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‘Just like Dhoni, Mamatadi will be the finisher for us’

Rakhee Roytalukdar | Updated on March 25, 2021

The anthem: Khela Hobe, composed and sung by Debangshu Bhattacharya, started out as a poll jingle, but is now being played at almost every rally in West Bengal   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Debangshu Bhattacharya, the composer-singer of ‘Khela Hobe’, on why the election in West Bengal should be like a well-played game

* I have tried to portray the theory of good governance through my song

* The opposition can enter the grounds with 11 players; they can decide on the venue, the pitch and even the umpires

* And in the gallery would be Bengal voters

* During a match, we may be on opposing sides, but when the game is over, we come together again

* * * *

Two words have caught the imagination of the Bengal electorate — Khela Hobe, or the game’s on. It started out as a poll jingle — and is being played at almost every rally in politically supercharged West Bengal. The composer and singer — Trinamool Congress youth leader Debangshu Bhattacharya — says he wrote the song in 20 minutes straight before a TMC rally in North Bengal and first uploaded the song on social media on January 7. The video has already garnered more than 50 lakh views.

The phrase is now the leitmotif of the Bengal polls. Leaders of the BJP, which had earlier criticised the song, stressing that the democratic process of elections should not be compared to a game, now refer to Khela Hobe in some form or the other. “Khela shesh (the game is over),” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in rallies in Kolkata, holding that the Trinamool rule was coming to an end.

The 25-year-old civil engineer says that he wrote the song because he was dismayed by poll-related violence. Bhattacharya tells BLink that the youth want politicians to fight the elections with “a sportsman-like spirit”.

Excerpts from an interview:

Is this the first time you’ve written a political rap?

No, this isn’t the first time. I had written slogans and songs earlier, too. And those — such as Mamatadi Aar Ek Baar (Encore, Mamata-di) and Delhi Jaabe Hawaii Choti (Hawaii Chappal goes to Delhi) — were hits, too. But I never imagined that Khela Hobe would become such a hit even outside Bengal. I have tried to portray the theory of good governance through my song and have also thrown a challenge to the main opposition, the BJP, as its party president speaks about violence. It has become a kind of counter slogan to BJP’s Jai Shri Ram chant. My song is totally apolitical but people connect it with the TMC, whenever and wherever it is being played. That is an achievement for me.

What were your thoughts when you penned the song?

I shun and detest violence and want our politicians to see the election as a sport and play it with a sportsman-like spirit. During a match, we may be on opposing sides, but when the game is over, we come together again, forgetting our differences. I wrote the song with that spirit in mind.

As the song resonates not only in Bengal but has found admirers throughout India, BJP leaders have become jittery. The BJP seems shaken as their slogan Jai Shri Ram has been taken over by Khela Hobe, as it plays in all places — whether a tea stall, marriage function and was played even at Saraswati Puja (last month). Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to take the name of Khela Hobe in his speech here. I think I have been able to achieve my target of making people aware with this song.

But Prime Minister Modi has countered your song with the words Khela Shesh, Vikas Hobe (the game is over, now there will be development). What do you have to say to that?

At least the prime minister is uttering the word khela. And about development, that is for everybody to see how they were defeated in states such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Now they want to build a Sonar Bangla, but Bengal’s people have seen through their game and would play against the rising prices of gas cylinders, mustard oil and onion — must-haves in all Bengali homes. The opposition can enter the grounds with 11 players; they can decide on the venue, the pitch and even the umpires. But from our side, there will be only one player — in Hawaii chappals — on the pitch. And in the gallery would be Bengal voters.

But in politics, you need team work and not just one player...

Of course, teamwork is important. Behind the players on the field in football or cricket, there is a huge team, with fitness experts, doctors, therapists, and all others who contribute to the success of the team. You would remember the cricket World Cup of 2011, where Gautam Gambhir and Mahendra Singh Dhoni helped us win the Cup. It is the same for the TMC, where we have our innumerable party workers. But just like Dhoni, Mamatadi will be the finisher for us and sail us through the Bengal elections.

But just how encouraging is your party towards the youth?

Our party wants the youth to come forward. I was made a party spokesperson in 2019 and also youth general secretary of the TMC Youth Congress. I have become active politically in the last two years.

I have a civil engineering degree from a private college and my family is totally apolitical. They had concerns about my joining politics but I convinced them that I would be in politics for a period of two years, would want to see didi installed for a third time (as CM) and then quit politics. After the elections, I have to find a job as my father is almost 71. Till then I am willingly writing songs, protest anthems, poems, doing social media campaigns, television debates for the party. I consider this my social obligation.

How does the youth of Bengal react to charges of Muslim appeasement which have been levelled against your party?

It is a myth. Just attending an Iftar doesn’t make our party soft towards any one community. After TMC has come into power, there has been a branding of Durga Puja worldwide. The pilgrim tax at Gangasagar Mela has been withdrawn but all these measures are not called Hindu appeasement.

To me, secularism means development reaching every individual irrespective of his or her religion, creed, caste and language. And democracy means no political violence. Democracy is when leaders of different parties lunch together, forgetting their differences; when people can freely criticise their leaders, sipping tea at tea stalls. But when dissent is stifled, it reflects poorly on our democracy.

But even Mamata Banerjee is known for stifling dissent (in 2012, the Kolkata Police arrested a Jadavpur University professor for sending e-mails that allegedly mocked her).

That was not a cartoon but a morphed picture, which is illegal. You are using an actual picture of a leader and putting words in his/her mouth, which I believe cannot be called a cartoon.

You are a social media influencer. Can social media have an impact on election results?

Social media is a major player in politics now. The BJP has been able to penetrate Bengal only through social media. In the 2014 elections, the BJP got 17 per cent votes mainly through social media. In 2019, BJP was able to garner 40 per cent votes, penetrating the state through social media.

We all know that this 2021 election would be hard but, as a small party worker, I am trying my best to make a difference through social media, through stage presence, through my song Khela and roadshows. I do at least three meetings every day. Last year in April, when I started using Facebook, I had 20,000 followers. The number swelled to 5.5 lakh in the last 11 months, without a single paisa being spent on optimising hits. My personal FB page already has about 1.80 lakh followers.

Rakhee Roytalukdar is an independent journalist based in Jaipur

Published on March 25, 2021

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