Written by Ajanta Sinha
"You were doing just fine, sweeties, shedding your clothes and scorching the screen. Why the sudden interest in politics? Can't move a step without your air-conditioned vehicles, you really think you can walk around door to door, asking for votes? Let's be honest here, we all know exactly which 'channels' have given you access to 'Didi'. You were doing fine with your 'guides and mentors', where's this sudden passion for social service coming from? This was all we needed, really. To actually have to see these people in Parliament. Just think about those who have gone before them!"
Now ask exactly who have "gone before them", and they'll think a dozen times before answering. Want to have even more fun? Ask them to make a list of achievements that can be attributed to these luminaries. No answer, again. This is who they are, really. This is the extent of their socio-political awareness. These are our social media trolls. Abysmal knowledge of most matters notwithstanding, complete lack of good sense be damned, there's always the next Facebook update.
In the context of West Bengal politics in recent days, a large chunk of those updates focused unerringly on one topic. In a nutshell, two of tinsel town's leading ladies, Nusrat Jahan and Mimi Chakraborty, have been chosen to represent the Trinamool Congress in two of the state's 42 Lok Sabha constituencies.
Even before the official press conference where the list of candidates was unveiled had ended, tonnes of excrement had already hit the fan, to put it politely.
Political analysis and thread of reasoning, alien concepts that they are, were unceremoniously consigned to the garbage bin of illogicality. All other names on the list were ignored as though they had never existed. The trolls went for the two young women with all the considerable venom, vitriol, and viciousness at their disposal, all in the name of "meme-related" humour. It was agony to watch and read for a few, but most seemed either to be enjoying the virtual blood sport, or passively ignoring it.
Most alarmingly, everyone acted as though such a thing has never happened before. As though this was the first time film personalities had entered active politics. From films in the South to Bollywood, from Jayalithaa to Rajinikanth, MGR to Jaya Pradha, NTR to Kamal Haasan, Sunil Dutt to Vinod Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan to Hema Malini, the list is long enough to make a compilation of names seem futile. In West Bengal itself, Tollywood has thrown up the likes of Satabdi Roy, Locket Chatterjee, Roopa Ganguly, Moon Moon Sen, Sandhya Roy. What the heck, the United States even chose a President from Hollywood! That would be Ronald Reagan, for those wondering.
And why only cinema? What about eminent names from sports, music, business, education? So where exactly is the problem? I've tried and failed to find an answer. Fearful of coming upon the nauseating, relentless outpouring of toxic memes on Facebook, I stayed away for a while. The "fun" wasn't confined merely to political opponents, oh no. Everyone with an opinion on these two women felt free to air it. And the outcry wasn't simply a confused, angry babble of uneducated voices either. The systematic attempts to pull the women down was clear as day.
Therefore, there's no reason to assume that a few ignorant old-school voters, aghast at the thought of two young, glamourous "heroines" running for Parliament, were spearheading the outrage. Though that outrage in itself would be illogical. The more disgusting, and dangerous, fact of the matter lies in the foul language and tone of the attacks against the two women, from apparently aware, socially conscious inpiduals. It is as though Mimi and Nusrat have successfully unlocked the floodgates of ugliness, crudity and meanness hidden in the dark depths of our refined minds.
Social media represents the ultimate freedom of speech, or so we think. But perhaps one should ponder the extent to which that freedom has been abused, and will continue to be abused. If all that lies behind this trolling is the fact that the women belong to the glamour industry, then we need help as a society. And yet, our rational minds know there's nothing wrong in two famous faces from an unrelated profession entering politics.
But there's another mind within that mind, the one in which dark thoughts reside like creeping, sightless worms, where we derive a twisted pleasure from pulling a young woman down on the basis of her looks, her clothes, her body, her "sex appeal". And justifying our use of vulgar language by pointing to her "unsuitability" as a political personality.
Whatever else these posts show, nobody can charge them with being politically mature. That's because the root is evil. Protest, opposition, are absolutely fine as concepts. However, as in many other aspects of life, execution matters.
(The writer is a veteran Bengal journalist. Translated by Yajnaseni Chakraborty)