Facebook is no longer just about you and your friends, it is also the new-found favourite of friends and foes in Bengal politics.
Mamata Banerjee’s decision to use the social networking site to share everything from presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee’s letter seeking her support to her happiness at being part of a celebration in Darjeeling has triggered a rush of politicians eager to be networked with her.
Those who have opened Facebook accounts are logging in at least once a day to keep track of Mamata’s status updates and occasional ripostes by ally Congress and rival Left.
Urban development and municipal affairs minister Firhad Hakim, more comfortable hitting the streets than a computer keyboard, is among those trying to make friends (and influence people) on Facebook.
“I am here because of my leader. Mamata Banerjee is using this platform and so I am here to catch up with whatever she is saying,” Hakim told Metro.
Mamata made her Facebook debut on June 16 by telling people why she wanted A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to become President for the second time. Since then, she has been posting her views regularly, and not always on politics. If one day she describes how she feels travelling through the hills of Darjeeling, another post is on her resolve to fight for Singur despite the high court’s verdict going against her government.
On Monday, she posted a letter that former Bengal governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi had written to her after she proposed his name as a candidate for Vice-President.
Forest minister Hiten Barman, who confesses he is in the woods when it comes to using Facebook, is trying hard to get used to the format.
Cabinet colleague Chandranath Sinha, though not a regular on the site, is planning to start a page featuring his department, statistics and programme implementation.
“Someone as busy as our CM cannot keep interacting with the media through the day. Facebook offers an easy option…. I think it is a handy tool for all of us in public life,” said Trinamul MLA and mayoral council member Sashi Panja.
Mamata’s newfound love for Facebook is in contrast to her views about the power of the social networking site when CPM leaders were running an online campaign against her before the Assembly polls. “She then used to say that she was not bothered about Facebook as it reached only a handful of the urban elite,” an aide said.
Derek O’Brien, Trinamul’s Rajya Sabha MP and a Twitter user, defended her stand. “Mamatadi was never anti-Facebook. She was critical of the manner the CPM and its supporters were using it against her and Trinamul,” he said.
The Congress leadership has also been bitten by the Facebook bug. On July 7, immediately after Mamata’s comment on “spineless leaders”, a cartoon calling Trinamul leaders “lamp-posts” appeared on the Facebook page of the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee page.
Rajya Sabha member Pradip Bhattacharya, also the PCC president, calls himself a neo-convert. “I realised the importance of social networking very recently. In six months, we will have more followers than Trinamul,” he declared.
The CPM seems amused by Mamata’s appearance on Facebook and the virtual war between the allies. “The use and misuse of Facebook with a virtual turf war between allies is interesting,” said Manab Mukherjee, former IT minister in the Left Front government and Facebook user for over five years.
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