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Behind A Quieter Mamata, Prepped Speeches & Prashant Kishor

Measured response on Kashmir, reading out her speeches...it’s been a while since Mamata has been this mellow.

Updated
Politics
4 min read
Mamata Banerjee has signed on election strategist Prashant Kishor to work with the Trinamool Congress till the 2021 state elections in West Bengal.
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What many deemed completely impossible has happened – Mamata Banerjee has quietened down.

Consider this.

Banerjee is now reading out her speeches.

She took a measured view on an issue of as much national significance as the scrapping of Article 370, instead of shooting off her mouth.

And she is not walking miles ahead of the panting Kolkata police (and Trinamool leaders in a similar state) during her signature michils (parades) anymore.

Everyone in Kolkata's political circles has noticed Banerjee's new approach. And the verdict is clear on who is behind this 'makeover' – Prashant Kishor.

Too busy to read the whole story? Listen in instead.

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Silence On Kashmir

Signed on by Mamata and the Trinamool Congress in June to plan the party’s campaign for the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections, Kishor and his political consultancy firm, the Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC), has been actively working with the TMC for about a month now.

Kishor was apparently brought on board on the insistence of Mamata’s nephew and TMC leader, Abhishek Banerjee.

While glimpses of the “PK magic” was visible in the party’s functioning over the last few weeks, it was probably most visible on Monday, 5 August, when the chief minister’s maintained silence on the Narendra Modi government's move to revoke Jammu and Kashmir's special status.

Even as her MPs like Derek O’Brien argued fiercely against the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in the Rajya Sabha, their words, for the large part, focussed more on the way the Modi government went about introducing the Bill rather than the decision itself. Curiously, instead of voting against the Bill, the TMC MPs in both Houses of Parliament decided to walk out. This, in spite of the knowledge that in the Indian Parliament, a walk-out, is a walkover.

“If we voted, the Bill would have had more legitimacy. You should be questioning the Congress strategy. Their lack of planning is affecting the Opposition stance on the issue”, said a party insider.

Banerjee broke her silence on Tuesday. But even her opposition was more to the government's methods as well as the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir and not to the revocation of Article 370.

Sources in the Trinamool Congress as well as the West Bengal government say that this careful choosing of words comes from IPAC’s diktat that the party should now move from proving political dominance to focusing on governance.

Long story short: Not all battles are meant to be fought. And the battle should definitely not be won at the cost of losing the war.

Silencing Mamata

It is well-known not just by those with knowledge of West Bengal politics, but even the layman, that “Didi listens to no one”.

When Kishor signed up to steer the Trinamool Congress, Mamata Banerjee was at her volatile best. Her outbursts with regard to the BJP’s provocative ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chants had made national headlines and storming out of her car to verbally abuse BJP cadre did not go down well with many even within the party.

Cut to two months later, Mamata Banerjee holds a ‘Save The Environment’ walk down the most elite localities of South Kolkata. The walk culminates at a heritage theatre hall in the area, and for the first time, in a long, long time, Mamata Banerjee read out her speech from a piece of paper.

In between, she stops, turns to Tourism Minister Bratya Basu, who was on the dais with her and says, “Bratya, how many buses are you giving us during Pujo? Please also involve the Puja committees. They will have insightful inputs to give.”

And just like that, without an all-out battle against the BJP, she tackled the issue of Puja committees in the state shifting towards the saffron party – a huge deal in a state where the Durga Puja is as much cultural, as it is political.

A similar pattern was followed in the event that followed right after – the one organised by the East Bengal Club on its 100th anniversary.

This time, she stopped in the middle of her speech to address Sports Minister Aroop Biswas and instruct him to organise a ‘mega function’ for the club’s centenary.

It was clear that the CM instructing ministers on stage wasn’t the usual Mamata Banerjee going off script and shooting off her mouth – it was a carefully planned deviation.

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Listen, More Than Talk: Didi Ke Bolo

Kishor’s first campaign for the Trinamool is an extensive phone and internet outreach programme called ‘Didi Ke Bolo’. Citizens can directly call the CM’s team on a public mobile number or connect with them on the internet.

The campaign was launched in a glitzy corporate-looking event at Kolkata’s Nazrul Mancha. Since then posters regarding the same have been plastered across the city. It is also being pushed extensively on social media. Kishor’s IPAC was the highest political ads spender on Facebook this week, spending 1.47 lakh rupees on 25 ads.

The campaign has seen small successes already with Trinamool leaders taking cognisance and publicly working towards local issues that were brought to light by callers.

Sources in the IPAC say that this is the first of about 15-20 such initiatives that IPAC will roll out in the next two years.

They also say that just like Kishor had a seven-point agenda for Nitish and a nine-point agenda for Jagan Mohan Reddy, a similar plan will be rolled out for the Trinamool as well.

The first agenda, though, quite clearly, was to rein in Mamata Banerjee.

And to Kishor’s credit, he is one of the very people in Bengal right now who can boast of having done that.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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