The good news is, you can still buy whichever newspaper you prefer to be your source of information, even if you live in West Bengal. The dark lining to that silver cloud says: we do not know for how long. To prove that ‘paribartan’ is not just a nip in the air but something to be felt under the skin, the Library Services and Mass Education department of the West Bengal government has come up with a circular, which lists the newspapers that government and government-aided libraries should be offering to their readers. Neither the major Bengali dailies nor any English newspapers feature in the list.
Incidentally, the newspapers that failed to count among the ‘chosen ones’ also happen to be somewhat less generous in their eulogies to the barely-a-year-old state government led by Mamata Banerjee. The outspoken, no-nonsense honesty that Ms Banerjee brandishes as her USP is, obviously, something that she doesn’t cherish in the world of news and opinions. While she can’t yet dictate what people choose to read inside their homes, she can make sure that the free reading material available to the masses through libraries is the handiwork of sycophantic newspaper editors, some of whom have made it to the Rajya Sabha thanks to Didi’s benediction.
If Ms Banerjee were to look up the examples of rulers who have tried to dull criticism by restricting access to reading material, she would find herself in less than august company. Treating criticism as treason and dissent as subversion is the hallmark of brutal regimes, whether it is the Nazis, Stalinist terror or dictators like Pol Pot and Muammar Gaddafi, to name a few. To ensure that her point of view comes out the loudest, Ms Banerjee would do well to follow the example set by her predecessor, the CPI(M), who let the party mouthpiece flourish as mould in the monsoons. A surfeit of Didi’s opinions would be better any day than erasing the voice of the rest.