Once Leon Trotsky asked Vladimir Lenin why he respected Leo Tolstoy so much even though Tolstoy was a staunch critic of the socialists. Lenin’s answer was that Tolstoy understood Russia far more than any of his party members, including Lenin himself. The patriarch of the Cultural Revolution was never averse to constructive criticism.
The scenario in West Bengal today is diametrically opposite. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee does not believe that intellectuals and socially-conscious people who do not go by her ideology can also contribute to the development of the state.
Her step to remove Mrinal Sen, Tarun Majumdar, Soumitra Chatterjee and Buddhadeb Das Gupta from the advisory committee of the Kolkata International Film Festival, which starts on November 10, is in this vein. The removal of Professor Sanjay Mukherjee, an eminent scholar of film studies at Jadavpur University from the festival committee is also not a healthy sign.
Two year ago, when the Trinamool Congress was voted to power, Sen stepped down from all activities of Nandan, a government-sponsored film and cultural centre, and film-related works of the state government. Tarun Majumdar and Buddhadeb Das Gupta have made meaningful films. Dadasaheb Phalke winner Soumitra Chatterjee is an actor of undeniable calibre. Their leftist leanings and criticism of the government have alienated them from the ruling party which feels anyone not toeing its ideology is an enemy.
The late Satyajit Ray criticised the Emergency and even refused to direct a documentary on late PM Jawaharlal Nehru. Ritwik Ghatak was vocal against Indira Gandhi. They were not humiliated like Mrinal Sen and his associates have been. Surprisingly, not a single film or cultural personality has protested this move. Where are the Goutam Ghoshs, Aparna Sens, Kaushik Sens and Debashree Roys? Have they lost their voices of protests?
The convener of the film festival, Shivaji Panja, has announced the presence of Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Kamal Haasan and Shah Rukh Khan at the inaugural ceremony.
Democracy never exists without constructive opposition. Realising this, Mamata Banerjee would do well to reconsider her decision.
Ranjan Das Gupta is a Kolkata-based freelancer. The views expressed by the author are personal.