'Poetic justice' for Sunil Gangopadhyay? (West Bengal Newsletter)

Last Updated: Sat, Oct 27, 2012 09:50 hrs

Kolkata, Oct 27 (IANS) Some said it was "damage control" by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, while others derisively termed it her attempt to "steal the show".

With Banerjee walking a five km stretch at Bengali literary doyen Sunil Gangopadhyay's final journey by casting aside protocol, it would be tempting to say it was "poetic justice" for one of the most popular poets in post-Rabindranath Tagore Bengal.

The "justice", however, came after his demise.

That Gangopadhyay, 78, Sahitya Akademi president who died following a massive heart attack Oct 23, was close to Banerjee's predecessor and CPI-M leader Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee is too well known.

The writer, who had covered all genres of Bengali literature but called poetry his first love, also opposed any "paribartan" (change in regime) in the state under Banerjee's leadership ahead of last year's assembly polls.

But when the chief minister initially washed his hands off by posting only a condolence message on social networking site Facebook after the legendary's writer's death, it raised eyebrows.

Her message appeared on Facebook, several hours after President Pranab Mukherjee's official condolence message reached the author's Kolkata residence and Bhattacharjee called up Gangopadhyay's grief-stricken wife Swati.

Although Banerjee and Gangopadhyay had shared a very cold relationship, the chief minister's seeming indifference after Gangopadhyay's death, did not go down well with scores of his fans.

Renowned writers, film and theatre personalities were also surprised at the government not paying proper tribute to the author, who left generations of readers in India and Bangladesh mesmerised over decades with his creativity and writing style.

Many recalled how, soon after coming to power in May last year, Banerjee had ousted Gangopadhyay from the post of president of the Paschim Banga Sishu Kishore Academy.

Banerjee considered the litterateur a "CPI-M man", who publicly backed Bhattacharjee's industrial policy even after the peasant agitations in Singur, and slammed the Trinamool government for increased atrocities against women during its rule.

The author, known for his liberal, secular and open-minded views, hit out at the present dispensation for 'cultural policing' when Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested for circulating a cartoon mocking the chief minister.

Hours before the funeral, Banerjee deputed two of her cabinet colleagues at the Rabindra Sadan cultural complex, where fans and many cultural and literary personalities were scheduled to pay their last respect to the writer.

But on the day of the funeral, the chief minister not only broke her two-day silence and joined her two ministers at Rabindra Sadan to pay the last respect to the author, she also grabbed a hand held mike and started controlling the swelling crowd of mourners.

There were more surprises in store.

Banerjee then began Gangopadhyay's final journey till Sahitya Academy and later to the crematorium.

Her proactive move came under severe criticism from a section of intellectuals and the media, which dubbed it as Banerjee's efforts at "damage control" after gauging the the people's sentiments.

Others said the chief minister dramatically changed her mind and "virtually hijacked the whole show" after fearing that her archrival Left could steal the show as some CPI-M leaders, who had landed up early, were leading the farewell.

A diehard fan of Gangopandhyay commented that the poet finally got a 'poetic justice'.

(Mithun Dasgupta can be contacted at mithun.d@ians.in)

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