every written work of an externally imposing effect.”—Karl Marx
In the film Hirak Rajar Deshe there is a famous scene, where a singer is brought before the king. The singer says that he was arrested because he was singing and he cannot live without singing. The king asks him to sing and is visibly enjoying the touching voice of the singer. But suddenly, the song talks about the ascent of bad men onto the throne and good people being deprived of honourable posts. The facial expression of the king changes and he orders that the singer must be gagged and thrown into a pit so that he can never sing again.
This is the predicament of every autocracy. Everything is allowed till you are actually saying what is liked by the authorities. The moment if you are critical about the actions of the rulers, you are gagged. This is precisely what is happening in Mamata Banerjee ruled West Bengal. Before the West Bengal Assembly elections, the entire media in the state, barring a few exceptions were singing to the tune of Ms. Banerjee. After she came to power the same tune was being played. But suddenly, after some incidents such as rape in Park Street and Katwa took place and the CM’s response to these was basically nonsense, the media changed its tune a bit and immediately a gag order was imposed!
From now on, state government supported libraries will be able to keep only the newspapers which are mentioned in a list published by the government. Moreover, she went on to say that she has only ordered which newspapers should be kept in libraries but in the future she will tell the public which newspapers to read! If Satyajit Ray were alive today, he would not depict the ruler of Hirak as a king but would have depicted a queen calling the shots.
The same treatment is being meted out to a section of the intellectuals who extended their vociferous support for her to defeat the Left Front government. But now some of them are not playing to tune of the queen’s liking. It started with the death of Kishenji, the Maoist commander in West Bengal. Some of the Maoist sympathizers protested. The queen did not like it. A meeting of the Association of People’s Democratic Rights (APDR) was disallowed by the police. Eminent writer Mahasweta Devi called the government as being fascistic. The queen said in the press conference that she is not liking the tune at all. And finally when some of the intellectuals and activists of APDR organized a rally demanding the rehabilitation of 180 odd families whose slum were demolished by Ms Banerjee’s police, they were mercilessly beaten up by the police and local TMC goons at Hazra a busy crossing in Kolkata. Clearly, the queen does not like the tune at all and is therefore hell-bent upon crushing all voices of dissent.
But the absurdity of Ms Banerjee’s actions almost surpassed that of the Hirak Raja when her police arrested a professor of Jadavpur University for making a cartoon of her on the episode of the removal of Dinesh Trivedi. This act not only belies all logic but symbolizes the bleak future of the state under the rule of a despotic ruler, in a democratic set up. Everyday in Indian newspapers cartoons are published ridiculing every politician ranging from Narendra Modi to Manmohan Singh to Ms. Banerjee. But never has anyone arrested anyone for creating cartoons, which are political satires and humour dished out to the public to show the absurdities of certain policies/politics. But here in Bengal, a professor is arrested for creating and distributing a cartoon, which was not seen by more than a few hundred people and which is thoroughly harmless and within all bounds of decency.
With this act of censorship however, Ms Banerjee has converted an ordinary cartoon into a weapon of dissent or as Marx says into an “extraordinary document”. More and more people are sharing the cartoon on social networking sites and it has become a rage in the cyber world. This is essentially the tragedy of every despot. No matter how one tries to strangle voices of criticism, the truth always prevail and people find ways to express their dissent. This voice of dissent is growing in West Bengal. The more the government will try to throttle this voice, it will become more and more loud. Ms Banerjee must remember that Hitler burnt books but could not stop writers from thinking and writing. In the same way she can put one professor in jail, but today thousands more are expressing their anger against her despotism.
It must however be remembered that Ms Banerjee’s government has not completed even one year in office. Secondly, she came to power with a huge mandate of the people. During her ascent to power the media and large sections of the intellectuals in West Bengal supported her. Why did the rift between Mamata Banerjee and these sections appear so early? Why is she running a state like an autocrat, while she has been elected democratically?
The answer to the last question is the key to understand the first one. The politics of Mamata Banerjee has always been ultra-right in nature. The fact that she did not hesitate to join hands with the BJP is a testimony to this fact. However, during the tenure of the seventh Left Front government, certain mistakes were committed by the Left and the CPI(M), which dented the left support base. In this situation, Ms Banerjee wore the veil of a left populist leader and won the support of large sections of the poor and the intelligentsia in the state. However, her left rhetoric was just that—rhetoric. The moment she came to power, her basic class politics came to the forefront. Be it her declaration of converting Kolkata into London, or the eviction of farmers from their lands, the usurping of the constitutional rights of the elected panchayat bodies, the attack against strike, the eviction of slum dwellers from Kolkata etc, make it clear whose class interests she is serving. The moment these glaring inconsistencies between her promises and actions are brought to the front, she becomes angry and wants to suppress the dissenting opinions by force.
Even then, the question remains as to why should every dissent be suppressed or why should not the government defend itself through democratic means? The answer to both the questions lies in the fact that the politics of the TMC is fundamentally bankrupt and has no vision whatsoever. They came to power riding on a very strong anti-left wave in the state but beyond that they have no clue as to how to maintain their support base through democratic politics or how to run a government in a democratic set up. This absence of a political vision is giving rise to insecurity within the ruling establishment, who are now seeing every act of dissent as a threat and are unable to provide a coherent response to the critiques. This shows a very sorry state of affairs in the government.
West Bengal has a very rich history of democratic values built through decades of struggle. That history was made by the same people who have elected Ms Banerjee but not at the cost of the democratic values. The people of the state are not going to tolerate such autocratic whimsical attitude for long. It would be to the interests of both Ms Banerjee and her government to stop behaving in an autocratic manner and concentrate on ensuring the development of the state. Otherwise, she will also learn the hard lesson of history that even Hitler and Mussolini could not triumph over democracy, compared to whom, Ms Banerjee is a small fry.