A directive to Bengal Police to publicly play or sing a song penned by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today (Friday), the birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, has triggered a storm of criticism and ridicule.
Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Gyanwant Singh wrote to police chiefs of all districts and commissionerates on Wednesday asking them to organise ‘kobi pronam’ (homage to the poet) programmes all over the state. Singh said small tableaus with portraits of Tagore be brought out across Bengal.
The letter enclosed a list of Rabindra Sangeet (songs written by Tagore) to be played from the tableaus, along with an ‘awareness song’ on coronavirus written by Banerjee, at all residential areas between 9 am and 11.30 am on Friday.
Banerjee had written the lyrics of a short song on the coronavirus pandemic in end-March. It was then sung by her minister Indranil Sen (listen to this). The short song urges people to follow government instructions and fight the pandemic unitedly. It also urges people to maintain social distancing norms and not to be afraid of the virus.
Asking police to play or sing this song along with Rabindra Sangeet amounts to sacrilege, say many. Bengalis took to social media to ridicule and criticise the decision after Bharatiya Janata Party Lok Sabha MP and state president of the party’s Mahila Morcha Locket Chatterjee tweeted about it.
The tweet was shared widely and hundreds of social media users re-posted it on their timelines, attracting thousands of negative comments. Most felt that playing Banerjee’s song on ‘Rabindra Jayanti’ was a subtle attempt to put the Chief Minister on the same pedestal as Tagore.
A few, however, defended the move and argued that playing the song penned by Banerjee on the pandemic is relevant to the present times. “The song boosts the spirits of the people during this lockdown and motivates everyone to fight the pandemic and not be afraid of the virus. There is no harm playing it on Rabindra Jayanti,” asserted a prominent Trinamool leader.
But very few buy that explanation, especially since attempts have been made by Banerjee’s supporters in the past to equate her with famous personalities of Bengal. One such brazen attempt a little over a year ago drew widespread criticism. Banerjee’s portrait found a place in a banner on ‘famous Bengali legends’ that was put up at Salt Lake. Some of the other ‘legends’ in the banner were Ramakrishna Paramahans, Swami Vivekananda, Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.
Similar banners were found at various times over the past couple of years in many other parts of the state. After the deluge of criticism and contempt they attracted, the banners were pulled down, reportedly on instructions from top Trinamool leaders.
There have been many similar attempts to deify Banerjee. Film buffs attending the 25th Kolkata International Film Festival in November last year were aghast to see Banerjee’s portraits put up next to legends like those of Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak. That, too, drew widespread derision and disdain.
Most people were of the opinion that Banerjee’s song, for whatever little it is worth, should not have been played on the birth anniversary of one of Bengal’s most illustrious men. But that did not stop the police from going overboard at many places to sing or play the song.
The letter written by Gyanwant Singh, a controversial police officer who is perceived to be one of Banerjee’s favourites, asked police chiefs of districts and commissionerates to mobilise policemen who are interested in singing and are gifted to sing the corona song penned by the Chief Minister.
As a result, Friday saw a huge number of policemen lending their voices to the song and uploading those clips on social media. People reported from many places, especially in the rural and semi-urban areas, that Banerjee’s song got more prominence than Rabindra Sangeet.
Incidentally, senior IPS officer Gyanwant Singh is no stranger to controversies. He was accused of driving a young techie Rizwanur Rahman to suicide in 2007 for having married the daughter of a prominent Marwari businessman.
Singh also courted controversy by allegedly participating in a three-day dharna staged by Banerjee in February last year after Central Bureau of Investigation served a notice on the then Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar in connection with the Saradha scam. The Union government had then contemplated strong action against Singh and a few other IPS officers, including stripping them of their medals and barring them from central deputation.
The Election Commission (EC) had removed Singh, who was then the Bidhannagar Police Commissioner, and a few other officers perceived to be close to Banerjee before the Lok Sabha polls last year after receiving serious complaints of bias against him from all opposition parties. Post-poll, the Chief Minister reinstated all the officers who had been transferred by the EC.
Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.
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