West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee addresses an election rally in West Bengal | PTI
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MLAs and office-bearers of the Trinamool Congress are these days busy going from one village to another. It is not election time, and they are not going around talking about politics. They are talking about governance issues, a surprising change in the over-politicised state of West Bengal.

The functionaries first go to a village or an urban neighbourhood that’s already been selected for them by the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), a consulting firm mentored by Prashant Kishor. The MLAs and leaders first interact with 3-5 key influencers in the area, and then sit down to listen to people’s grievances for three hours straight (‘Jana Sanjog Sabha’). Over 1,000 party leaders will undertake this exercise in 10,000 pre-identified locations.

TMC MLAs and leaders have dinner with local party cadres and booth workers. Night stay is at the house of one such worker. It’s not over yet. Next morning, they have to go to each house distributing a visiting card that says “Didi Ke Bolo” — just tell Didi, as Mamata Banerjee is popularly called. There’s a phone number on which people can call and say anything they like or even register a complaint.

In the first 24 hours since the campaign was launched, there were 1 lakh calls, mostly recorded by an interactive voice response (IVR), although there’s an army of 250 people to speak to callers as well. People are calling to say all kinds of things, according to I-PAC professionals managing the campaign. They’re calling to register individual complaints, raise community issues, demand financial help, give suggestions and opinions, or to just say thank you for starting this helpline. This expression of relief is perhaps from people who like Didi but not her party, and find it helpful that Didi herself – or the chief minister’s office — now seems accessible.


Also read: With Jai Sri Ram, Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee is trapped


For the fear of Didi

The TMC cadres in West Bengal cannot be any more hated than they are right now. They are seen as corrupt and violent. The corruption money they took — “cut money”— had recently become a big issue in the state. Mamata Banerjee had said in response that panchayat officials should return the cut money, leading to protests across the state with people demanding their money back. The rival BJP made a lot of political capital out of this fiasco. People anyway resented panchayat leaders since they are known to win panchayat elections through rigging and intimidation. In last year’s panchayat elections, the TMC had won nearly one-third of the seats unopposed.

Unsurprisingly then, there are calls on the Didi Ke Bolo number with complaints against the TMC leaders and cadres. These range from corruption, land grab or intimidation to just inaccessibility and arrogance. These calls can now be used to reform the party organisation – the TMC is known to have poached the lumpen elements of the Left Front. The Didi Ke Bolo number thus seeks to instill the fear of Didi in the minds of the TMC workers.

For the love of Didi

It is not simply a grievance redressal campaign to fight anti-incumbency. Its central aim is to play up the party’s trump card, Didi. Except for the perception of Muslim appeasement, she is still undisputedly the tallest politician in the state. The BJP has no face to match her. This advantage is thus being used by taking Didi to every house, making her look accessible, and thereby reducing the importance of the TMC cadre in people’s minds. The name of the campaign, Didi Ke Bolo, loosely translates into “just tell Didi”. Implicitly, it makes Mamata Banerjee sound like the person who can solve people’s problems.


Also read: Higher bonus, Bangla pride, Modi quota – Mamata is trying it all to win back Bengal’s love


Bloodless battle

It is not possible to imagine West Bengal politics without the lumpen elements and political violence. Politics in the state is conducted like warfare, capturing every village, every house, every vote. Prashant Kishor has already persuaded Mamata Banerjee to give up this traditional Bengal way of politics. Party cadres have been told to avoid violence, and not conduct themselves as if there’s an election tomorrow. They must focus on governance and solving people’s problems. Should the BJP workers take to violence, let the police handle them, Kishor is learnt to have advised the party.

It takes two to have a fight, but no matter who starts the fight and who suffers more casualties, it is the BJP which benefits. Whether a BJP worker dies or a TMC worker’s house is set on fire, it is Mamata Banerjee who looks like she’s not in control.

Kishor has also advised Mamata Banerjee to not put undemocratic restraints on political activity by other parties. Doing so only provoked their cadres, especially the BJP’s, to pick a fight with the local TMC cadres. The BJP is not the CPM, and may be easier to defeat in a bloodless battle. Kishor has also told Didi and the TMC to stop complaining about the BJP’s communal polarisation, and talk only about governance.

Didi vs Modi

With Didi Ke Bolo, Mamata Banerjee is trying to wrest the public narrative back from the BJP. For the moment, the discourse over West Bengal politics is shifting from Jai Shri Ram to governance. Until now, it was the BJP, which was setting the agenda and Didi was on the defensive. For the first time in months that has changed. BJP vice president Shivraj Singh Chouhan has said, “Didi ke chhoro aur Modi ke bolo (leave didi and speak to Modi)”.

As the festival season approaches, Hindu-Muslim polarisation will be back in Bengal. This is just the beginning of a long season of competitive politics between the TMC and the BJP. What’s certain is that the 2021 election will be Didi versus Modi.


Also read: Mamata is taking back defectors from under Mukul Roy’s nose, while BJP fights itself


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3 Comments Share Your Views

3 COMMENTS

  1. There was nothing courageous in Smt Mamata Banerjee speaking about “cut money”. It was a serious gaffe on her part that has boomeranged. And as far as change is concerned, it has to be seen if it is only for elections or permanent.

  2. The trend for seeking help from professionals by the political parties is welcome and may/should stay on. There has to be third party expert intervention to show the parties mirror of public opinion – for a glaring part of political system in our country, of late, has become of not speaking out to the leader of the parties and go on supporting the leadership even upto suicidal stage. The debates and discussions have given way to dictates by the leaders and blind support to them. Hence the dire need to rope in the professional advisers and follow their roadmaps.
    How much there will be electoral gains of Prashant ji for TMC is too early to speculate but there is remarkable change in Didi’s behaviour and outlook. If Didi is refraining from Modi bash, the BJP is going to be out of agenda to counter attack and grab. If Didi concentrates on positive governance, BJP has to counter her with better dream of governance and welfare and this will need them to stay calm and ponder over for they may not be able to go on attacking a calm personality – much like the CM of Odisha.
    Mamta ji do possess an image, the image of a clean and dedicated person even in the face of some of her Leaders having deep vested interests. If BJP goes to directly attack Mamta ji on her personal integrity, it may bounce back as Rahul’s slogan of ‘ Chowkidar Chor hai’.
    This is for the very first time in our country that a Chief Minister has openly spoken of ‘cut money’ by her own party men and has stirred the popular imazination even at the risk of anger by her own leaders. The leaders have known to be refunding the money to people. She has, thus, shown the courage of being with her people rather than being with her leaders.
    This has, however, huge potential of back fire too. She has to take her leaders into confidence first and prepare them. This must be the agenda of Prashant ji as well.
    Mamta ji has been a leader – self made and committed. In Congress days she had been a distinguished leader having an independent thinking of her own. She had the capability of speaking out her mind everywhere and every time unlike her fellow leaders in the party. As NDA partner too she proved to be good ally and good administrator too. She has her own following in her state and huge number of people love him. With the professional assistance she is seen realising her situation in a better way and with better perspective. She has to keep her folks together and enhance her support base. There is no doubt that as of now she happens to be the tallest leader of the state. That she is leaving the path of aggressiveness, the BJP would be left with less weapons against her and will have to fight against her support base which may not be that easy. She has time for her make over and she has all the potential of strengthening her position. The way she had been hysterical in her approach and tenor, had given much of ammunition to BJP to counter her. For in the turf of aggressiveness and attack, she will be far behind BJP.
    And if really she attains a character of humility and politeness, there will be no looking back for her.
    Besides, it may even usher a new era of politics in the state – away from street fights and violence. There may start war of concepts and ethos and governance in which she may be able to attain championship.
    Whatever may be, this is a good sign indicating days of good politics in the state. Let us hope for a good and meaningful competition among the parties!

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