Kolkata: Staunch supporters of the Left Front in West Bengal until recently, many authors, musicians, actors and film-makers are now rooting for change in the parliamentary elections in April-May.
Non-partisan: Actor Bibhas Chakraborty. Indranil Bhoumik / Mint
“We won’t say vote for this party or that. We’ll simply say that we have put up with a political order for 32 years. Enough is enough,” said Jnanpith and Magsaysay awards winning author Mahasweta Devi, 83, who with others such as painter Suvaprasanna and actors Saonli Mitra and Bibhas Chakraborty is planning to release an independent manifesto asking people to vote for change.
A large number of intellectuals and artists fell out with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM-led Left Front government over land acquisition at Nandigram to build a chemical industries complex. The government has since shelved plans for it after violent local protests led to at least 14 deaths.
The artists are planning to organize a cultural programme on the eve of the Bengali new year in mid-April to raise funds for people fighting the CPM and its allies, they said.
“We don’t belong to any party. The demand for change is coming from within...from the people of Bengal. We are merely voicing the demands of the people,” said Chakraborty, whose Bengali adaptation of Dario Fo’s Italian play Accidental Death of an Anarchist is seen as a critique of the ruling front’s misuse of power.
Mitra, likely to stage a Bengali play based on George Orwell’s Animal Farm—widely viewed as a critique of communist totalitarianism—at the event, said she has been trying to stage the play for quite some time, but her theatre group Pancham Vaidik has been unable to book auditoriums because of the play’s strong “anti-establishment theme”.
“But I don’t mind taking it in my stride... I have raised my voice against the establishment so many times,” the veteran actor said.
These luminaries from the world of art and culture, also known for their Left-leaning views, took to the streets to protest against the killing of 14 people in police firing in Nandigram on 14 March 2007. They boycotted the annual Kolkata film festival in 2007. Realizing that they had not been an inconsiderable influence, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made several attempts to make peace with them, but was unsuccessful.
Asked if the alienation of cultural icons would in any manner impact the party’s performance in the election, CPM leader Rabin Deb, who is taking on Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee in the South Kolkata constituency, said: “They seem to have done some damage by influencing others who were not with them initially, but I don’t want to comment on what they are doing and why.”
Among those who continue to maintain close ties with Bhattacharjee’s party are film-maker Mrinal Sen, actor Soumitra Chattopadhyay and novelist Sunil Gangopadhyay. Though they have often been seen rooting for Left leaders, this time they, too, seem to be aloof.
“These days everyone seems to be talking of change. Mahasweta is talking of change and so is Mamata. In this scenario, I would prefer to steer clear of all these,” said Sen.
Asked if he was going to have any role to play in the forthcoming election, Gangopahyay said: “I don’t understand politics. I am not getting into this, directly or indirectly.”