The knell tolls again. This time, from an unknown place called Belpahari. No intellectuals – the kinds that reside in Jadavpur University in Kolkata – can be found here. And hence, no uproar – the kind that took place a few months earlier in Jadavpur University – can be heard over this matter.
Last week, there was a meeting held in Belpahari in the West Midnapore district of West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of the State was the one behind the microphone. Amidst her speech, when a certain anonymous somebody got up to ask a question about the pathetic state of affairs in the village and rights of marginal farmers, Didi did what she is best at: got him arrested. The man was let off with a warning in the beginning, but re-arrested later. According to Mamata Banerjee, he was, but obviously, a Maoist. Or someone who had been planted there by the CPI(M).
There’s an uncanny dissimilarity in the way Prof. Ambikesh Mahapatra’s cartoon row had been covered by the media a few months back – both at the state and the national levels – and the way this incident is being covered. The intelligentsia has not been attacked this time around. It is just the disposable right of a farmer in question. A farmer, who was first known as Durjodhon Mahato, and who then transformed into a bus conductor named Siladitya Chowdhury. Nobody knows what the truth is. Nobody can dare to ask.
It is tough to deal with oneself when the insides are torn by a violent tussle. When one finds out that a glorious childhood idol is also a mere human being, for example. A hero as ridden by hamartia as any other. The Belpahari incident has thrown up many questions and unsettled a lot of preconceived notions about a lot of people.
Derek O’Brien, that glowing face which graced the television set of every household where a school kid was present, every Sunday morning, with that famous ‘Bournvita Quiz Contest’, was a man I too grew up admiring. From the beginning of the 90s to this point in time, when the quintessential quizmaster of India chops off the branch where he sits on, a la Kalidasa.
Twitter was thought of as being a platform where people expressed their opinions freely. And O’Brien, too, did the same. Here’s elucidating the context:
Somebody with the Twitter handle @JagjivanRam addressed the quizmaster in a tweet saying, “More Maoist Baiting -Derek, with Dodgy Excuses? You seem to be Turning WB into a Gulag!” (Gulag: the government agency that administered the main Soviet forced labour camp systems. a/c Wikipedia)
To which, pat came the reply of Derek O’Brien, “This is Belpahari...not downtown Kolkata, my friend.”
Of course. Belpahari is not downtown Kolkata. Belpahari is not where the likes of you get innumerable sycophants. Belpahari is not a part of the ‘actual’ West Bengal, the silent West Bengal, isn’t it? Derek’s Twitter profile says “Tweets personal views”. One is left wondering how ‘personal’ are his ‘personal views’.
The state of affairs in West Bengal has dwindled to such an extremity that it demands some very hard questions now. And the question that looms large over every mind in the state is an utterly scary one – “Who’ll dare to <i>ask</i>?”
So let’s face it then. In Didi’s Bengal, people have been stripped clean of their rights. She has fans and followers who go about drawing clean demarcations between “downtown Kolkata” and the other parts of Bengal. Downtown Kolkata has the right to make it to the front page of newspapers and be covered live, 24X7 on news channels, for a cartoon that ended up rubbing a sore spot. The other parts of West Bengal might go and rot in hell, for all they care. Durjodhon Mahato/Siladitya Chowdhury is no Ambikesh Mahapatra. And downtown Kolkata is not Belpahari, after all. Once in Bengal, behave the way Didi wants you to. Else… let’s not speak about the consequences.