Politics and poetics

Politics and poetics

Politics and poetics

Every time Kabir Suman wants to get into the Central Hall of Parliament or any other place exclusively marked for the MPs, a security guard accosts him and enquires about his identity. The All India Trinamul Congress (AITC) MP from West Bengal wondered why it happened only with him whereas the security guards had taken just a day or two to recognise the faces of most of the other newly-elected parliamentarians.

Look like an MP
The bald and spectacled 60-year-old in a casual shirt and a pair of jeans, hardly looks like the typical netas the security guards are used to seeing in Parliament. As it happened on all the seven days of the first session of the 15th Lok Sabha (LS), he guessed the reason. ‘‘Maybe I don't look like an MP,’’ he says. And he is not…. perhaps not yet.

The acclaimed singer-songwriter - he, himself, prefers to call himself 'gaanwala' (songsmith) though - had introduced a brand new style in Bengali modern songs in early 1990s. His contemporary urban and socially conscious songs like ‘‘Prathamata Ami Tomake Chai, Dwitiyata Ami Tomake Chai, Tritiyata Ami Tomake Chai…Bidrohe, Biplobe Tomake Chai ’’ (Firstly I want you, secondly I want you, thirdly I want you…..I want you in protests and revolutions) have perceptible influence of folk and protest music of West. Tomake Chai was his first album with which he made his debut in 1992 and took Bengali music by storm. He then went on to record over 200 songs - mostly self-composed - in about 15 albums. 

He has been one of the most popular singing sensations of Bengal, but still music just denotes one of the many identities that merged into Kabir Suman - a poet, guitarist, film-actor, writer, journalist, TV presenter….. And 2009 Lok Sabha elections just added another to this seemingly never-ending list -a Member of Parliament.

Many of his die-hard fans still cannot believe that the self-proclaimed ‘agnostic’ and ‘nihilist-anarchist’, who loves to pepper his words with ‘‘I don't give a damn’’and unprintables, contested polls and finally reached Parliament. Ask Suman and he too would candidly confess: ‘‘I still cannot believe that I have indeed become a Member of Parliament.’’

But what attracted him to politics?
Suman says that he had never been ‘‘a man of politics’’; but then quickly adds that neither he had ever been apolitical. ‘‘My songs, my writings or whatever I did reflected my political self.’’  He was a radio journalist with Voice of Germany and Voice of America during his stay abroad for 14 years between 1975 and ‘89. He recalls his visit to Nicaragua in 1985 to cover the revolution in the Central American country and to write a book on it.

Even after he returned to Kolkata, Suman was actively involved with the workers' stir in a jute-mill as well as in a cooling tower manufacturing plant in early 1990s.

But what brought him closer to Mamata Banerjee and finally made him contest the polls as her party AITC's candidate was the peasants’ uprising in Nandigram and Singur against Left Front Government over acquisition of land for an SEZ and the Tata Motors' small car manufacturing plant respectively. ‘‘I went to Nandigram as a TV journalist to cover the people's agitation. But I got involved with it so much that I  became a spokesman of this movement,’’ he says.

Voice of oppressed farmers
Not only Suman, but many of West Bengal's civil society notables, who had so far been mostly with the ruling Marxists, also came out to support the agitation to save farm-land in Nandigram and Singur. So did the opposition AITC, which turned it into a political campaign against the Left Front. ‘‘It was during the agitation that I got to know Mamata.

She appeared to me so honest and truthful," he recalls. The AITC chief later offered him the party's nomination to contest the polls from Jadavpur LS constituency. Despite being reluctant initially, he finally agreed because civil society activists too wanted him to be a voice of the oppressed farmers of West Bengal in Parliament. ‘‘I told Mamata that I was not a politician and that I could not speak in the language of a politician. She told me to speak in my own words, to speak for the downtrodden."

‘‘Mamata herself made it clear during the electioneering that I was her guest in the AITC," says Suman, who was overwhelmed by people's support in the CPI (M) stronghold Jadavpur, both in the villages than in the urban areas of the constituency. Suman says that he was shocked when he started visiting rural areas and got to know more about the ‘‘evil and nasty face‘‘ of the CPI (M).  ‘‘The CPI (M)-led LF had done nothing for common people despite being in power for the last 32 years. They just tortured and, whenever necessary, even killed people to continue their cadre-cracy that they replaced democracy with." He carries on showering choicest abuses on the LF. He finally beat his CPI (M) rival by a margin of 57, 247 votes.

Need parliamentary system
So how does he feel being in Parliament? ‘‘You know I thought I was a rebel. But, over the past few years, I have realized that you need the parliamentary system even to get minor works like drilling a deep tube-well."

His original name was Suman Chattopadhyay, but he changed it after the Christian missionary Graham Stains and his two sons were murdered in Orissa by religious fanatics. He wanted to get rid of his Bengali Brahmin identity and that is why he adopted the confusing name -- Kabir Suman.

‘‘I am totally against right wing politics and religious fundamentalism. But, as I look at the Left and BJP MPs in Parliament, I feel the former are more civilized than the latter." He sat on the Treasury Bench along with other AITC and Congress MPs, but he liked L K Advani's speech in the House. What is his priority as an MP? ‘‘The elderly people of my constituency asked me to ensure the availability of water for both drinking and irrigation. I have to measure up to their expectations."

And what would happen to his music? ‘‘Well, music would always remain with me," Kabir Suman he assures.

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