In a first, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool campaigns in Chinese in Kolkata
Towards the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, a defining wall graffiti in Kolkata was the Maoist slogan “Chiner chairman amader chairman” (China’s chairman is our chairman).
Painted on many walls of the city by ultra Left leaders at night, the slogan was written in Bengali.
Almost half a century later, the China connection to the political landscape of Kolkata has appeared in a completely different avatar and different context. “Vote for Trinamool Congress” has appeared in about a dozen walls written in Chinese in Tangra in east Kolkata where the city’s Chinatown is located.
This is the first time a party has planned to campaign in Chinese in Kolkata to address a small population of people of the Chinese origin settled in the city.
The plan of West Bengal’s ruling party is, however, more ambitious than slogans written in Chinese. Local Trinamool Congress councillor Faiz Ahmed Khan said they will also print leaflets in Chinese and circulate them among the local population in Tangra.
“If our candidate has time, we would also organise a street corner meeting, where our message will be delivered in the Chinese language. There are about 2,000 voters of Chinese origin in this part of Kolkata,” said Khan.
Robert Hou, who owns a popular eatery at Tangra, painted the graffiti. “In every election, political parties campaign in this area, but this is the first time that a party has got graffiti in Chinese script,” 50-year-old Hou said.
This part of the city is within South Kolkata constituency where Mala Roy, a five-time councillor of Kolkata Municipal Corporation, is the Trinamool candidate.
Almost all of them have a working knowledge of Bengali and Hindi but Trinamool leaders think that addressing them in their mother tongue may just lend extra warmth to the campaign.
The connection between Kolkata and the Chinese goes back a long way. Beginning with Yong Atchew, who came to Bengal in 1780 and set up a sugar plantation and sugar mill, Chinese workers started arriving in Kolkata in the late 18th century.
Traditionally they were engaged in tannery industry and later branched into footwear, dentistry, laundries, piggeries and eateries. In the 1951 census, their number in Kolkata was recorded at 5,710.
Dotted with eateries that often sport dragon-architecture and the rustle of red silk, Chinatown is a defining part of Kolkata’s gastronomic heritage.
Till a couple of decades ago, the area also used to accommodate most of the city’s 300-plus tanneries that have shifted to the city’s outskirts following a Supreme Court order, lifting an overpowering mask of the stench from this area.
Voting in the South Kolkata Lok Sabha seat will take place in the last and seventh phase on May 19. The result will be declared on May 23.
Abhijit Banerjee, head of China Bhavan the school of Chinese language in Visva-Bharati, said they have not heard of an election campaign in West Bengal in Chinese. Banerjee described it “as a broad cultural message” to the people of Chinese origin settled in the city.