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The writing is on the wall for poll graffiti

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BANNED: This Kolkata wall will be cleaned up soon, as will others across West Bengal. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish
BANNED: This Kolkata wall will be cleaned up soon, as will others across West Bengal. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

Marcus Dam

A West Bengal Government directive on ridding walls of poll graffiti has sounded the death knell for a popular means of communication.

THE CLEANING up of walls covered with poll graffiti has begun in right earnest across West Bengal. This sounds the death knell for one of the most common means of communication employed in previous elections by candidates of parties across the political spectrum. Move over graffiti artists. The worker-on-contract engaged by the district administrations and the police to wipe the walls clean is set to take over. The State Government has issued a directive to clean poll graffiti from walls across West Bengal. This is under the West Bengal Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 1976.

"The cleaning of the walls has already begun in some districts of the State," Chief Election Officer Debashis Sen told The Hindu on Wednesday. "We are awaiting the official directive, which is expected anytime now and intend to carry out the job as expeditiously as possible," Prasun Mukherjee, Kolkata Commissioner of Police, said.

There is now no room for the confusion, so long shared by leaders of the different political parties, over whether to continue the decades-long practice of using walls for conveying election messages to the people. The State Government directive that all walls whether government property or private be cleaned up has settled it. The politicians are now having to turn their sights on "alternative means to reach out to the electorate."

The West Bengal Prevention of Defacement of Property Act, 1976, so long taken with little seriousness during election time, has now come into effect with all severity. "I am expected to see that it is enforced. Funds will be made available to the authorities concerned to carry out the job," Mr. Sen said. "We shall be employing contractors. It is not for our constables to do what is being required," Mr. Mukherjee added.

"In an attempt to bring about parity across the country the Election Commission had issued a circular last year stating that walls of government premises should not be used for election purposes during the election period," Mr. Sen said. "Where [in States] there is no such law to this effect a norm should be followed stipulating that walls of private premises can only be used with the consent of the owners. But [as far as West Bengal is concerned] legislation banning defacement of walls had already existed. All we have done is to extend the ambit of the law to all parts of the State," he explained.

Only a few days ago, when Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was asked about poll graffiti scribbled all over the walls in his Assembly constituency, Jadavpur, in the south of the city, he said "it is [an] awkward [situation]." For, it is his Government that has chosen to execute the anti-defacement legislation more rigorously than ever before.

Undeterred by the Government directive, the State leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the largest constituent of the ruling Left Front, has started working on optimising alternative ways for seeking the electorate's support for its candidates. "We have in the State 2,96,000 party members... If required they will have to carry posters on their persons during election campaigning. The human body is none other's property which can suffer defacement," Anil Biswas, the party's State secretary, has said.

"The ban on wall writing will hardly affect us," says Subrata Bakshi, State president of the Trinamool Congress, West Bengal's largest Opposition party. "All we need is bringing out more leaflets, posters and banners with Mamata Banerjee's picture on them; if we can reach her image to the people in their homes it is quite enough for us, whoever the candidate may be."

"We will abide by the Election Commission and will concentrate more on door-to-door campaigning, slipping leaflets through doorways, street-corner meetings," says Manas Bhuniya, general secretary, West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee. "The positive side of the directive is that the walls of our city and districts will now be cleaned."

The only point of consensus among the different parties is that they will abide by the law. Elections are just round the corner and visibility is high.


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