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9-min read

What Rabindranath Tagore Would Sing if He Were to Witness Elections in Bengal

When Mamata Banerjee came to power in 2011, one of the first things she did was liven up otherwise drab traffic signals with speakers blaring songs of the bard. It's only natural Tagore should now have a say in Bengal elections.

Rakhi Bose | News18.com@theotherbose

Updated:May 19, 2019, 2:13 PM IST
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What Rabindranath Tagore Would Sing if He Were to Witness Elections in Bengal
News18 Bangla image.

If you are Bengali or have lived in the state of Bengal for even a short spell, the charm of Rabindra Sangeet cannot be lost on you. It is the name given to the vast oeuvre of songs written by Bengal's favourite poet Rabindranath Tagore. Any Bengali worth their ilish would tell you that there is no emotion that humans are capable of feeling that isn't expressed in his songs.

When Mamata Banerjee came to power in 2011, one of the first things she did was liven up otherwise drab traffic signals with speakers blaring songs of the bard. Rabindra Sangeet to this day plays every time you stop at a street light in Kolkata, reminding you once again about the tenacity of Bengalis to hold on to past glories.

But with Bengal currently immersed in election fever, a particularly murky one at that, one can't help but think what the Kobiguru would say to the madness that has engulfed the state in the past two months. A battle that has been building up since 2014, when the Bharatiya Janata Party won a meagre two out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal, has reached the final confrontation. Banerjee has locked horns with the PM himself and in turn, Modi seems to be in no mood to let go.

The scathing verbal spats between Banerjee and the PM aside, Bengal has also been witnessing a pretty violent election season. In all the phases that the state went to polls, it witnessed supporters, leaders, candidates and campaigns across BJP, TMC and CPI(M) engaging in violence and aggression.

The situation is absurd. So, like all good Bengalis, we turned to Tagore for help. And voila! We have for you a list of Rabindra Sangeet that perfectly expresses the highlights from Lok Sabha elections 2019 in Bengal.

'Pran Chaye Chokkhu Na Chaay' - On Modi vs Mamata

This song about contradictions is probably the best way to describe the prickly love-hate (less love more hate) relationship between Banerjee and Modi, who at present cannot see eye-to-eye without firing salvos at each other. The ongoing war of words between the Bengal CM and PM began early in 2019, accurately setting the tone for the intense poll rivalry that at present is unfolding in Bengal, violence and vandalism et all. Didi and Modi are locked in an intense battle of wits and perceptions, even as party cadres of both TMC and BJP raise hell. As part of Didi's vindication of Modi, she has often referred to him as Duryodhana, the central villain in Mahahabharata, called him a 'fascist' and contrived to paint him and BJP as an 'enemy of state'. Offers of 'rasgullas' made of stone chips and mud have also been extended. Modi, too, has met fire with hail, warning Banerjee that 40 of her MLAs were in touch with him. He has also repeatedly raised questions about corruption in the TMC government and specifically referred to Banerjee as the speed-breaker in the path to Bengal's success. The conflict came to a head in May when the PM said he tried to call Banerjee twice to discuss Cyclone Fani but the latter chose to not to answer. While controlling violence on both sides would be down to Didi and Modi, the battle of wits, the string cold salvos and steely repartees have definitely kept the media busy. In these times, Tagore's song "Pran Chaye Chokkhu Na Chaay" (Heart desires but the eyes can't see), is only apt.

'Ogo Bideshini' - On NRC

The National Register of Citizenship and the Citizenship Amendment Bill have constituted one of the biggest poll pegs of the BJP in Bengal this election. After Amit Shah promised to enforce NRC in Bengal if the BJP comes back to power and accused Banerjee of shielding illegal immigrants for electoral gains, Tagore's song 'Ami chini go chini tomare, ogo bideshini' (I recognise you, o foreigner woman) comes to mind. Had the poet been alive today, could the xenophobic narratives sometimes peddled in the name of national security have triggered him to give the song a darker twist? We can only conjecture, but the truth remains that in Bengal, a state with a porous border with Bangladesh, close trade and economic ties, and 27.1 percent Muslim population, the prospect of NRC is sure to influence voters, both positively and negatively as far as either TMC and BJP is concerned. And in that case, the issue of 'illegal foreigners' may not just stay limited to Bengal in case of an NDA mandate.

"Oh re Grihobashi" - On election campaigning

It's quite a festival. Even though the Election Commission put a stop to campaigning in Bengal after the violence at Vidyasagar college and alleged vandalism of the teacher's statue on Tuesday, this election has seen some of the most spirited campaignings by either party in Bengal. For TMC, it is a fight to retain Banerjee's absolute control and power in Bengal while for the BJP, it is a tooth-and-nail effort to hijack as many of the 42 Parliamentary seats in Bengal to even outpoll math at the Centre. Be it slogans written in Chinese, sweets in the shape of TMC, CPI(M) and BJP symbols, rallies surging with crowds, and even using foreign actors to campaign, all contesting parties have done everything within the sphere of possibility to woo the 'Grihobashi' - the residents and voters of Bengal - who may play a part in shaping the future of the country in on May 23. Tagore's call to these 'Grihobashis' to come out of their homes as it was time for Spring, is thus the perfect campaign song for all party workers trying to win over voters.

"Jhor Utheche" - On Fani politics

Orissa has pegged its losses at over 11 crores, an initial estimates that came about ten days after the formidable Cyclone Fani ripped through Orissa, destroying residential areas, ravaging properties and beaches. However, while the Cyclone wreaked havoc in Orissa, neighboring Bengal could not help but feel the current. On May 6, Modi accused Banerjee of refusing to attend a meeting with him regarding Cyclone Fani relief operations in West Bengal. Banerjee denied the claim. Meanwhile, Orissa CM, who was greatly hailed by national and international media for his excellent work in saving thousands of lives during the cyclone, wrote to Modi, thanking him for the Centre's efforts and assistance to Orissa at its tough time. Tagore's 'Jhor Utheche' ( A storm has arrived) is an apt description of Fani politics because it not only literally describes a storm but is also indicative of the political and ideological storm that is raging in Bengal. Would the BJP manage to turn the cyclonic winds in its favour?

"Phooler Aagun" - On flower power

Those who know Tagore's work are never failed to be surprised by the longevity of his works and their immense ability to be adapted to almost any kind of life situation. Take the song "phooler agunn" (the fire of flowers) for example. Written as an ode to the vibrant arrival of spring, phooler agun is perhaps the most articulate reflection of the rivalry unfolding between BJP and TMC - both parties represented by flowers as their symbols. Would Bengal vote for Banerjee's grass flower (ghaash phool) or BJP's lotus? Back in the day when Banerjee was fighting the communists, she had coined her iconic slogan "chup chap phoole chap" (silently vote for the flower) as a way out of CPI(M)'s tyrannical rule. This time around, the tables seem to have turned with some in the party intimating those voting for the lotus - albeit quietly. For the BJP too, silence is of utmost importance and it too wants to say what Didi said long back - "chup chap phoole chap". As the polls near the end, most in Bengal are ready for the final showdown between the two flowers. Even as the fire of the flowers rages, most voters probably hope the fire is metaphorical and irrespective of poll performance, both parties are able to smell the roses, instead of setting lotuses and grass flowers ablaze.

"Ami poth bhola pothik" - On CPI(M)

Once the king of the jungle, CPI(M) has been rendered a distant fourth in a two-way fight. While it has maintained its attack on both TMC and BJP, often hinting that the two would forge an alliance as and when needed, CPI(M) has seen a semblance of a return after a decade, with a show of strength in an early poll rally in Feb and reopening the once tainted Nandigram party office after a decade of staying shut post the historical violence that many commentators still claim led to its fall in 2011. However, these gains may mean nothing in the face of the daunting offensives mounted by BJP and TMC. The disinterest and nervousness in forming alliances has also come in the way of the party making a sizeable comeback in elections since TMC wrested the state from it after 30 years of rule. In a recent interview to The Hindu, CPI(M) secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra in the state termed the both BJP and TMC's politics as that of "competitive communalisation". However, instead of coming out strong in the face of it, CPI(M) seems to have been relegated to the backseat, even as TMC and BJP squabble to take control of the driving wheel, much like the "poth bhola pothik" (traveler who has forgotten their path) of Tagore, CPI(M)'s floundering campaign is proof that the party may need remedies it is nor ready to gulp down.

"Aye tobe shohochari" - On CPI(M)-Congress alliance

Speaking of unacceptable remedies, one of the biggest factors that have played into keeping CPI(M) out of the top-contender spot in the Lok Sabha 2019 race is its inherent feeling of anti-Congressionalism in the Centre. From the 1980s onward, the top CPI(M) brass adopted fiercely anti-congress narratives - a result of the terror unleashed by the latter on CPI(M) workers in West Bengal post 1972 that eventually culminated in a CPI(M) victory in 1977 and their attack on the party in Kerala when the latter tried to abolish landlords in Kerala. Despite these differences, the imminent threat from a common enemy did seem to indicate for some time that an alliance between Congress and CPI(M), the current underdogs in Bengal, was in the offing. In fact, Politburo bigwig Sitaram Yechury even spoke about extending the alliances to other states and seat sharing formulas. However, the unlikely friendship soon fell through. Talks of seat-sharing failed after the Congress accused CPI(M) of unilaterally announcing 25 candidates in Bengal in an alleged slight to the former. Had Tagore been alive today, he would surely have dedicated the song "Aye tobe shohochari" (come then you of similar ideology and behavior)to these two parties in the hopes of giving them some heart.

"Har re re re, Amay chere de re" - Song of the voters

Even as Bengal gears toward the final phase of polling, the unprecedented violence and aggression caused by the fervent campaigning, shrill accusations and lack of talk of real issues must surely have caused some chagrin to voters, many of whom have expressed their frustration on legacy and social media. the song, "Hare re re, re re, amay chere de re de re" literally translates to "Let me go".

We rest our case.

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