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How to spend it (the money)

Bhangar, Jan. 2: Mamata Banerjee may be partial to multiple forms of art but it has been declared that she has “zero tolerance” for partymen showering currency notes on gyrating girls to mark the foundation day of the Trinamul Congress.

Crimson-faced by footage showing such scenes at a South 24-Parganas event, the party suspended the organiser who is also an elected member to the zilla parishad. Harsher steps have been hinted at and more heads could roll.

The dance-and-cash show did not just appear crass but also struck an insensitive note at a time the country is gripped by the Delhi-triggered debate on how it treats women.

Some Trinamul leaders privately described the fiasco as an unintended but unavoidable reflection of a trend set by the chief minister herself by asking Tollywood actors to dance and sing at the drop of a hat at public events. The chief minister can ensure dignity is maintained but when party bosses elsewhere try to ape her, it is a recipe for disasters like these, said at least one Trinamul leader who did not want to be named.

With the footage being aired almost across the country, Trinamul MP Derek ’Brien took to Twitter. “Disciplinary com(mittee) meet on. Pending inqry, party men suspnded. Expulsion not ruled out. Spoke to CM, she had 2 words: ‘Zero tolerance’.”

Perhaps responding to TV anchors’ questions why the party has not apologised, he tweeted: “In Bengal and in Trinamool, there is zero tolerance for anti-women behavior. Zero tolerance means quick, strong action, not vacuous apology.”

However, the party underscored that the show was an isolated one. “It was an isolated incident and the strictest action will be takenů. Thousands of events marked Trinamool’s 16th birthday. At one event, there is an abhorrent incident involving ladies dancing,” the MP tweeted.

Like in the rest of the state, the Trinamul birthday was celebrated at an open-air dais opposite the police station in Bhangar in South 24-Parganas.

After a flag-hoisting ceremony in the morning, a cultural programme organised by Mir Taher Ali started at 5pm.

The programme began with baul songs but the complexion changed by around 10.30 at night with spirits rising among both the audience and the organisers.

Curtains then went up on a “song-and-dance” sequence during which the girls gyrated to Bengali and Hindi songs. Ainul Ali Mollah, the working secretary of the Bhangar block-I Trinamul Congress, showered currency notes on the dancers who were circling a singer.

As the notes floated towards the floor, the crowd erupted in whoops of joy and some lustily joined in the dance. But they were prevented from clambering onto the stage by the party’s volunteers.

“Taher Ali got bar crooners to perform at the show,” said a local leader. “He held the microphone in his hand and kept on asking the crowd ‘heavy hochchhe to’? (Great, isn’t it?)”

In their enthusiasm — or, perhaps, in their eagerness to please their leader — the organisers even got the occasion wrong. A banner on the dais proclaimed “Pratishthata divas” (founder’s day) instead of “Pratishtha divas” (foundation day), as it should have been.

Finally, the police — which had not given permission for the event despite being asked for it — intervened at 11.30pm and stopped the show.

After TV channels started flashing the clips, the Trinamul leadership condemned the programme.

“We don’t encourage such things. But so many programmes were held on the foundation day and this could be a stray incident. Not just the party functionaries but ordinary supporters also organised programmes,” party general secretary Mukul Roy told The Telegraph.

Some party insiders felt that leaders in the districts probably took their cue from Mamata’s penchant to parade film stars at events and construed it as an excuse to play to the gallery by any means.

“What happened at Bhangar is not tolerable. But it is not surprising either. Song-and-dance routines have accompanied a number of party events, some of which were attended by chief minister Mamata Banerjee,” said a senior Trinamul leader.

At the annual martyrs’ day rally held at the Brigade Parade grounds after Trinamul came to power in 2011, enthralled party supporters swayed as actor Dev danced to a number from his hit film Paglu. At another programme held against the Centre’s decision to introduce FDI in retail, a song from another Bengali film “Mon je kore uru uru” (My heart soars in the sky) was performed when Mamata was present.

“Mamata, being the chief minister, can get superstars like Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan to share the dais with her. The local-level party leaders also have their aspirations but not the ability to organise something similar. So they get bar crooners,” the Trinamul leader said.

Dissident Trinamul MP Kabir Suman said: “I am not at all surprised. If the chief minister could say ‘Ektu Paglu dance hoye jaak’ (Let there be a Paglu dance) at the martyrs’ day rally of Trinamul Congress on July 21 in the presence of MPs, MLAs, and representatives of civil society, then this is not surprising.”

Actor-director Koushik Sen said: “I’m not too surprised by what happened at Bhangar. After what we saw in the nature of celebrations during the Shahid Divas following the Trinamul’s win or during a serious FDI meeting, this was bound to happen.”


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