As debates shift to social media, fun goes out of election season in Kolkata

With heated debates shifting from tea stalls and public parks to WhatsApp groups and Facebook posts, politics in Kolkata, is now largely confined to the mobile phone

Updated - March 13, 2024 07:06 pm IST

Published - March 13, 2024 06:13 pm IST - Kolkata

A picture of TMC supporters from an election campaign rally in 2019 in Kolkata. File.

A picture of TMC supporters from an election campaign rally in 2019 in Kolkata. File. | Photo Credit: AP

Whatever maybe on the minds and on phone screens of its people, the politically vociferous city of Kolkata no longer looks or sounds as it did once upon a time during pre-election days.

Even though dates for the 2024 General Election are yet to be announced, what is missing is the old build-up of excitement that once gripped every street corner of Kolkata as polling drew closer; art shows are going on as usual, handicraft exhibitions are going on as usual, people are crowding cafes as usual.

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With heated debates shifting from tea stalls and neighbourhood parks to WhatsApp groups and Facebook posts, politics in Kolkata, a highly expressive city when it comes to the question which party should win, is now largely confined to the mobile phone.

“Election fever on the streets is waning with the advent of communication platforms such as social media, which is persuasive and often works to change or influence opinions when it comes to political views because of the abundance of ideas, thoughts, and opinions circulating through them. Gone are the days of sloganeering and long marches. Our attention span has withered,” senior police officer Dyutiman Bhattacharya, at present serving as superintendent of police in Cooch Behar, said.

Such is the dependence on the online medium that the BJP recently got itself a large space in Sector 5 of Salt Lake City to set up an IT centre. Even the Trinamool Congress, when it recently held a rally in the city to announce its candidates for the coming Lok Sabha elections, chose to play a video for the gathering in order to convey its message more effectively.

“A lot of political debates and discussions that we used to have earlier in neighbourhood tea shops, suburban trains, and other public spaces now take place on social media. Also, I think an overdose of television debates, with lots of sparks and thunder and little substance, have made us jaded. I have also been noticing widespread apathy and cynicism about politics among the younger people, which was not there two decades ago. Does it indicate an unravelling of our social fabric? Well, I think so,” well-known writer Parimal Bhattacharya opined.

While social media has only widened the divide — with neutral admins of WhatsApp groups now increasingly having to tell members not to bring politics into matters related to the group — what is missing is the ‘fun’.

“Pre-election times used to be fun times in our childhood days,” Krishnakoli Ray, who heads a girls’ school in south Kolkata, said. “Bengalis, who always have an opinion on everything under the sun, basked in their political glory during the run up to the elections.

Flags of various parties would be put up at every nook and corner, the walls would be freshly painted with very interesting political graffiti. Those were more peaceful and tolerant times, when foot soldiers of warring political parties would often be seen sharing tea and having a good laugh while putting up flags or distributing pamphlets. Mikes would blare from atop lamp-posts and the cacophony would often drown what was being actually announced.

Ms. Ray added, “But those were good times, when the political divide had yet to divide the souls of the people. An election was more of a festival — ‘vote pujo’, as we humorously used to call it. Those days are gone and election times are not the same anymore. Discussions and debates have gone to TV channels and the public is either too busy or too disillusioned to care anymore. What used to be a quintessential Kolkata culture of pre-election frenzy has been lost.”

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