As his ‘ektara’ strums for the last time before the dusk sets in, the locally popular folk singer Subrata Patra is happy at getting the opportunity to entertain hundreds gathered at an election meeting in the East Indian state of West Bengal.
Ready to travel to another venue with his ektara, a single-string musical instrument, in another district the next day, Subrata Patra thanks the Trinamool Congress (TMC) for keeping him busy in this poll season.
There are many others like Patra who are engaged by political parties, especially the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Trinamool Congress, to regale the crowd before the political stars take over the stage. They get heard by large audiences only during the poll season.
“I am a regular at most of the public meetings of TMC, since 2007-08. Earlier, I used to sing songs about land acquisition movements in Singur and Nandigram. Now after the TMC came to power I sing songs of development that TMC had ushered in. Mamata Banerjee and other top TMC leaders know me personally and I am a die-hard supporter of Mamatadi,” Patra said.
Like Subrata Patra, there is Sailen Das, a baul singer, from Jangalamahal, a den of the Maoists not long ago, who together have sung in more than 50-60 political rallies across Bengal.
Subrata said, “I wait for elections, be it Assembly or Lok Sabha. People get to hear my songs that I have composed and I also get to earn some amount of money, charging anything from Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 for a rally.
Sailen Das shuttles between north Bengal and south Bengal singing mainly patriotic songs at rallies.
Street theatre is another art form which political parties extensively use to convey their messages.
TMC leader and veteran theatre personality Bartya Basu said, “Though social media has gained much ground in shaping political awareness, they are mainly restricted to mainly urban India.”
Political parties over the ages have utilised this medium to put across their points of view.
In the 2011 Assembly Election, the Trinamool Congress rewrote the script of “Maa, Maati, Manush”, a play with Leftist ideas which had played a significant role in moulding rural opinion in voting the Left Front to power in 1977.
Under the tutelage of legendary theatre personalities like Utpal Dutta, Badal Sircar and Sambhu Mitra, theatre became an important tool of protest during the tumultuous 60s and 70s in Bengal like the food movement and student movement.
Small groups of theatre personalities are organizing small roadside shows propagating political messages.
“People in rural areas still attend such programmes in huge numbers. It is both a medium a entertainment and a tool of communication,” said a theatre activist.