If West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee believed in good luck charms, she'd probably be a little worried that a year before the West Bengal elections she was robbed off her annual show-of-strength event.
The 21 July, Shahid Diwas- Martyrs' Day- rally that is organised by the Trinamool Congress every year had to go virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, making it the Trinamool's first ever mega digital event.
The Trinamool observes Shahid Diwas every year to commemorate the thirteen political workers who were killed in police firing on the same day in 1993, during a protest against the CPI(M) government at the then secretariat, the Writer's Building.
Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee, who was then with the Congress, led the party’s youth wing in that protest, demanding that voter ID cards be made the sole requirement for voting. At the protest, Banerjee was infamously brutalised by the West Bengal police and suffered a cracked skull.
The day is widely seen in political circles as the day Mamata Banerjee avenged when she decimated the Left Front to finally came to power for the first time in 2011.
Over the years, the Shahid Diwas rally has grown from a tiny crowd of a few thousands to ones that have drawn tens of lakhs of party workers to Kolkata's Dharmatala every year. The growth and significance of the rally can be seen as directly proportional to Mamata's popularity.
As Mamata Banerjee took the dais at her residence in Kalighat to address this year's "virtual rally", therefore, she began by stating how "pained" she was at not being able to hold the annual fiesta this year.
Through the speech Mamata trained her guns on the BJP and the central government. But before we get to that, lets take a look at how Trinamool fared in its first mega digital event in terms of social media numbers.
BJP Hashtag Trends on Top During Mamata Speech
Sources in the Trinamool Congress say that the event was handled almost entirely by Mamata's nephew Abhishek Banerjee and his team. Poll strategist Prashant Kishor's political consultancy firm, Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), that is helping the TMC campaign for the 2021 Assembly polls, had very limited involvement in the event.
In the usual battle of hashtags, the Trinamool went in with #ShahidDibas (note the 'b' in Dibas to appeal to a Bengali audience), while the BJP went in with #MamatarShahidProhoson.
'Prohoson' is the Bengali word for 'joke', used in this context as 'farce'.
At the time that Mamata Banerjee started her speech (around 2pm), and through the hour-long address, the BJP hashtag continued to trend at no.1 on Kolkata Twitter. The Trinamool hashtag was a distant number 2 with less than half the number of tweets at 2.30pm.
By 6.30pm, however, the TMC hashtag had managed to replace the BJP hashtag, but some would say that by then the battle was over.
During the live stream, The Quint noticed that the viewers on the Trinamool's Youtube page hovered about 7,000 at a given time, while on the party's Facebook page, the number stood at around 15,000.
At the time of writing the article, the Youtube feed had about 88,000 views. The Facebook feed had about 6,90,000 views.
Compare this to BJP's last mega rally in the state- Home Minister Amit Shah's Jan Samvad Rally on 9 June- during which the Facebook feed of the address had over 20 lakh views. On Youtube, however, Mamata did marginally better than Shah, as the latter had only managed to gather about 30,000 views during his address.
During the speech Mamata claimed that her address was reaching 50 lakh people in booths across the state. While the party claims to have set up screens in all (approximately) 77,000 booths in the state, the numbers on social media do not back the 50 lakh claim.
'Just Because COVID-19 Is On, Don't Think We Have Forgotten CAA/NRC/NPR'
Mamata began her speech by saying that she was not just commemorating those martyred on 21 July 1993, but also those frontline workers who died due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the soldiers who lost their lives in the Galwan Valley.
Interestingly, she also said that she's commemorating those who have lost their lives in riots in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh as well.
Following this, in one salvo after another, Mamata targetted the BJP, at one point even going on to say that "Bengal will be run by the people of Bengal, not outsiders".
"Just because COVID-19 is on, don't think we have forgotten CAA/NRC/NPR", she thundered.
She further alleged that the Central government had provided very little support to the state after Cyclone Amphan.
"The Prime Minister obliged us by visiting the state for one hour. They gave us assistance of only Rs 1000 crore. Out of this, we spent 250 crores on getting migrants back and arranging for their food and tickets", she said.
She also said that the Central government had used COVID-19 as an excuse to stop MPLAD funds and not pay government employees.
"Bengal is the only state where government employees are getting their salaries and getting it exactly on time", she said.
She also made multiple remarks on the "culture of fear" that ordinary citizens and journalists have to live with under the BJP rule.
The state BJP, which is still raising a hue and cry over the alleged rape and murder of a BJP worker's minor relative in North Dinajpur, had said that it will observe the day as a "black day".
"This event got 1/5th the audience that Amit Shah's virtual rally got", said BJP National Secretary, Rahul Sinha, at a press conference in Kolkata.
"The Trinamool should thank COVID-19. If not for the disease, this event would have been public and its audience would have been laughable", he added.
With public rallies still looking like a far cry, the Trinamool will be looking at strengthening its digital presence before the elections next year, as more such digital outreach programmes seem to be on the cards.