The reality music competition on Zee TV, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2005, has generated mass hysteria in the North-east. The musical extravaganza has reached its final leg, with just two contestants ' Vinit from Lucknow and Debojit from Silchar ' fighting it out for the much coveted 'Voice of India' title.
Emulating the current trend, this weekly soiree invites viewers to vote for the singers of their choice in order to save them from being eliminated. A total of 32 budding playback singers from different parts of India started off in the competition over a year ago. In the initial rounds, elimination was based on the verdict of eminent panels of judges drawn from the rich pool of artistes and composers. But as the number of competitors dwindled to 12, public voting began to decide their fate, with the ratings of the 'mentors' being of academic interest only. Since then, the musical show has generated an unprecedented frenzy among the people.
Debojit Saha, the only contestant from the North-east, has become the cynosure of all eyes. At first, the excitement was limited to his home town, Silchar. But as Debojit progressed from one week to the next, emotion and sentiment have been running high all around the Brahmaputra valley. The deprivation theory has turned what was earlier support for Debojit into euphoria and finally, frenzy. Although assembly elections in Assam are due only in April this year, a different kind of campaign fever has gripped the state, and its reverberation can be heard in the other north-eastern states as well.
Large cut-outs of Debojit and his mentor, Ismail Darbar, dominate the skyline of Assam. Posters and banners of Debojit containing the appeal to vote for him adorn all major cities, towns and even villages of Assam. Debojit Saha fan clubs have come up in various places. PCOs have joined the race by launching free SMS and telephone services to people. All regional vernacular dailies 'both Bengali and Assamese ' are flooded with emotion-packed stories on Debojit, interviews with his wife, Bandana Paul, and so on. Processions and street corner meetings for further mobilization of support for Debojit have resulted in a trying time for the traffic cops. But the law-keepers don't seem to mind.
The all Assam Students' Union has recently joined the bandwagon,asking all the people of Assam to back Debojit. Not to lag behind, the North-east Students' Organization has asked the entire North-east to unite behind Debojit.
In the midst of all this began the rumour that some people associated with the contest were hatching a sinister plot to oust Debojit by underhand means. The conspiracy theory received support when Zee TV aired nearly unedited footage of verbal duels between the mentors, and among the audience on the set. The format of the show dictates that the regional voting pattern be disclosed. This has intensified the zonal war. The North-east is clearly pitched against the rest of India. More than 80 per cent of the votes polled for Debojit come from the region. Extreme regional bias in the voting pattern has been questioned by the other contestants and their mentors, Himesh Reshammiya and Aadesh Srivastav. And this has further angered the people of the North-east.
Samujjwal Bhattacharjee, chairman of the NESO and adviser to AASU, saw in it an evil ploy to spoil the chances of Debojit. Interestingly enough, the anti-India secessionist outfit, the United Liberation Front of Asom, has, for the first time since its birth, found an occasion inspiring enough to join the mainstream.
Not all are willing to join the game, though, seeing in it a grand corporate design. The altercation among the mentors, the boycott threat from contestants, the walk-out by Ismail Darbar, they argue, are all well-rehearsed. And, the 'got-up theory' cannot be ignored when one thinks of the crores that the electronic votes translate into for the channel.
But there is another dimension to the Debojit episode which needs to be underscored. This is the first time in the history of independent India that the people of the North-east ' cutting across class, language, religion and ethnicity ' have found a thread which can unite them. Though the North-east appears to be a homogeneous bloc to the rest of India, insiders know that it is not so. But love and affection for Debojit have transcended all barriers. The Barak and the Brahmaputra seem to be flowing in a single stream. All disputes and clashes suddenly disappear when it comes to 'type Debojit and send it to 7575'. Another week, and the show will be over and the people displaying so much zeal now will probably get back to their mundane realities ' but having for once asserted the identity of the North-east. That is the true gift. If Debojit wins, it will be a bonus.