It was no accident that Mamata Banerjee evoked late Mahashweta Devi, the writer and social worker who died earlier in July while reacting to the Singur judgement by the Supreme Court, that scrapped the land acquisition by the erstwhile Left Front government. Now Banerjee is planning a massive rally at Singur, where once again she’ll share the dais with not just politicians but also artists and members of civil society, who had played an essential role in Banerjee’s anti-land acquisition protests in Bengal.
Ahead of the 2011 assembly elections in Bengal, which would eventually see the end of the 34-year-old Left Front regime, veteran Left leaders found themselves haunted by a bogey of their own creation. Streets churned in protests, the slogan ‘Tomaar naam amaar naam, Nandigram Nandigram’ (Nandigram is your name and mine) echoing the SFI chant ‘Tomaar naam amaar naam, Vietnam Vietnam’ in the seventies. This new chant, at once a throwback to the Left’s glorious past, encapsulated everything that erstwhile supporters of the Left believed had gone wrong with the party. No one believed that the violence at Singur-Nandigram could be compared to the Vietnam war. But the reappropriation of the emotive slogan of the seventies conveyed the deep sense of betrayal, felt by many, who till then had watched the Left from the sidelines.
The 2007 cultural resurgence was an important parallel of Banerjee’s land acquisition protests. Banerjee herself couldn’t have predicted the support she would get, from the likes of Kabir Suman – who would later join the TMC. Lyrics penned by him, “Janan dichhe ei muhurto, kothai kader praner daam/rakto diye pran bikiye path dekache Nandigram” (This is the moment of truth/the value of lives/Blood flows and lives are sold, Nandigram shows the way), would become synonymous with the protest.
Till then, such cultural combustion had been virtually absent in the landscape of Bengal’s politics for at least three decades. An active forum of Artistes, Cultural Activists and Intellectuals formed – many of whom had in the past been a part of the Left movement – and actively supported Banerjee in her endeavor. The deep sense of disappointment with the Left among these intellectuals had been growing for a while. In the absence of an opposition in the state, many felt that the party “with a difference” had become merely another ruling party. When bullets were fired in 2006, their worst fears were confirmed.
Koushik Sen, television actor, active member of the Forum was once an insider in the CPI-M family. But he soon found out, like many others, that criticism of the Left during the 2006-07 protests would inevitably lead to confrontations with Left cadre. After the judgement, he admitted that many in the “intellectual fraternity were part of the movement because they wanted to be close to Trinamool” while adding “I am not a supporter of Mamata Banerjee. Yet, after this verdict I must congratulate her for sticking her neck out and fighting for the rights of the farmers.
Sen’s reiteration that he isn’t a support of the Mamata Banerjee government isn’t incidental either. While Banerjee has made attempts to continue her flirtations with the intellectual community, members of the erstwhile Forum soon found out that the new TMC-government was even less capable of handling violence. Allegations of censorship soon followed, with the infamous arrest of a Jadavpur University professor for sharing a cartoon that poked fun at Banerjee becoming the highlight in the long list lof state-sponsored censorship under Banerjee’s rule.
But in her second term, Banerjee has taken small steps to mend relationships with the state’s traditional Left-leaning intellectual community. While one source close to Banerjee explains that Banerjee’s deep mistrust of all things ‘Marxist’ continues, in her new avatar she is attempting to try and “work alongside the traditional Left leaning intellectuals”. Banerjee’s September 14 rally in Singur, which is likely to have not just her, but also a number of artists speaking alongside her, is just one example of this shift, explained the source.