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SCREEN SAVVY

Bleeding heart liberals there are many but there is only one bleeding heart chief minister. No one quite feels for the poor of West Bengal as does Mamata Banerjee. The poor of the state have nothing but they have television sets. They have little or no access to proper education; the standard of healthcare is abysmal; the drinking water is laced with arsenic and their living quarters are infested with disease-bearing mosquitoes. But all these shortcomings that make for a horrible quality of life are irrelevant. For after all, while shivering with dengue or malaria, they can watch TV; while their platelet count falls, their enjoyment of the idiot box rises exponentially. This is the reality in West Bengal. How else does one explain the chief minister’s statements regarding the introduction of set-top boxes in the state? Ms Banerjee is hostile to the introduction of set-top boxes because she believes that this will make it more expensive for ordinary and poor people to watch TV. She also believes that there are many households in West Bengal that own three or four TV sets. How the poor have even one TV set, let alone many, is a question that should not be asked.

The Union information and broadcasting ministry has made set-top boxes mandatory. When Ms Banerjee’s party was part of the Union ministry, it agreed on October 31 as the last date for the digitization of cable signals. This was stated in a written reply given before the Lok Sabha by the then minister of state for information and broadcasting, C.M. Jatua, a Trinamul Congress minister. This has now been swept aside by a wave of populism, the hallmark of Ms Banerjee’s politics. She has announced that there would be state-wide protests against what she sees as an imposition on the part of the Central government. So West Bengal will now witness the somewhat bizarre phenomenon of the government of the state creating a law-and-order problem. Ms Banerjee appears to have forgotten that West Bengal is part of the republic of India and that as the chief minister she has sworn allegiance to the Constitution. She enjoys the delusion that her word is law and because she commands a majority she can get away with doing anything and saying anything she wants. Politics in West Bengal has been reduced to a TV soap. No wonder the chief minister is so keen that people are glued to their many TV sets.