Kanhai da was asked to open his tea stall at Habra’s Kumra village in Bengal early in the morning and specifically told to serve "liquor cha" (a version of black tea, with no alcohol involved) to the "comrades" to fit the party's budget.
As the clock struck eight in the morning, people holding CPI(M) flags started to swell in large numbers, while maintaining social distancing, to protest against the misappropriation of funds following Cyclone Amphan in Bengal.
The other issues were the Centre’s "anti-people policies" with focus on migrant workers, and BJP’s "communal politics".
Among the crowd, a 65-year-old man with matted-greasy hair wearing a pair of thick glasses, drew everyone’s attention.
He tugged an overused tattered jhola (cotton bag), carrying CPI(M) leaflets and an umbrella, on his shoulder. At 10am, he emerged from the tea stall and pulled out a sweat-soaked piece of creased paper from the pocket of his fatua (traditional Bengali short kurta) to announce the agenda of the gathering (which happened last month).
Meet Manoranjan Natta. For the past 42 years he has been actively working as a CPI(M) "full-timer" and even at this age he is known for holding his breath long enough to deliver fiery slogans to bind and excite the crowd.
Natta da (elder brother in Bengali) won the panchayat election from Kumra village in North 24 Parganas district in 1978 with the highest margin. Presently, he is the Habra district committee member of the Krishak Sabha (forum for farmers) and ‘sampadak’ of gramin-2 area committee in Habra.
Not only is Natta da popular among all the party leaders for his hard work, dedication and honesty, his slogans have their own ‘Left gharana’ charisma which pulls crowds from miles away.
While India has over the years experienced many iconic political slogans, like ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ by late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shashtri in 1965, ‘Indira Hatao, Desh Bachao’ by Jayaprakash Narayan in 1977, Bengal has also contributed some of the best, such as 'Aamar Naam, Tomar Naam, Vietnam, Vietnam' (Vietnam is my name, Vietnam is your name) and ‘Keu Khabe Toh Keu Khabena, Ta Hobena, Ta Hobena’ (Some people will have food and others won’t...this will not be tolerated) in the late 1960s during the ‘khadya andolan’ by the Left to ‘Ma, Mati, Manush’ by Mamata Banerjee around 2009.
But over the years, despite having different political ideologies and colours, the curious case of similar ‘tone and tenor’ of slogans in rallies of political parties, mainly the Trinamool Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist), and now the Bharatiya Janata Party, has piqued the interest of political experts, writers and activists.
Speaking to the News18.com, Manoranjan Natta said that the "gharana of catchy and meaningful slogans" still lies with the CPI(M) today.
“There are several political parties in Bengal but you will see there is a striking resemblance in the TMC, BJP and Congress political slogans with ours. The reason is the migration of ‘opportunistic’ party workers from the Left to the TMC, BJP and Congress over the years (mainly in the past nine years). They took with them the style of Left slogans,” he said.
Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) leader Bhudeb Chakraborty is known as one of the finest slogan writers in Bengal.
“I have been writing slogans for the past 14 years. Most of the slogans and their tone and tenor were lifted by the TMC, BJP and Congress from us. They simply put their own meaningless words but the style of raising slogans is the same,” he said.
Taking a dig at slogans like Mamata Banerjee’s ‘CAA CAA Chi Chi’ (during the citizenship row), he said, “You can make out easily with the content of slogans of the TMC, BJP and Congress. They are all substandard and those that actually created some impact were stolen from us.”
“I write slogans like ‘Jora Phuler Modhu Chusey, Mukul Ekhon Poddaye Boshe’ (After sucking the honey of twin flowers – Trinamool – now Mukul Roy is sitting on the lotus). This was an instant hit when Mamata’s close aide
Mukul joined the BJP. Another slogan was ‘Dori Tomar Kothay Didi, Jailer Bairey Keno Modi’ (Where is the rope Didi? Why is Modi out of jail?). This was written to question the TMC chief who was once reported saying she would tie a rope around Narendra Modi's waist and drag him to jail,” Bhudeb said, adding, “Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee lifted the ‘Jubo Shakti’ slogan from us. ‘Jubo Shakti’ is the name of our publication.”
Particularly in rural Bengal, apart from the tone and tenor of political slogans of the TMC, BJP, and Congress, the gestures and expressions also resemble those of Left leaders.
Analysing the sloganeering by Left leaders, experts say they mostly brush their tongue through the velum, rugae and hard palate (inside mouth) which gives a unique tone and resonance to any slogan. The brushing of the tongue through a hard palate also helps them in charging their emotions and raising the slogans on the right note, they say.
“The whole idea behind catchy slogans is to play with a few letters to have maximum impact with a unique style among the masses. You will find this only among the Left leaders because in the early 1960s to now, they are the ones who have mastered the art of delivering impactful slogans. I may sound harsh but the fact is most of the slogans writers in the Left were highly educated including poets, writers, authors and singers. The difference in quality of slogans has to be there," author and political expert Kapil Thakur said.
“It’s not that the TMC, BJP and Congress don't have their own slogan writers and sloganeers, but the difference is the quality of slogans they have. Take, for example, Mamata’s famous one-liner ‘Aamake Chomkaley, Aami Gorjai (When threatened, I roar). This is purely TMC’s own catchphrase but it is no match to the quality of slogans the Left has. They never use words like ‘chomkaley’, ‘gorjai’, etc. But I must say the TMC’s slogans like ‘Ma, Mati, Manush’ (mother, soil, people) and ‘Hoy Ebar, Noy Never’ (now or never) had a good impact among the masses. Similarly, (without going into its actual intention) the BJP’s ‘Jai Shree Ram’ also created some impact in Bengal. We all know how it irked Mamata.”
Thakur said, “I have done a bit of research on this and found that people in Bengal for the past 30-40 years (mostly during Left rule) have been used to the unique tone and tenor of the slogans raised by the Left leaders. This may be one of the reasons why other political parties are trying to connect with the masses in the same tone and tenor. It is just like rhymes, which easily connect with the children because they are passing on from one generation to another (irrespective of different publishers/YouTubers). I personally felt that the tone of the TMC, Congress, and Left slogans has a similarity. Interestingly, sometimes I have noticed in a TMC rally the sloganeer raises the slogan ‘Lal Salam’ by mistake. We have also seen on many occasions same slogans being raised by the CPI(M) and TMC.”
CPI(M) leader Jhulam Dasgupta’s caller tune ‘Pothe Ebar Namo Saathi, Pothei Hobe Poth Chena' (Comrades take to the streets, we shall discover ourselves on the path we have chosen) says it all about his inclination towards ‘Biplabi’ (revolutionary) slogans and one-liners.
“The root of slogans in Bengal is in the Left because they have ruled Bengal for 34 years. People are still used to hearing slogans in the same style. This is the reason why other political parties don’t want to go ahead with much experimentation. Actually, it connects with the masses easily. In the late 1960s, some impact of Congress slogans was there in Bengal but it failed to last,” he said.
While elaborating on the uniqueness of the slogans raised by the Left leaders, he said, “Not only diction, the body posture, the style of raising hands is equally important to excite the crowd. I personally feel that other political parties have managed to copy our slogans but they failed to imitate our style.” Deepak Sarkar, who has been writing slogans for the last 16 years, also feels that other political parties adopted the style of Left sloganeering because the masses easily connect with its tone and tenor.
“Beside this reason, from 2008 to 2013 many Left workers joined the TMC under pressure and they took the style of Left sloganeering with them. However, despite our slogans and style being copied, those who are actually following this trend can make out with their eyes closed which slogan is raised by which political party,” Sarkar said.
As Bengal is going to witness one of the most crucial assembly elections in 2021, political parties have already started a full-scale slogan war to take on each other.
From ‘Dhormo Niye Rajniti, Sheje Boro Durniti’ (Politics over religion is an act of a corrupt mind) to ‘Mission Ekush’ (Mission 2021), political parties (mainly the TMC and BJP) have kept their cards close to their chest on strategies to form the government in Bengal.
Trinamool Congress secretary, Colonel Diptanshu Chaudhary (retd), said, “It’s wrong to portray that the TMC does not have its own slogan writers and sloganeers. There are many in the party who are known for their fiery and impactful slogans. As far as tone and tenor is concerned, there are people from the Left who joined the TMC because they saw no future in the Left Front and they carried the art of slogans with them. There is nothing wrong in that as the art of delivering slogans is not anyone’s copyright.”