Bengal: Graffiti Back on Walls, Albeit With Contradictions


Kolkata: Thousands of years ago, wall graffiti used to adorn the cave walls. Much later, Romans and Greeks gave those a shape by writing their names and protests on house walls. But then, it faded into oblivion, only to resurface in the 1960s in Philadelphia. The hyped New York City also witnessed graffiti in the latter part of the sixties.

From the onset, the wall graffiti had two implications — information through art and vandalism. The second one was often taken as an offence by the establishment or the incumbents. So that was deemed illegal. In modern India, politically charged states like West Bengal and Kerala brought the art back to the platter to convey dissent to the powers that be. More so, as elections drew near.

Children of the seventies grew up watching various wall graffiti, mostly political, laced with art that attracted many. But how far that art could garner votes in favour of political outfits is a topic for another day. As far as Bengal is concerned, these wall graffiti and cartoons have been an effective way to enter the minds of the electorate. The taste, culture and art were used to garner votes through the paintings on the walls of buildings. With lack of imagination and wit, it sometimes became an eyesore, too.

However, as the educational qualification among the political honchos dwindled with time, wall graffiti or paintings took the backseat, at least in West Bengal. A good sign is that the wall paintings have made their way to the building walls in the prelude to the 18th Lok Sabha Elections, which are slightly over a fortnight away. The political parties target each other through these wall graffiti in more funny ways than one.

Cut to 2024, the control of walls for graffiti led to altercations and eventually to fisticuffs that required the cops’ involvement to bring the situation under check in Durgapur in Paschim Burdwan. The bone of contention was who would write a specific wall. This led to a battle royal between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP on Monday afternoon. The incident took place on the secondary road area of Ward No. 9 of Durgapur Municipal Corporation. Controversy erupted around occupying a wall of the ward.

The Trinamool Congress alleged that they had earlier been granted permission by the owner of the house to paint graffiti on the wall. The BJP counterclaimed that the approval of the wall lies with them. Around this dispute, a fierce clash broke out between the two sides on Monday afternoon. A large police force of Durgapur police station had to rush. Finally, the Election Commission intervened and took possession of the disputed wall by erasing all the writings on the wall. Sensing trouble, the owner of the house, an apolitical individual, fled the area to avoid being dragged into the scuffle.

In Kolkata, such rhyme-slogan contests on the wall had almost faded away from the political hullabaloo in recent times. But all those slogans and cartoons of political parties have again made their way to the white walls on the sidewalks. The Trinamool Congress took the centre-stage in grabbing walls to highlight the party’s achievements in the run-up to the polls.

Trinamool and CPIM’s wall writings are particularly protrusive in South Kolkata. Quite contrary to the earlier decades, CPM begged for votes by writing the candidate’s name on the wall while Trinamool Congress has adorned the walls with rhymes, slogans and cartoons to take the cake. A few walls stood out. On a wall, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was seen holding three cartoons with — RBI, ED, and CBI — written on it.

Another cartoon purportedly shows Ambani and Adani “managing” Modi with the Election Commission, media, judiciary, and investigating agencies depicted as ‘puppets’ of PM Modi. The ruling party also put up cartoons about CAA, and NRC to take the fight to the opposition camp ahead of April 19, the first of the seven-phase Lok Sabha elections.

“Cartoon wars have again brought back our childhood memories. Earlier there were many artists. People could be reached much faster. That’s why Sukumar Ray’s ‘Abol Tabol’ and Satyajit Ray’s classic ‘Hirak Rajar Deshe’ are so dear and relevant to us even today. We are on that old path of campaigning. The opposition has not started campaigning much. But I will be happy if they can match us shot for shot in terms of wall writing competition,” Trinamool leader from south Kolkata, Dhrubajyoti Basu told ETV Bharat.

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