At the Trinamool Congress’ latest campaign launch, facilitated by Prashant Kishor and his Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), the atmosphere didn’t seem much different from the usual Mamata Banherjee or Trinamool events.
There was the ‘Paribartan’ (change) band that belted out songs eulogising Mamata and the Trinamool. There was Rabindra Sangeet, and women in coordinated printed sarees singing them with aplomb.
Through all of it, however, the subliminal message didn’t elude anyone.
The name of the campaign, ‘Banglar Gorbo Mamata’ — or ‘Pride Of Bengal, Mamata’ — which received a few suppressed laughs from many in the media contingent, begged one question: Why this larger-than-life rebranding of a leader who has always been the end all and be all of her party?
The answer to that is a little more than the obvious, i.e. the 2021 Assembly elections.
In the run up to the 2016 state elections in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee had famously asked the people of Bengal to vote like she was the one contesting from all 294 seats.
“Don’t look at who the MLA is. Don’t look at who is standing. Think that it is Mamata Banerjee who is your candidate in all 294 seats,” she’d thundered at an election rally.
How the Trinamool swept that election is for all to see, but it is clear that the party had always been about brand Mamata. So much so, that a massive flyover collapse and a sensational sting operation showing many top Trinamool leaders accepting bribes — both right before the election — did nothing to change the Trinamool’s fate in the 2016 election.
Many would say that it is, therefore, redundant to project an already tall leader as even taller.
But, for Prashant Kishor, this is a tested strategy. One that yielded fantastic results in Delhi, where he did the same with Arvind Kejriwal.
Sources in the Trinamool also say that corruption isn’t as much an issue with the Bengal electorate as is violence. It is what got the Left ousted, and the state will not be tolerating the same from any other party.
That, many party workers and leaders feel, is where Trinamool lost ground to the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
“The 2018 panchayat elections and the way the Trinamool handled it has irked many rural voters. For many in these areas, their vote is their inalienable right. The fact that many didn’t get to exercise that right during the panchayat polls because of the Trinamool made them vote for the BJP,” says political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty.
The Trinamool won almost 34 percent of the seats in the panchayat polls uncontested and was criticised heavily for using violence to achieve the same.
Chakraborty’s analysis does resonate on the ground, as this reporter heard many in the rural areas of Malda and Birbhum complaining of the same while covering the 2019 general elections in West Bengal.
The rebranding, therefore, is not so much for Mamata as it is for the Trinamool. It is seemingly more to shift focus away from the fact that Trinamool cadres, in many areas, are showing high-handedness. The message is, once again, that Mamata is on the ballot and no one else. Something that the electorate may have forgotten in 2019.
Bengali–Non-Bengali, To Combat Hindu-Muslim Narrative
Since the Lok Sabha elections, another debate has embroiled the social media circles of Bengal – the Bengali vs Non-Bengali debate.
While the Trinamool is yet to consciously push forth this narrative, the fact that they are trying to portray Mamata as the savior of Bengalis and Bengali culture is apparent in all their public events.
In addition, Trinamool sympathisers, like historian Garga Chatterjee, have been harping on the issue since the Assam NRC.
Mamata is accompanied on her padyatras by Chhau dancers, Baul musicians and rural artistes playing the dhol. Her events in tribal areas are all preceded by tribal women dancing in their traditional attire. And the chief minister herself has never shied away from playing Rabindra Sangeet on her synthesizer or reminding people that Bengal is as much Tagore’s as it is Nazrul’s.
Analysts say that a regional dichotomy is the only way to beat the BJP’s Hindu-Muslim narrative.
That point is illustrated by Mamata’s attack on Amit Shah and the BJP regarding the Delhi violence at the campaign launch.
“This is Bengal. Not Delhi,” she said, while announcing that her Kolkata Police had arrested at least three men who had raised ‘goli maaro’ slogans on the way to Amit Shah’s rally on 1 March.
This was also probably why the name of the campaign was changed from ‘Amar Gorbo Mamata’ (My Pride, Mamata) to ‘Banglar Gorbo Mamata’ (Bengal’s Pride, Mamata), to focus on the fact that she’s not just everyone’s pride, but someone who represents Bengal, in India and the world.
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