|Mamata Banerjee’s cut-out at the Book Fair. (Sanat Kr. Sinha)
Larger-than-life Mamata Banerjee smiling down from flex boards across the fairground, ministers monopolising book releases and party MPs and MLAs making their presence felt wherever you look — the 37th Calcutta Book Fair is a Trinamul show all the way.
“It is written in bold in almost all publicity materials for the Book Fair that Bangladesh is the theme country of this year’s edition. But after visiting the fairground, I have realised that it is a Trinamul affair,” said Subhasish Roy, a bank employee and book fair regular for the last decade.
The stamp of the ruling party on the Calcutta Book Fair is nothing new, though. The erstwhile Left Front government too used to loom over the fair and the book-loving Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s involvement in the annual event till the winter of 2011 would annoy Mamata no end.
This year, so overwhelming has been Trinamul’s omnipresence at the fair that anyone visiting Milan Mela hoping to see and experience the official theme would be disappointed.
“When the CPM was in power, the attempt to hog the limelight was subtler. This time, the ruling party’s presence is much louder,” said an official of the Publishers and Booksellers’ Guild.
The most striking element of Trinamul’s presence at the fair is the 100sq ft open arena at the fairground — opposite the stall of Jago Bangla, the Trinamul mouthpiece — that has been reserved for party MPs and MLAs.
Food minister Jyotipriya Mullick and former tourism minister Rachhpal Singh were there when Metro did a round of the fairground on Thursday afternoon. The list of VIPs at the arena on Wednesday evening had included MP Sougata Roy, industries minister Partha Chatterjee, urban development minister Firhad Hakim and labour minister Purnendu Basu, among others.
Sources in Trinamul said the who’s who of the party had been instructed to spend some time at the arena — the only such open VIP space at the fairground — every evening.
“I cannot recollect CPM leaders or ministers doing the same in the heyday of Left rule,” the guild official said. “Buddhababu used to come almost every day but he would spend most of the time at the guild office, interacting with his friends from the world of literature. The Book Fair never overtly looked like a Buddhababu or CPM show.”
The spot that used to have a stall by the CPM mouthpiece Ganashakti till 2011 has gone to Jago Bangla this year. The largest stall at the venue — around 2,000sq ft — is of the information and cultural affairs department. The stall displays cut-outs of the chief minister and a giant LCD TV streams recordings of various programmes such as the inauguration of the film festival, all presided over by Mamata.
On January 26, Mamata released three books at the fair: Se nei, Pochonder Kobita and Ek Poloke, Ek Jholoke. Another one, Bhabnar Sathi, is awaiting release by the chief minister in a day or two.
Her party colleagues are not lagging. Labour minister Basu has already released his book and education minister Bratya Basu will be releasing one on him on February 3. A paperback against FDI in retail is in the queue.
At the Jago Bangla stall that is a one-stop shop for books authored by Mamata, MLAs and MPs have been seen queuing up to buy those and paying at a counter overseen by Trinamul trade union leader Dola Sen.
A handy guide on how to turn a book fair into a party affair might do even better business.