Drumming up support with puppetry & songs of revolution
Activists from Rajasthan introduce a new method of campaigning in Meghalaya
A puppet show, street theatre and songs of change — Meghalaya’s electoral politics is witnessing a new wave of campaigning and voters’ awareness.
A group of RTI activists, including senior members of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), from Rajasthan, joined KAM Meghalaya’s election campaign in the city, introducing an indigenous way of making voters aware of transparency in the system and accountability of public representatives. The group organised a puppet show as the independent candidate from South Shillong, Angela Rangad, spoke about her vision. A mascot puppet went around different localities with a clear message to voters about choosing rights over money. “Let’s make these elections about ideas, policies and the people’s voice,” the poster read.
Though the use of puppets in canvassing is a novel move in Meghalaya, it is not new in other parts of India and even the North East. In Tripura, the Central Bureau of Communication took the help of Tripura Puppet Theatre to spread awareness on free and fair elections across the state. In the 2016 Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, the Election Commission used puppet shows in rural areas to encourage more people to vote.
“We use puppets in Rajasthan to spread awareness. This helps us build a connection with the grassroots,” Nikhil Dey, an RTI activist and one of the four founding members of MKSS, told Meghalaya Monitor.
Puppetry has a long history in India and has been mentioned in ancient scriptures and literature. In Rajasthan, kathputli, or string puppets, is a popular folk art as well as a mode of communication with the mass. In Bengal, Odisha and Assam, puppetry is famous as putul nach, or the dance of dolls. Renowned Bengali novelist Manik Bandopadhyay used the word puppetry in the title of one of his novels, Putul Nacher Itikatha (The history of Puppetry), as a metaphor to depict human existence and man’s helplessness in the hands of fate.
According to Dey, puppet shows and street plays still remain the best way to connect with the public even in the age of technology. “In our locality in Rajasthan, our adversaries call us dholki party (the party of drummers). However, our friends say that the dholki party has drummed up people’s support and shaken the power. This is because the power of a song, the power of the sound of drums and the power of the collective is far more than any digital and virtual media when it comes to communicating ideas. Virtual is after all virtual,” he said.
Alluding to the trend of propaganda on the digital medium, Dey said it has been amplified in a dangerous way. “However, we too use the digital medium in today’s world. But nothing can counter the power of face-to-face communication as you get the opportunity to say what you want to,” he added.
Songs and street plays have also played important roles in Indian politics. Be it for awareness or revolution, these two media have always remained a strong way of communication. Talking about the use of songs in campaigning and election procedures, Dey said songs are a part of Indian culture and there is a need for building a culture of democracy through these. Referring to a few popular songs of protest, the activist said the lyrics were written by unlettered people. “Like the song, pehle log banduko se marte the, aj marte hai kalam se (in the past, people killed with guns but today they kill with pens), is written by an uneducated Dalit. But he knows how to give expression to his angst through songs. So, how can you do away with social relationships? That is the essence of politics,” he explained.
Shankar Singh, a senior activist and another founding member of MKSS, is also a songwriter. “The puppets and songs are part of the people’s movement and part of the revolution. Through these, we tell people that those who are buying votes with money power will finally earn back the money from the citizens. So, voters have to be cautious when choosing their representatives,” he said.
“We are not taking the path of money. We are choosing puppetry and traditional way of communication to educate people through entertainment,” he added.
Election songs have always been popular. However, the MKSS members’ tunes are rustic and readily connect with the grassroots. Both the activists and the independent candidates believe that these simple methods will go a long way in making a paradigm shift in the politics of Meghalaya and it is only a matter of time.
~ Team Meghalaya Monitor
Also read: Rajasthan activists laud KAM Meghalaya