22 March 2019 11:38 AM

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MOHAN J. DUTTA | 23 FEBRUARY, 2019

Resistance Cannot be Selective, Mamata Banerjee Fails to Meet the Benchmark of Dissent and Democracy

Film Bhobishyater Bhoot (Ghosts of the future) withdrawn from theatres in West Bengal


For a section of progressive forces that desperately seek an alternative to the regime of Narendra Modi, the promise of a united democratic politics holds the key to returning India to its constitutional traditions.

In the recent months, this politics of resistance has found an anchor in the West Bengal Chief Minister Ms. Mamata Banerjee.

In my mostly progressive Facebook echo chamber, feed after feed erupted with the celebrations of resistance as Ms. Banerjee sat in for a protest when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) sought to interrogate the Police Commissioner of West Bengal on the Saradha chit fund scam.

Her act of sitting on a dharna, rhetorically framed as “Save the Constitution” was seen as a mark of protest that opened up new possibilities in the fight against fascism in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. News stories and posts that so desperately need to find a basis for returning to the ethos of democracy in India find in the West Bengal Chief Minister an invitation for a democratic future.

Positioning herself as a leader of the anti-Hindutva coalition, Ms. Banerjee waxes eloquent about the separation between the institutions and political forces.

One of the loudest aspects of her sit-in was her protest against the co-optation of institutions such as the CBI by the Center, with politicians deploying the structures of the state to control institutions.

What however these voices for returning Indian democracy fail to note is the intolerant politics that forms the basis of Ms. Banerjee’s governance model in West Bengal.


(Director and others protesting the ban)

One of the most recent examples of this politics is the deployment of opaque forms of pressure to cancel the screening of the film “Bhobishyater Bhoot” (the ghosts of the future). The screening of the film was cancelled after its release, with theater managers telling the film makers that the screening was cancelled because of orders from higher authorities, and telling the audience that the screening has been cancelled because of technical difficulties.

Moreover, in a protest march organized by theater and cinema artists in Kolkata, the director of the film, Anik Dutta, shared that three days before the launch of the film, the team had received calls followed by a letter from the police asking about the content and the script of the film, its political orientation, and whether it was critical of the government at the state and federal levels. In addition to references to police intervention, artists protesting the cancellations also noted the power exerted by the goons of the political party.

The team also shared the various incidences of trouble and harassment the film had been subjected to during its production. The director of the film Dutta has invoked the ire of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) establishment when he has critiqued the large cut-outs of Ms. Banerjee decorating the poster spaces of a film festival.

What is particularly telling about the calibrated nature of coercion is the invisible nature of the coercion, hidden behind opaque sources of power. It appears Ms. Banerjee’s regime has taken important lessons from her travels to the mecca of calibrated repression, Singapore. Her strategies of calibrated repression of Left forces certainly appear to follow the targeting and silencing of the Left through techniques of calibrated coercion that is inherent to the “Singapore model.”

The cancellation of the film is one of a series of authoritarian methods of silencing dissent that has been witnessed across West Bengal since the arrival of the TMC government. From the jailing and harassment of an academic who shared a cartoon lampooning Ms. Banerjee to the harassment of political workers and political leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPIM], Ms. Banerjee’s TMC operates through its deployment of a range of coercive methods to silence dissent. Too often, CPI(M) workers have been scared to even carry out their community work at the rural level because of the violence deployed by TMC goons.

That the police operate as an instrument of the political party in power raises important questions about the independence of institutions in Mamata’s Bengal.

Even as a number of artists have spoken up to protest the cancellation of “Bhobisyater Bhoot,” the silence of the so-called voices of resistance that have been at the forefront of performing the protests against the CPI(M) during the transition to power is telling. That amid the increasing atrocities carried out by the TMC these voices have conveniently retreated to their spaces of bourgeois privilege tells a powerful story of the ideologically bankrupt politics of posturing.

The recognition of the confluence between the TMC’s reactionary politics and the BJP’s Hindutva politics is crucial to the imagination of resistance. To prop-up Ms. Mamata Banerjee as the face of democratic possibilities is to deliberately ignore her record of authoritarian control, violence, and harassment in West Bengal.


(Still from the film)

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