Among the many tasks that Manickam Tagore has is sifting through creatives that the Congress’s social media team uploads on its various handles. The Congress whip in the Lok Sabha also scans through interesting posts he receives from his friends, among them those from the Left. He then identifies the interesting ones and sends them to his aide.
These are modified and made into placards — the display of which has become the bone of contention between Opposition members and the Chair during this session and led to the suspension of four Congress MPs, including Tagore, in the Lok Sabha and 23 Opposition members in the Rajya Sabha. While the Congress MPs were initially suspended for the remainder of the Monsoon session, the Rajya Sabha members were suspended till the end of last week.
Speaker Om Birla revoked the suspension of the Lok Sabha MPs — Tagore, Ramya Haridas, TN Prathapan and S Jothimani — on Monday after seeking assurance from the Opposition that it will not bring placards or other exhibits into the House. Tagore told The Indian Express that the Opposition members were forced to display placards as Sansad TV did not telecast their protests.
In the Congress, Tagore is in charge of getting the placards made for members of the Lok Sabha and his counterpart Syed Nasir Hussain does the same in the Rajya Sabha. “We go through the creatives put out by the Congress social media team. Sometimes, slight modifications are made. For instance, if a picture of a gas cylinder is to be put … we ask the designers to add that,” Tagore said.
He added, “So the creatives on many issues — be it on price rise, Agnipath scheme, misuse of investigative agencies — are ready with us. We have the designs ready on issues like unemployment and all. We will get them printed when we next stage a demonstration on an issue.”
Tagore’s personal assistant gets the creatives printed from a shop in Khan Market. “Generally, the whip does the work of coordination. So, as the whip in the Rajya Sabha, the placards, banners, protests, venues are coordinated by me in the Upper House,” said Hussain.
The task of distributing the placards to Opposition members is not theirs. Tagore leaves the placards at the Congress parliamentary party office. Ramya Haridas and her Lok Sabha colleague Vijay Vasanth distribute the placards to Opposition MPs and collect them back for the following day. “Before me, the late Rajeev Satav used to do this. Now, it is my responsibility,” Tagore said.
“Many things I have picked from the Left groups too. You might have seen some placards in complete red. Those must have come from the Left circles. We then make small changes, like cutting out the names … like CPM or SFI,” he said.
The Congress provides placards to all Opposition parties except the Trinamool Congress (TMC). For West Bengal’s ruling party, its Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien is in charge of placards. The TMC’s posters — white letters on a black background — are slogan-driven unlike the slightly colourful ones of the Congress.
Slogan drafting is a collective effort, according to a party functionary. “We prepare the slogans a day before. We sift through the draft slogans and then we modify and finalise the slogans. Then we translate them into Hindi and Bangla. We assign one member each from the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha to bring the placards to Parliament,” said a TMC MP.
So where do they get the placards printed? O’Brien told The Indian Express, “Ninety per cent of the printers, unlike two to three years ago, do not want to print these political placards. So, we must not let you know. Let it remain a political secret.”
The TMC does not throw away the placards even if an issue is over. The posters are kept at its Parliament office. The TMC also does not print the party’s name on the placards so that MPs from other parties can use them.
Interestingly, DMK members are keen on being given placards in Tamil but the Congress still sticks to Hindi and English as otherwise, MPs from other states may ask for posters in their language.
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“We have no option but to display placards because Sansad TV does not show our protests. The world doesn’t show why we are protesting. When we protest, our leader is not given an opportunity to speak for two minutes. So, how do we show the world why we are protesting? We will not go to the Well or show placards if the camera pans towards us,” said Tagore.