Long time readers of my blog would remember that at a time that the Bangali bhodrolok were cheerleading Didi’s agenda of poriborton, I had sounded what had then seemed to be a discordant note. My contention had been that there would be a poriborton under Mamata Banerjee, but for the worse, a roll-back to the dark old days of the 70s and the 80s, because while she remained pathogenically opposed to the CPM as a party, she fully endorsed the CPM’s strategy of agitation and governance.
A few years down the line, I am proud of my Paul the Octopussness. The hold of Trinamool Congress over Bengal is absolute in the way Jyoti Basu’s CPM’s once was (Buddha’ s CPM tried to be different, albeit imperfectly, and that’s what led to its downfall). Like the CPM party, the TMC has been absorbed into every organ of the administration, the “government” and the “party” is one and the same. The police, like it was during the darkest days of CPM’s rule, is an extension of TMC, incapable of independent function. The opposition has been decimated, through absorption (many of the CPM’s muscle has just crossed parties), through exclusion (If you are not TMC, you will find it difficult to ply your trade in the state of Bengal) and, as Tapas Pal’s recent video so amply demonstrates, through direct threats of violence.
Again nothing new in Bengal. The CPM had done it for decades. Now it’s TMC’s turn.
There is however one point of distinction between Jyoti Basu’s CPM and Mamata’s TMC, one thing fairly new. The CPM had a well-defined ideology and a well-defined pantheon of Gods (Lenin, Marx, Stalin [before it became unfashionable], Mao). The Trinamool has nothing. It has no core ideology, unless you can decipher what “Ma Mati Manush” means, and one true God namely Mamata Banerjee. Jyoti Basu’s CPM had its “sucking up to Jyoti-da” but there were many other ways of expressing once’s Communist chops—railing against American imperialism, or writing a Bengali translation of Marx, or closing a factory, or successfully organizing a bandh. The only way however a leader in TMC can express his “TMC-ness” is by speaking in the voice of the Supreme Leader. That’s why they fall over themselves in singing paeans of her glory, whether of her as a politician or as a painter of pictures or as an inspiration for every decision they take. And what is the one sure-shot way of getting into Didi’s good books? Simple. Be as anti-CPM as you possibly can, because if there is one thing that has been constant about Mamata Banerjee through the decades, it has been her pathogenic hatred of the CPM . Which means that for any TMC leader trying to advance up the party pole, the more egregious you make your demonstration of CPM-hatred, the more your Ma-Mati-Manush points.
Tapas Pal’s recently leaked speech, which has caused much outrage in the national press, has to be seen in this context. It’s not his only “leaked speech” out there, it is one of several, made over a period of time, almost identical to each other. In each of them,Tapas Pal, once Bengal hero of mediocre weepies and Bollywood-rip-off-low-budget action flicks, works himself into the Bengali equivalent of a “Zulm ko jalakar rakh kar doonga” frothy rage, using words and imagery that he knows would appeal to a rural crowd, a demographic where his films and his dialog-baazi are still insanely popular. He is of course galvanizing the base, and getting a few claps, and making the scattered CPM supporters piss in their dhotis in fear. Which, of course, is all good clean fun. But what he is also doing, and this is a big part of the “why”, is auditioning for a bigger part in the TMC political scheme of things by building his anti-CPM street cred.
But true to form, Tapas Pal over-hammed himself and said something that sent him over the proverbial line. He told his “boys” to go and rape CPM women.
Not that his audience found this particularly offensive, because they cheered.
Not that rape isn’t used to intimidate and subjugate political rivals in Bengal. CPM activists raped protester Tapasi Mallik during the Singur agitation, and TMC activists stand accused in the recent Amta gang rape, where the wife and mother-in-law of a CPM worker were raped.
Not that the Trinamool, as a party, subscribes to a culture that is inherently sensitive to rape and rape victims. I mean, who can forget, Mamata Banerjee, after the horrendous Park Street rape case, called it “cooked-up in order to malign her government”, to which a Trinamool Member of Parliament jumped up to get Ma-Mati-Manush points by saying the rape was a “business transaction gone wrong”.
The reason why Tapas Pal got himself into a slight soup was because the clip got the attention of the national media. Post Delhi-gang-rape, the urban Indian middle class has adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards rape, from it’s casual use in conversation to its use as a weapon of intimidation. For a party with national ambitions, Tapas Pal’s speech, played out in a loop on the channels, was an embarrassment. And so Didi became extremely “distraught” . Of course that meant Tapas Pal had to issue an “unconditional apology” . Immediately the issue was deemed as resolved by the TMC, even though what Tapas Pal had just confessed to was a crime in the eyes of the law, and the state ought to be obliged to initiate legal proceedings against him. Or so I believe. But then in Bengal, the only speech that gets people sent to jail is making fun of Mamata Banerjee in an email forward. Last heard, the TMC was engaging in what Manish Tiwary would call “self introspection” by trying to find out who it was that leaked the video to the press, by forcibly going through the cell-phones of those who attended the meeting.
In all this though, one important issue gets short shift. Namely the rest of Tapas Pal’s speech, the part that should have gotten the same attention as the rape remark. If you listen to the entirety of Tapas Pal’s rant, there are lurid calls to violence, in extreme and gratuitous detail, with assurances that nothing will happen to the perpetrators, because Tapas Pal, and by extension the administration of which Pal is but a part, will always be with them. While the open call to rape is unique in this instance, the rest of the “maim and kill” narrative is reflected in other speeches of Tapas Pal, including one made years ago. As a matter of fact, there are other TMC leaders like Arup Chakraborty[video], Monirul Islam [video], Anubrata Mondal [video], who have been captured on tape saying essentially the same thing, “do all kinds of horrible things to opponents of the TMC and we are here for you”. Yet all of them remain important functionaries within the TMC, None of them have “dismayed” Didi at all and none of these fine leaders have been asked to apologize.
And that’s not surprising because this is straight out of the old CPM playbook, the one that kept them in powers for three decades and more.
Which explains why nothing will happen to Tapas Pal. Because if you censure Tapas Pal in a way that really matters, the wrong message will be sent to the rank and file. I mean if the guy who is saying “I will protect you even if you kill” can’t himself be protected, then what use his assurances?
In a way things are even worse now than they used to be under the CPM. Post 1984, West Bengal at least had Didi to keep the Left honest. While the rest of the Congress (there was no Trinamool then) was truly the B-team of the CPM, as Didi so appropriately called them, satisfied with fighting for the scraps the CPM threw their way, Mamata Banerjee was, for years, the only opposition in town. Driven by that deep vein of hatred of the Left, she was beyond absorption, bribery, intimidation or any kind of compromise. She would have closed Calcutta down had the Park Street rape case happened on the CPM watch. And she would have closed it down again if Tapas Pal had been a CPM apparatchik.
Now of course there is nothing .
Except the sight of blue-and-white painted buildings and massive cut-outs of Didi extolling the glorious achievements of the Trinamool Congress.
And the sound of scared silence.