Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In our bhadralok society, Mamata Banerjee doesn’t quite fit the bill

Front Page > Opinion > BACK ON THE STREETS AGAIN - Left-leaning intellectuals have led people’s protests in the past. But on November 14, they marched together against a communist state’s aggression ROHINI CHAKI The Telegraph, Tuesday, November 20, 2007
They are the privileged minority. The ‘faces’ of society, these individuals — because they have the power that comes with greater visibility — are perhaps a little less a part of the ‘common’ than the rest of us.
A cluster of the city’s artists and scholars has come together to condemn and to lead a movement against oppression by a government with no regard for the voice of the people it rules. On November 14, at least 60,000 Calcuttans expressed their hurt at this show of contempt by their government by taking to the streets in a silent rally. Endearing portraits of this historic march will remain forever. The vision-impaired old lady who completed the walk holding her attendant’s hand. The toffee-seller with his jar of sweets forgoing a day’s business to register his condemnation. Or even those two tramps, one with a stick in hand running down the streets, screaming, “Nandigram bachao (Save Nandigram)!” and the other one standing statue at Esplanade with the statement, “Attack on intellectuals” in Bengali, pinned to his shirt along with the pictures of personalities like Aurobindo Ghose and Swami Vivekananda among others.
The few thousand who didn’t join the walk, but pledged their support by lining the path of the rally, crowding their terraces, abandoning their cars, buses, trams — their silence spoke the language of unanimous denunciation of a government that has disowned them.
But is it likely also, that Calcutta will remember more vividly its ‘intellectuals’, whose outrage has made a social movement out of the overwhelming popular desire to censure the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee administration, giving the movement the prominence required to generate support in unprecedented numbers? Will they remember the rousing applause for Mamata Shankar when she arrived at the makeshift podium in Esplanade? How over 60,000 people singing or clapping to ‘Ebar tor mora gange ban eshechhe’ had to start afresh when singer Usha Uthup joined in. “We are ordinary people,” asserted Uthup, and the actor, Parambrata Chatterjee, who did not walk at the head of the march with others of his elite circle, but remained behind with the “ordinary people”, insisted that he had joined as a citizen. In response to the chief minister’s imperialist apologia —he is sorry for the attack on intellectuals at Nandan but not for the police inaction in Nandigram — he said, “I detest the term buddhijeebi (intellectual). What I say will not change society or the government. It is not my intention to lead any movement — I don’t think I have the capability. We are just some people making a statement.”
Though most of these ‘intellectuals’ seem reluctant to appropriate this tag for themselves, are they being looked upon as social levers for change — as the voice of a people ignited by the government’s affront to their personal moral code? With an Opposition whose sole propaganda appears to be political drama, the responsibility of these public figures is considerable. Koushik Sen, theatre personality and spearhead of the November 14 citizens’ rally, is among the few to accept this duty. Choosing not to respond to the chief minister’s apology for the Nandan incident, he said, “I don’t think we have done much. We were not only silent for 11 months, but for 20 years. We should have been more vocal. I am inspired by my colleagues in the theatre fraternity — Suman Mukherjee, Shaoli Mitra, Arpita Ghosh, Manish Mitra, Bratya Basu — they have educated me through their own fight against the establishment.
We are fighting against an attitude that we ourselves have allowed the government to adopt...We have brilliant doctors, economists and social scientists on our forum. We must propose a model — the society, the governance we want — to all political parties. It’s late, no doubt, but we should start by setting personal examples. Unfortunately, one of the reasons why people have no faith in the Opposition is because, in our bhadralok society, Mamata Banerjee doesn’t quite fit the bill. This is intellectual hypocrisy on our part — we refuse to give her a chance, because, unlike Buddha babu, she won’t be found breaking into a Jibanananda poem after a speech.”
There is colossal cynicism in New India about our policies of governance. From the silence of complacency broken by loss of faith is rising a voice of collective protest. The question is, will people’s action after this be spontaneous, without forcing all our artists to become full-time activists?

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