State of paranoia: In Mamata's Bengal, a slap is attempted murder

When an Iraqi journalist threw that shoe at George W. Bush he started quite a trend. The shoe missile became the projectile of choice. Though many in the Middle East angry about the war in Iraq demanded that the shoe be enshrined in the Iraqi national museum, it was quickly destroyed and the journalist went to prison. But the shoe missiles kept flying.

In India we like to get up close and personal. And not waste footwear. While we do rain shoes and ink and eggs on politicians, we prefer a more personal touch. No shoe can come close to the ringing satisfaction of a thappad. Also if you are close enough, a slap is far more likely to land on target than a shoe flung from afar. Most of those shoes miss the politician of choice whether it’s Bush or P. Chidambaram.

The slapped politicians club is quite a growing institution in India – it includes Sharad Pawar, Prashant Bhushan, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Sukh Ram. Of course the life president of the club is Arvind Kejriwal once described by the BBC as “the Indian leader who keeps getting slapped.”

Young Abhishek Banerjee is just the latest inductee into the club.

Screen grab from TV

Screen grab from TV

Slapping anyone, even a politician, is not part of freedom of expression. And no one has the right to walk up to any politician they dislike, slap him and get away with it. The police is perfectly justified in pressing charges against the youth who slapped Abhishek Banerjee. Section 352 aka “assault to deter a public servant from discharging his duty” would do just fine.

But attempt to murder?

That’s where it’s clear we are in Mamata’s Bengal where a slap is not just a slap. It’s an RSS plot. It’s a murder attempt. It’s a SuperSlap. Abhishek himself left the venue after his two tight slaps while his supporters thrashed the offender black and blue. Now Abhishek is trying to take the high road by saying “At a personal level .. let me forgive the perpetrator and wish him a speedy recovery. Today is a new day, let us look ahead.” And some more earnest pleas for peace, harmony and restraint.

But a peace-and-goodwill Facebook status a day later will not turn him into Arvind Kejriwal.

Kejriwal’s supporters also thrashed the man who slapped him but Kejriwal urged his party workers not to retaliate. He instead went into some philosophical 140-character reflection.

"I am just thinking - why am i being repeatedly attacked? Who r the masterminds? What do they want? What do they achieve?"

The media made fun of Kejriwal then as the slap-magnet punching bag. In an election where one candidate was going around bragging about his 56-inch chest, Kejriwal’s bruised face and bouquet for his attacker evoked more sniggers than sympathy. Faking News joked “While trying to kill a mosquito sitting on his cheek, AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal accidentally ended up slapping himself.” And his passionate followers promptly slapped him as well because “we won’t let anyone hit Kejriwal sir, even if it is Kejriwal sir.” But murder charges are no joke.

In fact the over-the-top reaction now almost makes one nostalgic for that vision of Kejriwal sitting in mournful vigil at Rajghat with his swollen face, determinedly turning the other cheek.

What Trinamool’s media handlers seem unable to get is that their tendency to scream conspiracy is backfiring on them. Let’s be clear – the BJP is out to get Trinamool in Bengal. They will seek every attempt to embarrass the party and wrest the principal opposition space in the state. But that does not mean Trinamool has to score self-goals by overreacting at every provocation. And while the arrest of sports minister Madan Mitra in the Saradha case could be spun as a plot to embroil Mamata, to dub it a conspiracy to halt the glorious advance of sports in Bengal, as Didi alleged in a speech, boggles the mind.

Let’s also be clear that Mamata Banerjee has every right to think she’s under attack. She herself has been thrashed way beyond two slaps. She’s needed 46 stitches on her head. She has been dragged by police and CPM goons. They have threatened to dump her in the Ganga. Much of the respect she earned was because of her sheer grit and determination against all odds. But all that sympathy she earned is being frittered away by her party thanks to its propensity to cry wolf.

All media reports seem to suggest that Debashis Acharya who slapped Abhishek might have some mental problems. His parents say that. He has made incoherent statements about being driven by the spirit of the young martyred freedom fighter Khudiram. He’s supposed to be an engineering student but unable to say which college he belongs to. He wanted to leave everything and go to Haridwar.

Trinamool could have just let doctors and police do their job but it quickly organized its top brass into a press conference to try and establish Acharya's ABVP links. Incidentally being an ABVP member and mentally unbalanced are not mutually exclusive nor do they prove ipso facto a shadowy BJP conspiracy. Honestly, the BJP would have to be very lame if they thought slapping Mamata’s nephew was a ticket to power in Bengal.

But then the party always thrived on paranoia. Mamata Banerjee once told the Washington Post there was a Maoist-Marxist conspiracy fed by foreign funds from Venezuela, North Korea and Hungary to kill her. She has ascribed political motivations to rape victims even as investigations were ongoing. She once dismissed the story of a woman who said she had been gang-raped on a train by saying “Medical evidence does not prove rape. She has said her husband is a CPM supporter.” The woman had been widowed 11 years.

If once Trinamool saw Maoists under every bed, now they see the RSS there. Or as O’Brien put it “a religiously-blinded political party.” But the Trinamool always needs to be shadow boxing with some enemy out there.

The problem is this slapdash rush to conspiracy could blow up in its own face and turn into slapstick.

Updated Date: Jan 07, 2015 07:16 AM

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