The Trinamool Congress (TMC) launched its main “campaign slogan” for the upcoming West Bengal elections in a much-publicized event on 20 February.
The new slogan- Bangla Nijer Meyekei Chaaye- Bengal Wants Its Own Daughter - was plastered on hoardings across Kolkata the night before, culminating into a low-key but significantly hyped launch at the party headquarters in the city.
Senior leaders of the party like Derek O’Brien, Subrata Bakshi, Partha Chatterjee, and Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar were present at the unveiling of the slogan, which will be launched once again at district level events on 21 February. With the slogan, TMC has also unveiled the focus of its campaign in 2021: ousting the ‘bohiragoto’ (outsiders) and retaining their most faithful votebank, the women of Bengal.
In the months leading up to the election the Trinamool has made repeated “outsider” jibes at its main contenders this election season, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its chief campaigner, Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
In every party speech, rally, social media post, the TMC has made it a point to assert the fact that the BJP is not run by Bengalis, rather by leaders “from Gujarat”. The message has always been that while TMC is the party of Bengalis and for Bengal, the BJP, in its leadership and ethos, is “non-Bengali”.
In her last election rally at Pailan in the South 24 Parganas district of the state, Banerjee launched a scathing attack at Shah who’d accused her of not allowing Durga and Saraswati Puja in the state, therefore, calling her “anti-Hindu”.
“Ask him to recite Saraswati’s mantra”, bellowed Mamata, before proceeding to recite the mantra herself, albeit with a few mistakes.
The BJP’s attempts at countering this outsider narrative has included attempts at appropriating Bengal’s leaders and luminaries like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and more.
At the same time, the Trinamool has also made an effort to reach out to the “Hindi bhashis”, distancing itself in the recent past from militant groups promoting Bengali chauvinism. Mamata Banerjee has also made multiple speeches in Hindi, pointing out how the BJP has “wreaked havoc” in the states it runs in North India making mentions of the farmers’ protest, Hathras and Unnao rapes, and arrest of activists.
Another recurring theme through all the campaigns that poll strategist Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) has designed for the Trinamool Congress has been the centricity of Mamata Banerjee. I-PAC’s previous campaigns were named Didi Ke Bolo (Tell Didi), Banglar Gorbo Mamata (Pride of Bengal, Mamata) and their recent outreach drive is called Didir Doot (Didi’s ambassador).
In the party’s final campaign push too, the spotlight has been focused once again on Mamata – a focus the TMC wants to keep given the lack of a clear Chief Ministerial candidate in the BJP from the state. Amit Shah has earlier promised, however, that a “son of the soil” or bhumiputra will be BJP’s Chief Minister in Bengal.
The BJP has used multiple narratives for its political attack on the TMC, like Mamata being anti-Hindu, the oft used Pishi-Bhaipo (Aunt-Nephew) criticism directed at Mamata’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, and allegations of corruption against Trinamool leaders. What the party’s final poll pitch in the electoral home stretch will be, remains to be seen.
“There is also a strategic importance of the word ‘Meye’”, says political researcher Biswanath Chakraborty. “The TMC has always had the women vote, and they want to keep that part of the electorate strongly with them”.
It is interesting to note that the party decided to project Mamata as a ‘Meye’ (girl) as opposed to her usual moniker- ‘Didi’ – meaning sister. Didi, since the term has been associated with Mamata, has come to signify a commanding, almighty force. But this election demands a slight tweak in that image, thinks the party.
“By branding her as a daughter instead, we wanted to send out the message that Mamata is one with the people and they need to support her”, said a TMC insider, familiar with the ideation of the campaign.
Nearly 3.4 crore of Bengal’s electorate are women. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, more than 87 percent of these women cast their vote. Since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and the Nandigram and Singur movements, the women voters have largely stayed with Mamata.
In the 2019 polls, Trinamool fielded 17 women candidates, 41 percent of its total candidates, as opposed to the BJP’s 5.
However, the BJP also has its eyes on the same votebank. Shah in his last visit to Bengal promised 33 percent reservation in government jobs for women if BJP came to power in the state.
“In the surveys that I have been conducting, a large number of women voters are still with Trinamool. In fact, the party’s share of women votes may increase from the last election”, says Chakraborty.
At the Pailan rally, Mamata urged women in Bengal to stand against the BJP.
“The Central Forces will come but remember that they are just here for a few days. Let them be and they will soon go away. If they come to attack you, put your mothers and sisters, your women in the line of defence. I’m requesting my mothers and sisters, this battle will have to be fought with you in the front line”, said Mamata.
In a way, the Trinamool’s final campaign for the 2021 elections surmises this very imagery- a daughter of Bengal, in the line of defence, against a party of men run from a foreign land.