Kolkata: so-called “democracy” denounces questioning students, prompting cyber campaign of outrage online

Cyber campaign for apology from Mamata Banerjee

TNN May 22, 2012

KOLKATA: Scores of youngsters from Jadavpur and Presidency universities have launched a cyber campaign against chief minister Mamata Banerjee for branding a group of students “Maoists and CPM cadres” for asking her uncomfortable questions at a TV talk show.

“Can anything be funny and terrifying at the same time?” says one post. “She is ruining the anti-Left movement which was a very hard fought success,” says another.

Mamata had stormed out of the show after accusing Presidency student Taniya Bharadwaj a “Maoist”. The CM alleged that she was being asked “only CPM and Maoist questions”. The video has gone viral on the internet.

Tweets and posts have flooded social networking sites, condemning the chief minister’s “irresponsible and uninformed” remark. They demand that Mamata apologise to Taniya for the “slander”.

Facebook is abuzz with messages from students urging each other to join a campaign against “politics of terror” and make sure that Taniya and the other students who were present at the show (being recorded at Town Hall last Friday) were not persecuted. Many students have uploaded the TV clip of Mamata calling Taniya a Maoist and invited Netizens to view it and lodge their protest.

Shashank Shah, a Jadavpur University international relations student, who was present at the show, said his university mates felt scared initially.

“They were worried about being taken to task for angering the chief minister. Word went around that the police were looking for our telephone numbers and that we could be questioned for our supposed Maoist links. But soon we found that these fears were unfounded and realized that we should rather be protesting the unfair comments and not be afraid. We condemn her remark and will carry on our campaign on the internet,” said Shah.

“It was unfair on her part to call Taniya a Maoist without even knowing her. She owes her an apology. Aren’t Maoists and CPM supporters Indian citizens too? Don’t they have the right to demand answers from the chief minister?” he asked.

Taniya said she was shocked by the chief minister’s sudden outburst and taken aback when she labelled her a Maoist. But she is overwhelmed by the support she has received. “It’s heartening to know that almost every youngster in the city has expressed their disapproval of her comment and we now have a virtual campaign on the Internet,” she said.

Sriyanka Ray of Jadavpur University, who was Taniya’s senior at Presidency, posted on Facebook: “Right now at a Q&A session with the honourable Mamata Banerjee, when asked about Madan Mitra’s conduct and Park St rape case by Taniya Bhardwaj Didi threw the mike and stormed off after calling Taniya a Maoist and a CPM cadre. This is the state of Bengal.”

But Sriyanka was worried about the repercussions. “I was a little wary of the consequences and thought twice before posting the comment. But then I did it for I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Neither Taniya nor the rest of us who were there at the Town Hall that evening had any political motive. In fact, my family had voted for Mamata Banerjee and I thought it was quite legitimate to ask her a few questions. I had an inkling she might lose her cool but hadn’t expected her to get this nasty. If I get a chance to go to another TV show and ask her unpleasant questions, I will do it again,” said Sriyanka.

One of her Facebook posts reads: “So now our honourable CM Mamata Banerjee is doing a background check on all of us who were there at the CNNIBN show yesterday. If this post ‘vanishes’, you know why. Yes this is the Mamata way of thinking – paranoid.”

Arijit Sett of Jadavpur University believes Taniya deserves an apology. “It’s perfectly in order but I don’t think our chief minister will ever oblige,” said Arijit who has uploaded the TV clip on Facebook.

Second-year Presidency history student Sohail Abdi said the entire nation was laughing at Bengal for what Mamata did on the show. “It’s become a joke on the internet,” he said. On a more serious note, Abdi added that since she represents Bengal at the highest level, her actions do count. “I don’t want India to judge West Bengal by her actions. Bengal is much bigger and better than this,” Abdi said.

It was a failure on the CM’s part not to be able to answer questions, said Waled Aadnan, third-year economics student of Presidency. “Not all questions were negative or directed against her government. She needed to be more tolerant. The entire incident was unnecessary and uncalled for. There has been a comparison between the present government and the erstwhile Left government, which in itself is an insult. However, after the incident I am a bit careful about what I upload on social networking sites,” said Aadnan.

But others like Shah felt it would be foolish to accept this dangerous trend of getting intimidated and prevented from asking questions. “The idea of the Facebook campaign should be to encourage people to ask more uncomfortable questions. We shouldn’t desist from either criticizing the government or poking innocent fun at it through cartoons and messages. Let them monitor social networking sites. We aren’t scared,” Shah said.

Trinamool vice-president Derek O’ Brien tweeted that no action will be taken against Taniya or the other students present at the show. “Action? Perish the thought,” said O’ Brien on the site.

Mamata, meanwhile, acknowledged in a TV interview that she does lose her cool sometimes. “I have honesty, integrity, transparency and sincerity so I sometimes lose my temper. Those who are dishonest never lose their cool. I am outspoken at times and this is my minus point. But it’s because I am transparent,” Mamata said. When asked ‘Mamata Banerjee ko gussa kyon aata hai’, she replied: “Gussa aata hai kyon ki main do numberi kaam nahi karti hoon.”

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