July 4, 7pm: I congratulate the students, the teachers, the parents and the school management on this great occasion. My best wishes are always with themÖ.
Mamata Banerjee on Facebook on the diamond jubilee celebrations of a school
Did she bring Tapas Pal along for his quaint and inspiring speeches
Vikramaditya Majumder comments on Mamata’s post
July 2, 11.59pm, Derek O’Brien tweets: Good on u @realpreityzinta U bought all those IPL shares & lent him money to buy team. You r the pillar of that team. I don’t know u but bravo
July 3, 12.03am, Ankit Mittal responds: Did you just forget about #TapasPal? Now plz focus on that issue. @realpreityzinta has got many more supporters
Mamata Banerjee and her digital-savvy associates are scoring one own goal after another on the vast field called social media.
No matter when Team Trinamul posts or tweets or what the topic is, some of the “followers” are using the chance to ask searching questions, make skewering comments and execute ruthless dissections that none of her colleagues will dare broach in front of the chief minister.
The irony of ironies is that Mamata was among the early bird politicians in Bengal to take to social media — and she herself is at the receiving end at a time sworn rivals like Narendra Modi are milking such avenues to their advantage.
Another irony of ironies: the uncharitable posts — some even crossing the limits of decency — are surfacing in a state where a professor was beaten up and forced to spend a night in a lock-up for the alleged crime of circulating a joke about the chief minister on the Internet.
Take, for instance, Mamata’s latest post on Facebook. The chief minister posted a gracious and inspiring message about a Calcutta school around 7pm.
By 11pm, Mamata’s Facebook page was flooded with comments — many posting their fond memories about the school, some taking a critical look at the institution and a father speaking of his mother’s unfulfilled dream of sending him to the school and vowing to try and get his son admitted to the same school.
But what stood out on the page on such a celebratory topic was something not connected with the school at all: comment after comment on the “rape-and-shoot” speech by Tapas Paul, the Trinamul MP.
The Paul backlash had begun on June 30 — when the first tape was aired. The blizzard of criticism was appended to a message of harmony and goodwill the chief minister had posted on a religious occasion.
Not that there were no comments of appreciation and gratitude. But the burst of comments on Paul’s speech is hard to miss.
Trinamul national spokesperson Derek O’Brien — a prolific tweeter — was also given the full treatment on July 2-3 when he expressed unsolicited solidarity with Preity Zinta who has accused Ness Wadia of harassing her.
O’Brien was soon given a lesson on the idiom about setting one’s own house in order before advising others.
A tweeter with the handle dadojikondadev responded: “sir, focus on what didi is doing wrt tapas pal, elsewhere da courts police is quite competent to handle cases.”
Another — akhil21012012 — tweeted: “bhaiya why don’t u give ur wise advise to ur party instead of putting ur finger everywhere.”
But the digital strikeback is by no means triggered by or confined to the Paul tapes. The trend had begun sometime ago — and the subjects range from appeals for jobs to opposition to decisions related to the border with Bangladesh and alleged admission racketsÖ.
All of which suggest that in a state where criticism exacts a price, at least some people are using the outlets gifted by Mamata herself to draw her attention to perceived shortcomings and failures of the administration.
The chief minister’s approach to criticism — which she describes as kutsha (slander) and chakranto (conspiracy) — is well known. Trinamul will probably dismiss the criticism on the social media as tasteless and scurrilous — some comments do fall in that category.
But not all. Some articulate the disenchantment that appears to have set in — and they do so in a dignified and earnest manner.
“Respected Madam.... are we living in a civilised society? A honorable MP is calling himself “MAAL”? We can ignore, but can you? Being Head of the State?” asks Dhiman Das on Mamata’s Facebook page.
Neither are all of them the usual suspects. A Facebook user who identified himself as Rizwan Ahmed commented on Mamata’s page: “Didi we demand your comment & your step in Tapas PAUL’S matter! I was ur supporter in 2011 but I'm helpless I can’t support you and your party anymore!”
On June 16, 2012, when she joined Facebook, Mamata became a trendsetter among Bengal politicians and was soon followed by leaders from her party as well as her opponents. She used the Facebook page to announce policy decisions and achievements of her government and to criticise the Centre.
According to Trinamul insiders, Mamata had decided to cash in on the growing popularity of the social media network to garner support among Bengal’s youths as she pressed the accelerator for the last lap towards “paribartan”. The party got Hotmail co-founder Sabeer Bhatia ahead of the 2011 Assembly polls as communications adviser.
Although she has often used Facebook, the interactivity claim often underscored by O’Brien remained only on paper. The chief minister rarely replied to any of the comments.
“I don’t know if she has ever seen any of the comments. Had she seen the comments, there would be no reason for her to be happy, though she may label those calling for Paul’s head to roll as CPM trolls,” said an official who did not want to be named for obvious reasons.