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
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
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
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org)