Mamta Banerjee’s Covid-19 song on Tagore birth anniversary lands in controversy

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Bengal Police’s initiative to play a coronavirus awareness song penned and set to tune by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Rabindranath Tagore’s 159th birth anniversary has stirred a controversy. Opposition parties have called it an attempt to “impose the chief minister” on Bengal’s biggest annual cultural event.

On Friday, nearly all police stations in the state took out small tableaus carrying a cut-out of Asia’s first Nobel laureate, Tagore, and played his songs over loudspeakers. The Nobel laureate in literature had also composed an opus of work consisting of more than 2,000 songs, collectively called Rabindra Sangeet which is considered as one of the most important music genres of Bengal.

They also played the coronavirus awareness song, “Corona-ke Chhutey Diyo Na” which was penned by CM Banerjee at the end of March and rendered by singer-turned-minister Indranil Sen.

The order from the Additional Director General of West Bengal police (law and order) is dated May 6 and was sent to the special superintendent of police of all districts and commissionerates.

The order reads, “A programme titled Kabi Pranam is to be observed in districts and commissionerates on 08/05/2020 to mark the birthday of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. A collection of selected Tagore songs is enclosed herewith, along with the awareness song, written by Hon’ble CM, WB, on coronavirus. This should be played at important residential areas and housing complexes of cities and towns between 9 am and 11.30 am.”

The order added that police personnel who are “gifted with an interest in music and singing are to be encouraged and mobilised to participate, wearing safety apparel and maintaining social distancing.”

“We used the celebration of Tagore’s birth anniversary to spread awareness on the coronavirus. Apart from playing Tagore’s songs, microphones were used also to remind people of the do’s and don’ts. The song on coronavirus awareness was played as part of the awareness programme,” said superintendent of police of a district, who did not want to be named, on Friday.

From the price of her paintings to poetry written by her and given away by the school education department to meritorious students as ‘rewards’, CM Banerjee’s artistic expressions have often created controversies. The song about coronavirus is no exception. Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders took digs at the Mamata Banerjee administration for issuing the order.

“Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore is the greatest icon, whose teachings and wisdom guide the world. But what do Mamata Banerjee’ awareness songs have to do with celebrating Gurudev’s life and legacy? It is not just an affront to Gurdev, but also makes light of the fight against Corona!” BJP national executive member Mukul Roy said.

“Instead of commemorating Gurudev, WB govt is imposing the CM on people! This is outright insulting!” alleged Bengal BJP’s women’s wing chief and Hooghly Lok Sabha MP, Locket Chatterjee.

In Kolkata, CM Banerjee paid her tribute to the 19th-century polymath at a small event on the streets outside Rabindra Sadan, Kolkata’s key cultural complex, where she joined Indranil Sen and lent her voice to a Tagore song, standing in front of a cut-out of the bard. The government, which organised mega cultural celebrations across the state on this day, has created a 2-hour-long programme that will be aired by various TV channels on Friday.