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Facebook: The new battlefield in Bengal politics

Sunday July 22, 2012 03:52:41 PMPradipta Tapadar, IANS

Kolkata: With the Who's Who of West Bengal's politics swearing by the appeal of Facebook, it seems the social networking site is rapidly turning into a new platform to reach out to the masses without the fear of getting misquoted and being asked uncomfortable questions.

From union Home Minister P.Chidambaram's potshots on the worsening law and order situation in the state to the presidential poll, to attacks on educational institutions, all issues are being widely debated among the supporters and leaders of various political groups on the site.

With the state government at the receiving end after several goof-ups such as the flip-flop on the presidential poll, the Park Street rape case, the arrest of a professor for circulating cartoons on Facebook and banning of newspapers, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and several of her cabinet colleges have chosen the social networking site to put up their own views on various political developments.

"It is one of the best ways to reach out to urban masses without being misinterpreted by the media. If you are in politics then (social networking) is a necessity," Forest Minister Hiten Burman, who maintains an account on Facebook, told IANS.

Alliance partner Congress, which is currently in a confrontation mode, has also created a Facebook page and its state chief Pradip Bhattacharya is using it in all possible ways to take on the alleged high-handedness of the Trinamool .

The opposition Left Front, despite being against the introduction of computers in the early 1990s, has been the most regular user of Facebook to highlight in cyber space the "misdeeds" of the new government in this state of 92 million people, the fourth most populated in India.

Though political mudslinging between the Congress, the Trinamool and the Left Front on Facebook and Orkut was quite common during the run-up to the assembly elections last year, they were never used as platforms to put up official statements by political bosses or the chief minister.

But after being checkmated and left red-faced by the Congress in her presidential poll maneuvring, Banerjee started a campaign by issuing statements on her newly created Facebook page, backing her choice for the post of president.

Since then, Banerjee, known for losing her cool at the slightest of uncomfortable questions and her aversion to criticism, has used Facebook as a means to reach out to the masses by conveying her message without the fear of getting misinterpreted or being asked painful questions.

She has used Facebook to make official statements on a range of issues from the Singur verdict to sanitizing Indian politics from "spineless and corrupt politicians".

Banerjee's success in using Facebook as a mass medium can be gauged from the fact that since June 18, her page has received 92,000 likes and the 18 posts she has made so far have received more than 2,000 comments each on an average.

But the irony is not hard to miss. This is the same Banerjee who, on several occasions earlier, had slammed Facebook users as "worthless" and had even arrested a professor for circulating cartoons allegedly derogatory to her on the site.

Burman defended Banerjee's action, saying his party was against those Facebook users who are using it in a wrong way for spreading canards against the government.

"It is really a surprise that she is using Facebook. I don't know what expression to use other than 'maintaining double standards'," the Congress' Bhattacharya said.

Political analysts, however, feel that Banerjee's venture into Facebook is a ploy to avoid uncomfortable questions from journalists.

Other regular users of Facebook include Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim, Trinamool leader Sankudeb Panda, Congress leader Omprakash Mishra and CPI-M leaders like Sujan Chakraborty, Samik Lahiri and Tanmay Bhattacharya.

For example, the Facebook account of Hakim includes articles of alleged violence perpetuated by the CPI-M, the covert axis between the CPI-M and the Congress and a picture of Indira Gandhi with late Marxist leader Jyoti Basu.

In contrast, Pradip Bhattacharya is a new entrant on Facebook. Bhattacharya, with his 11 posts, has effectively used it to endorse the claims of deteriorating law and order and criticise Trinamool's till date rigid stand in opposing the policies of the central government.

"If you want to take your views to the masses without being misinterpreted then you have to be on Facebook. It is a place where you have direct contact with the masses and can get an idea of their views," he said.

Tanmay Bhattacharya, one of the most regular Marxist politicians on Facebook, feels that with the ever-increasing popularity of the social networking site, it is really hard to ignore the impact and reach of Facebook.

(Pradipta Tapadar can be contacted at



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