Cut Money vs Black Money: 7 Key Takeaways From Mamata’s Speech
TMC chief Mamata Banerjee addressed a massive rally in Kolkata on Sunday, 21 July, to commemorate the 13 protesters who had been killed in police firing the same day 26 years ago at a demonstration she was leading as a Youth Congress leader.
Mamata’s 21 July speech, an annual affair in the TMC calendar, is significant because it provides an insight into the party’s political agenda. This year, it was doubly crucial because it comes on the back of the BJP’s meteoric rise in Bengal, from two seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to 18 seats in 2019.
1. Cut Money vs Black Money
“Cut money” is the term used in Bengal for the bribes and illegal commissions taken by TMC workers and local leaders to get government-related work done.
The phenomenon has become so widespread that in June, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee herself admitted the problem and asked TMC leaders to return their “cut money” to the people they had taken it from. She has also assured a crackdown against corrupt TMC leaders who engage in the practice.
But now, with the BJP aggressively using Mamata’s statements as proof of widespread corruption in the TMC, she has chosen to respond to the corruption allegations against her party by making counter-allegations against the BJP, pitting “cut money” against “black money”.
2. Narrative of “Bengalis (TMC) vs Outsiders (BJP)” Continues
Mocking the BJP for fielding candidates and having leaders whom she doesn’t even recognise, and claiming that neither do the people of Bengal, Mamata repeated the “locals versus outsiders” theme several times in her speech, as she had in the Lok Sabha campaign as well.
Trying to portray the BJP as “outsiders” and fundamentally alien to Bengalis and their culture, Mamata is playing by the classical “sons and daughters of the soil” political handbook.
3. Counter to Allegations of Muslim Appeasement
Mamata addressed the BJP’s claims that her government practices Muslim appeasement, by enumerating initiatives undertaken for Hindus during her tenure.
From the pulpit, she argued, “Our Hindu brothers and sisters should remember that the BJP creates Hindu-Muslim divides during election season. But look at the temple at Tarakeswar, we improved its condition beautifully. The same is true of the Ma Tara temple at Tarapith. For a Radha-Krishna temple by ISKCON and an ISKCON township around it, a 700-acre project has been given clearance, all of this we have done.”
In the end, she added, “We love Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, we love “Saare jahaan se accha, Hindustan hamara.””
4. Reminder to CPI(M) That Helping BJP Will Not Help the Left
The CPM vote share plummeted in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and got transferred by and large to the BJP. Large numbers of Left workers were also reported to have been canvassing for the BJP before the elections, with their main objective being to see the TMC defeated.
Mamata’s reminder at Sunday’s rally, primarily meant for the CPM, was that by losing their vote share, the Left was not just assisting BJP’s rise, but also hurting their own future.
5. Mamata’s Messaging: Bengal Is Being Unfairly Defamed
Mamata is seeking to push a narrative that West Bengal’s reputation is being unfairly tarnished by the BJP and media houses close to the saffron party, and that the TMC is the state’s true saviour.
Mamata adds, “If three people die, they (the BJP) will claim in Parliament that 30 people have died. They are lying and bringing disrepute to Bengal every day. They are disrespecting the state, and I cannot tolerate insults towards Ma Bangla.”
6. Casting Aspersions On BJP’s 2019 Performance in Bengal
It has been two months since the Lok Sabha results, and the TMC leadership is continuing to make allegations of EVM tampering against the BJP, in a bid to discredit their impressive performance in West Bengal.
Addressing the rally, Mamata asserted, “The 2019 Lok Sabha election was a mystery more than a moment of history. We are calling for scrapping EVMs and returning to the system of ballots. Bring ballots back!”
7. Lastly, a Signature Prashant Kishor Initiative
Mamata declared, “On 29 July, we will announce a big programme, as to how we will interact with the people of the state right up to the booth level. We will discuss our politics everywhere – from the chai shops to the houses of the adivasis.”
This particular campaign initiative, focused on booth-level consolidation, seems to be a signature one by Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC, the political consultancy that has been roped in by the TMC for the 2021 Assembly election. I-PAC’s campaigns in the past have similarly focused extensively on building the booth-level infrastructure of the client party, most recently for YSRC’s successful campaign in Andhra Pradesh.