Kolkata: A strong pitch for identity politics and Mamata Banerjee’s centrality to Trinamool Congress (TMC)’s scheme of things — these were the two factors highlighted by TMC’s slogan for the 2021 elections launched at a corporate-style event at the party headquarters here on Saturday.
The slogan — Bangla Nijer Meyekei Chaay — which literally means ‘Bengal wants none but its own daughter’ was announced by TMC national general secretary Subrata Bakshi in the presence of state education minister Partha Chatterjee, panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee and members of parliament Kakali Ghosh Dastidar and Derek O’Brien.
By Saturday night, hundreds of hoardings portraying the slogan and the party supremo’s face came up along a vast stretch of the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, on which the party headquarters is situated. The leaders promised to take the slogan to every block of the state in the next few weeks.
The text and the subtext
The first apparent message that the slogan carries is simple. It gives yet another push to the ‘son of the soil versus outsider’ rhetoric that has gained currency in Bengal ever since Kailash Vijayvargiya was made the observer of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bengal and subsequently five leaders from various parts of India were put in charge of five zones in the state in the run-up to the polls.
The TMC has since left no stone unturned to underline the party’s Bengali identity, and send out the message that if the BJP comes to power, the state will be ruled by outsiders. “We will not let Gujarat rule Bengal,” Mamata has repeatedly said in public meetings.
It is this same identity politics that has made ‘Jai Sri Ram versus Joy Bangla’ or ‘Ram versus Durga’ key debates in the state’s political rhetoric. Regular goof-ups by BJP leaders have accentuated the cultural alienation that TMC wants to highlight, including Union home minister Amit Shah calling Shantiniketan Rabindranath Tagore’s birthplace being the most scandalous of the lot.
Secondly, the slogan neither highlights development, nor the TMC government’s plans for the state’s future, but relies on Mamata’s individual appeal as the party’s biggest USP, as it seeks a third term in Bengal. It is a common perception in Bengal that it is Mamata Banerjee who fights from all the 294 seats in the state. She herself has often made this claim in election rallies. The opposition parties have taken a dig at this with the slogan/graffiti, “In Trinamool, there is only one post, rest are all lamp-posts.”
In 2011, the party’s slogan was the iconic ‘Bodla noy, bodol chai’ (We want change, not revenge); in 2016, the party focused on unnayan (development), but with 2021 set to be its toughest fight ever, TMC has decided to go back to its biggest box office, the appeal and charisma of Mamata Banerjee, the individual.
In this, the TMC sees itself as having an edge over the opposition because neither the BJP, nor the Left-Congress alliance has a clear chief ministerial face. “While other parties are struggling to find a chief ministerial face, the TMC has Mamata Banerjee, who knows the pulse of the people of Bengal,” veteran leader Subrata Mukherjee said after the launch.
If one looks at the subtext, one would notice that the slogan describes Mamata as Bengal’s daughter (meye) and not with the usual sobriquet, Didi. At the heart of this subtle change lies TMC’s bid to win the support of women voters. It is no coincidence that both Kanyashree and Swasthya Sathee, the two initiatives seen by the party as a possible game-changer for them, have women as their core focus. In most of the rallies of late, Mamata has addressed the ‘mother and sisters’ separately and sought their ‘blessings’.
It is also not difficult to see why TMC chose Saturday, February 20, for the launch. Since the catchline seeks to fire up the Bengali sentiment of the voters, the eve of Bhasha Divas presented the perfect opportunity. Throughout Sunday, International Mother Language Day, Bengali ethnic pride reigned supreme on social media, and TMC supporters’ bid to popularise their slogan was in sync with that.
Even as the slogan was being launched in Kolkata, Trinamool youth president and MP Abhishek Banerjee at a rally in Nagrakata in Jalpaiguri district asked the audience, “Would you like to see the daughter of Bengal bowing her head in front of outsiders? Would you want her to give in to leaders from Delhi?”
As if to explain the slogan’s purported message, he said, “Those who do not know Bengal’s culture, cannot give you a golden future. How many times have you seen Amit Shah or Rajnath Singh in the last five years? Read the writing on the wall: From the hills to sea, Bengal wants none but its own daughter.”
The Left gets its riposte right
The Left has been particularly smart this time as far as using slogans and catchlines are concerned.
Within a few hours of TMC launching its slogan on Saturday, Left supporters started using the same by tweaking it slightly. ‘Bangla nijer meyeke bnachate chaay’ (Bengal wants to save its own daughter) said numerous posts on Facebook and Twitter. Along with the catchline, there were grim reminders of the cases of sexual assault on women that happened in Bengal in the last 10 years, in hashtags.
But what stole the show for the Left is the parody of a recent Bengali song which has been an absolute blockbuster among the youngsters. The song went viral on all social media platforms over the weekend within hours of singer Nilabja Niyogi, a Presidency University student, sharing it. The number has a dejected man admitting his frustrations with the state and central governments, and promising to take his lady love to the Left-Congress’s rally at the Brigade Parade grounds on February 28. The song sparked debate with purists calling it too tawdry to be the party’s anthem, but if the response of the senior Left leaders is anything to go by, the CPI(M) has taken the song well.
These apart, even simple couplets used by the Left on social media as well as in graffiti bear marks of wit and ingenuity. If one says, ‘Jaat noy, bhaat chai, eibare baam chai’ (We want food on the plate, not caste-hatred. This time, we want the Left), another says, ‘Kaaj chai, maan chai, eibare baam chai’ (We want job, we want respect. This time, we want the Left). Couplets such as these have accompanied the more usual slogans in CPI(M) rallies, like ‘Lorai lorai lorai chai, lorai kore banchte chai’ (Fight, fight, fight. We shall fight, we shall live.)
Sloganeering with a pinch of saffron
Not to be left behind, the BJP also has added a pinch of innovation to its otherwise aggressive and high-octane political rhetoric. The party’s official Twitter handle released a parody version of the classic Italian anti-Fascist song Bella Ciao on Saturday with a slightly tweaked version of the TMC slogan in hashtag: ‘Bangla didir theke mukti chaay’ (Bengal wants freedom from Didi). While the song uses ‘Pishi Jao’ (‘Go aunt, go,’ with aunt as a reference to the Bengal CM) as a refrain in stead of the original Bella Ciao, the post said the song was relevant for Bengal as “people stand up to the injustices of the ruling dispensation”.
To assistant professor of Bengali at Jadavpur University Joydeep Ghosh these slogans are important historical document. Speaking to The Wire, Ghosh said, “This is one of the enjoyable sides of any electoral fight. Slogans and counter slogans, graffiti and leaflets written imaginatively make elections colourful. As far as the Trinamool slogan is concerned, I can see that it has been thoughtfully framed. This election indeed is going to be fought on ethnic identity issues. And the word meye brings in a connotation of familiarity, a next-door-girl image. I appreciate it, as much as I appreciate the way it is being countered by other parties.”
“The only caveat I want to sound here is that the slogans and catchlines should not target any social class in particular. That is where things get problematic. As it is, the standard of political rhetoric has fallen in recent times. One can do without any more rancour,” he added.
Responding to the new Trinamool slogan, BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said, “For 10 years Didi has done nothing. Now she wants sympathy from her voters.”
The Congress and the Left too criticised the slogan. Senior Congress leader Pradip Bhattacharya said, “They have nothing more to offer to the state. Hence this attempt to provoke sentimentality.”
Indradeep Bhattacharyya is an independent journalist based in Kolkata.