Political Cartoons: A Dying Art Form

Posted on June 18, 2012 in Politics

By Shobhit Agarwal:

In India, there are very few politicians who live up to their election manifestos and slogans. Our very own Mamata Bannerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, is certainly one to fulfil her promise of bringing about ‘Paribartan’ (change). And change she has. Thanks to her recently found vigour for disdaining and crucifying anyone and everyone, an art lost through the times has suddenly generated a lot of buzz around it. The art in question — political cartoons.

Little did Ambikesh Mahapatra, an unknown professor from Jadavpur University, know that a vague political cartoon of his, depicting Didi and her (former) comrade Dinesh Trivedi and current comrade Mukul Roy based on Satyajit Ray’s Sonar Kella, would see him get overnight stardom. Didi’s lack of tolerance is well documented. She decided that Prof. Mahapatra had seriously violated his right to expression and along with our ‘breaking news’-thirsty media, saw an overnight star being made out of him.
What Mr. Mahapatra’s case has done is, it has encouraged more people to create cartoons depicting our leaders so that they too can be arrested and share their 30 seconds of prime-time news. Encouraging times for an art from which long since has been rusticated to a 4×5 cm box in some corner of a 60×45 cm, 20-page newspaper, which is otherwise marred by ludicrous ads.

We Indians have always had the tendency of aping everything of the west, yet somehow, we have failed to imbibe their tolerance levels. Our politicians seem to be lacking stomach for criticism, which is in sharp contrast to those of the west, who aren’t afraid of their integrity being questioned on national television or print media. So at a time when skilled artist have made a career by being political cartoonists in the west, the same can’t be said for their Indian counterparts, who are too scared to be embroiled in any form of political controversy. After all, ours is a strange system wherein dying farmers deserve no mention in the proceedings of the house, but a ‘Rakhi ka Swayamvar’ or a ‘Poonam Pandey ka Cheerharan’ manage to have discussions started over them. We waste too much time worrying about our ‘images’ — be it image of our country, our constituency, our own self. Such obsession is not healthy. And this psyche is not just restricted to our politicians, but its spread across all classes and masses. As a result, we immediately take offence to anything said or written against us.

How many famous political cartoonists do we know in India? Only one name comes to my mind — R.K. Laxman. Thankfully, he has nothing to worry about because he is anyway 94-years-old, and the politicians will be scared out of their wits to try gagging him or imposing any restrictions on him. Unfortunately, the upcoming and young cartoonists don’t enjoy the same security cushion. A controversy could have dire consequences on their careers and lives.

So the question to be asked is how do we save this art form?

The answer is pretty simple. We all need to become more tolerant and open to criticism. Being in a public office, there is nothing wrong in listening or reading what others have to say about our work, even if it is not done in the kindest of tones. Let us try to rediscover the funny bones in our body that seem to have been lost since ages.