In a riveting turn of events, the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly election has taken a dramatic shift as the results from the fourth phase of counting unfold.
Bidula Sardar works as a domestic help in a house in Kolkata and she has asked for four days’ leave to go to her village in Barasat on the outskirts of the capital city to cast her vote in the rural elections on July 8. She usually carries with her a mobile phone which doubles up as a music system that she keeps switched on while dusting, sweeping, swabbing, doing dishes or washing clothes.
Being self-confessedly “religious,’ the songs on her playlist are usually devotional but the one that got stuck in a loop on her device last time when the elections were on in the state two years ago was a political parody on a Bengali pop hit called “Tumpa Shona” (Tumpa Darling) by the singer-composer duo Arob Dey Chowdhury and Avishek Saha. Synced to a foot-tapping tune with tongue-in-cheek lyrics about a jilted young man’s offer of love to an unsuspecting Tumpa, for whom he is ready to give up “tobacco chewing” among other things, the parody by supporters of the Communist parties of West Bengal, called “Tumpa Brigade Cholo” written by Rahul Paul, went viral on YouTube as it took good-humored digs at rivals Trinamool and BJP, ruling the state and the country, respectively. Whether Sardar voted Left because of her obsession with the parody or not is not known, but she has self-confessedly got “hooked” to catchy campaign songs and looks forward to them come election time.
According to political commentators, while no studies currently exist to indicate just how impactful catchy campaign slogans and songs actually are as far as raking in the votes are concerned, there is no denying that the visibility of political parties do greatly increase. “I had witnessed campaigning in West Bengal since the time of Bidhan Chandra Roy, the first chief minister of West Bengal and it was a completely different ball game,” says Tarun Ganguly, a veteran political expert who has covered Bengal politics for over four decades. “It was much more low-key and localized. Now the Internet has changed the scale of campaigning.” He points to certain similarities, however. “The thrust or emphasis is still on the creation of awareness in the people or the electorate,” he says.
He remembers being stationed in the remote Purulia district during the panchayat elections during Roy’s time. “There were rallies with groups of people of different tribes, marching while clapping, singing, shouting or clanging certain instruments
together, essentially to create noise so that people take note. Another person, in a moment of pause, would announce the elections to be held.” Principally, he says, the Internet campaigning pattern of today is different but the goal is the same – to reach out to large numbers of people.
Last evening a video called “Panchayat Bolchhey Trinamool ee Thaak” (Panchayat is Saying ‘Let Mamata Remain’) was released by India Wants Mamatadi (IWMD), an independent group of Trinamool supporters, which has timed its YouTube release – subsequently shared on other social media like
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and its own website – with the campaign dates of the Panchayat polls.
“There is no denying that videos such as this reach a large number of people in the districts, villages, and other remote areas, where almost everyone now has a mobile phone with Internet and we are confident that it will have an impact on the electorate in these areas,” says Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay, founding member of IWMD. The theme of the video, which was conceptualized by founding member Raj Mukherjee, is an encapsulation of the “developmental” projects of the Trinamool government in the rural areas and this is woven together by juxtaposing images from the villages and
photos or clips depicting people who would have benefitted from the public distribution schemes. The song begins with a couple of lines, both visually and through audio, that immediately transport the viewer/listener to the villages of Bengal.
“The ground is calling and it is in this that lies the happiness of the farmers of the grassroots,” writes Suman Majumdar. Sung by a young musician – Shaheb (not to be confused with the Bengali actor and singer of the same name), the video was edited by Asif Akhtar.
Bandyopadhyay says that the message in the video about Trinamool’s popularity is much more than just campaign rhetoric. “We have over one thousand active workers in almost every corner of the state (and even outside like Assam, Jharkhand, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Tripura) and they send us reports from the ground and keep us informed about the political developments,” she says. And it is already all over the Internet.