This is the season for politically incorrect cartoons. Walls are painted with graffiti that are explicitly anti-Mamata Banerjee. Social media is flooded with cartoons that are unsparing in ridiculing Mamata Banerjee. And of course, there is a rhetoric; classic one liners that spread like wild fire.
During the election season there is nothing subtle about the messages. Nor are the messages sophisticated. The graffiti and the cartoons are explicit. And nobody is getting arrested for any of it. The Congress candidate from Bhowanipore, Deepa Das Munshi is certainly going nowhere on Mamata Banerjee's instructions for delivering a brilliant one liner: She came in sandals and will exit in a scandal.
Take the mild-mannered Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra for example. The Professor, an independent candidate supported by the CPM-led Left Front, is taking on the formidably resourceful mayor Sovan Chatterjee, who was seen in the Narada video taking a paltry Rs 5 lakh, in a classic David versus Goliath fight.
Like the proverbial gadfly, Professor Mahapatra drove Mamata Banerjee mad. His email of a cartoon burst the bubble in which she was wrapped, unveiling her as a rampaging, intolerant and vengeful supremo. In Mamata Banerjee's words, "It was nothing short of a cyber crime. It was nothing short of character assassination."
The bubble has now burst and it is free for all, with Professor Mahapatra campaigning not only for himself but in defence of democracy as part of the forum of "Amra Akranto," (We, the victims).
The league of victims includes Tumpa Kayal and Mousumi Kayal, the friends of West Bengal's Nirbhaya, a student who was gang-raped and murdered in 2013 in Kamduni, a village in North 24 Paraganas district. These friends who demanded justice from Mamata Banerjee were accused by the chief minister of being Maoists.
After the 2016 judgment, which sentenced three men to death, and other three of the accused to life imprisonment, Mousumi and Tumpa said "We have fought a long battle, for almost two-and-a-half years. We continued to fight with the Maoist tag. A lot of social and political pressures were on us and on those who stood up against the gruesome crime."
There are others; Shilditya Chowdhury, a poor farmer arrested by Mamata Banerjee's police in 2012 for daring to ask a question at a public meeting. Accused of being a Maoist, he was the first in the long list of people that Mamata Banerjee identified by the merest glance as "Maoists" and "CPM harmads (goons)." Her other targets included Tania Bharadwaj, a student of Presidency University, who asked a question at a live television programme.
As a candidate, Professor Mahapatra is extraordinary. By his very ordinariness, as a chemistry professor from Jadavpur University, he has stolen from Mamata Banerjee her oldest and best defence — as a symbol of the ordinary, the victim of the power of the ruling regime. Porfessor Mahapatra is therefore a challenge to Mamata Banerjee's famous image as the defenceless defender of all victims of political terror unleashed by an elected government.
As a contestant, Professor Mahapatra questions the character of Mamata Banerjee's regime, which the chief minister described in 2012 as: "We never attack or physically assault anyone for such campaign." As a contestant, he is the anti-thesis of his Trinamool Congress opponent, the flamboyant, powerful and resourceful mayor, with long experience of winning elections and organising the votes.
The Behala East constituency is typical newly settled middle class Kolkata, almost overwhelmingly composed of families that arrived in West Bengal after Partition. There is an edginess in the population because their perch is not entirely secure within the middle class. Whereas the mayor has much to offer the young people in the constituency in terms of patronage, Professor Mahapatra has nothing. This is what makes this independent candidate an uncertain competition.
If Sovan Chatterjee had been pitted against a comparable CPI M challenger, the mayor would have made mince meat of the person. Behala East was once upon a time Congress and later Trinamool Congress turf. The Left was not a significant challenger in the past and is not one now. Professor Mahapatra has no resources, except his quintessentially bhadralok persona.
The mayor does not need to pull out all the stops and flood the constituency with enough Trinamool Congress flags, festoons, banners and cut outs to drown him out as a political rival. Mr Chatterjee may however need to watch out, because the professor is also a symbol - of victimhood, intolerance and the new political combination of the CPM led Left and the Congress.
First Published On : Apr 5, 2016 16:41 IST