Kolkata: Around two weeks ago, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was in the state’s northernmost district of Malda, where her administration had organised a mass wedding for tribals of the region on 5 March.
The event was part of the Trinamool Congress government’s Rupashree Scheme, in which young women who cross the age of 18 are handed Rs 25,000 at the time of marriage. It’s one of her marquee initiatives, and the CM’s presence there was no surprise.
Mamata, however, stunned everybody present by dancing with the women at the mass wedding. It was uncharacteristic — the chief minister is known to be dour and impassive in governance and fierce, aggressive and combative during election campaigns.
But with the BJP breathing down her neck, Mamata appears to have changed her electioneering strategy. For one, she officially launched her latest poll campaign at the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata on 2 March — almost 14 months ahead of the assembly elections in 2021.
And as events of the 5 March day showed, her 2021 campaign promises to be unique in many aspects.
Even the venue was no accident — Malda is among the districts where the BJP has been making headway and tribals of the state are some of the opposition party’s biggest backers.
TMC leaders in know of the developments have told ThePrint that with poll strategist Prashant Kishor on board, Mamata’s campaign will be devoid of political aggression against opponents and will just focus on the chief minister as a brand and what she has done for Bengal.
The campaign, they add, will have none of the ferocity and acerbic statements against opponents — long seen as the primary elements of Mamata’s brand of street politics.
According to a party document accessed by The Print, the Trinamool Congress will organise at least 21,000 public meetings — big and small — in all 294 constituencies. It also aims at involving at least 2,500 reporters in a bid to get them to cover and publicise the events.
The party is also planning to bring back at least 1,25,000 workers, many of whom had defected to the BJP after the 2018 panchayat elections.
But of all the changes, the party’s top priority appears to be cultivating Mamata’s image as a powerful cult personality of the state.
It has begun at the very top with the pitch of the poll campaign being ‘Banglar Garbo: Mamata (Bengal’s Pride: Mamata)’.
According to a senior Trinamool leader who worked on the campaign, the idea is to present a larger-than-life image of the chief minister as a fierce Bengali leader who single-handedly ended the 34-year-old Communist rule in the state.
“The BJP is yet to bring-in a face for its chief minister’s post. Mamata Banerjee is already a personality here. We need to remind people that she is from Bengal, daughter of this land— a Bhumi Kanya,” the leader said. “Anybody who comes here and tries to convince voters to vote for the saffron force are not sons or daughters of the land; they should be treated as outsiders. This is the idea behind this campaign.”
“We are trying to build sub-regionalism and we hope it will work,” he added. “Bangla and Bangalee — this is our pitch and not Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan.”
The chief minister and her party colleagues already address the state as ‘Bangla’ and not West Bengal.
They also plan to launch a “Bongodhwani Jatra”, a 15-day yatra that has been postponed for now due to the coronavirus outbreak. The yatra will be about Bangla, its tradition and how the ‘outsiders’ (read BJP) are trying to trample it.
The ruler who ended Communist rule
Another aspect of the new political campaign is an attempt by the TMC to highlight Mamata’s political graph, her achievements as a leader and as the state’s two-time chief minister.
This part of the campaign will concentrate on re-constructing her initial struggle as a politician, her decision to break away from the Congress to take on the CPI (M), especially its “misrule” during the Singur and Nandigram movements.
“This is a campaign to tell people how Mamata Banerjee struggled her way through the Communist rule. We all were there with her in Congress. But we followed her when she decided to float a new party,” said Firhad Hakim, the state’s urban development minister. “People need to know how the CPM, Congress and BJP have now come together to malign her image. We will convince people why we are saying this.”
Hakim also alluded to the chief minister taking the lead in the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). “People need to know the Preamble and its meaning. Our fight against the CAA will go on,” Hakim said. “But who is fighting? Mamata Banerjee. We have to take this to the people. If she is not Bengal’s pride then who is?”
Jaljog Jogajog (Meeting Over Breakfast)
Mamata’s Trinamool Congress has also started an outreach programme for local reporters and people in all 294 constituencies.
Her party colleagues, primarily local MPs, MLAs and ministers, have been asked to hold ‘Karmi Sammelans’ in all districts and meet people, especially local journalists in all assembly constituencies, over breakfast. The initiative has been termed ‘Jaljog Jogajog’.
The move is seen by many to counter BJP’s outreach programme ‘chai-pe-charcha’ that the saffron party began some months ago. The BJP leaders are going on a door-to-door campaign and holding their regular ‘chai pe charcha’ in different localities in order to have grassroots connect.
The Jaljog Jogajog’s next phase, called Shikriti Sammelan, will see TMC events in each of the 294 Assembly constituencies to recognise and felicitate over 10,000 “old and inactive” party workers for their contribution towards building the party. This is another attempt by the TMC to reach out, especially to old-timers who have distanced themselves from the party now for various reasons.
The BJP, however, feels it will make no difference.
“Mamata Banerjee has new tricks up her sleeve. She has hired a poll strategist and like a spin doctor he is coming up with new narratives,” BJP state president Dilip Ghosh told ThePrint. “They started with Didi Ke bolo and now all these. But Banglar Garbo Mamata (Bengal’s Pride – Mamata) is too heavy a title for her to bear. Bengal is the land of icons. And her leaders are almost drawing parallels with these people. This is a shameful campaign. People will respond to this during elections.”