In Bengal 2021, are BJP & Mamata’s TMC Both ‘Playing it Safe’?

Why 2021 Bengal election campaigns by the 2 key contenders — TMC & BJP — are basically ‘old wine in a new bottle’. 

4 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

PM Modi set the tone for the Bengal elections by launching his party, the BJP’s election campaign from the Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata, West Bengal on Sunday, 7 March. The BJP claims that the rally was attended by over 10 lakh people who had come to see their ‘beloved prime minister’ from different parts of the state.

Modi attacked Mamata left, right and centre in his inimitable style.

“The money that the Centre is sending for the welfare of the poor in Bengal, it is being blocked by the state government. Didi doesn't want to work and won’t let anybody else work as well,” he said.

Further, he reiterated the ‘Sonar Bangla Mission’ of the BJP.

“The next 25 years are very important for development in Bengal. In 2047, when India celebrates 100 years of independence, Bengal will lead the country once again.”

Modi’s Bengal Rally & Anti-Mamata Narrative

He attacked Mamata on three main issues: corruption, dynastic politics and minority appeasement.

Meanwhile Mamata led an all women padyatra against the LPG cylinder price hike in Siliguri. She accused Modi of ‘peddling lies’ to mislead the people of West Bengal.

She taunted the BJP by saying that poribortan (change) will happen in Delhi, not in Bengal.

“Khela hobe! We are ready to play. I am ready to play one-on-one... If they (BJP) want to buy votes, take the money and cast your vote for TMC, the Bengal CM thundered.

Shrugging off the corruption and dynasty politics charge, Mamata went on to say:“India knows about a syndicate that is Modi and Amit Shah's syndicate.”

Both the main contenders have launched a fierce election campaign across social, digital, print and other traditional media platforms, to woo voters.

The BJP’s poll template is different for states where the party is incumbent, and where the party is the principal contender.

The election campaign of the BJP normally includes a mass outreach program (yatra), a targeted outreach program (door-to-door campaign), a symbol-based campaign, a crowdsourcing campaign for the manifesto, and a connect program for workers / volunteers.

The BJP launched a poriborton yatra to expose the shortcomings of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government just before the prime minister’s first rally in Bengal on Sunday. This campaign included a series of five rath yatras. The yatra covered all 294 seats of the state.

The BJP had launched a similar ‘Delhi Bachao Parivartan Yatra’ before the assembly polls that year. In states where the party was the incumbent, like in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, it had launched the ‘Jan Ashirwad Yatra’ and ‘Vikas Yatra’ respectively.

Can BJP’s Strategy ‘Restore’ the ‘Pride of Bengal’?

The BJP has launched the Sonar Bangla mission and promised that it will ‘restore the pride of Bengal’. This is similar to the ‘Samriddh Madhya Pradesh’ campaign launched during the 2018 elections.

With regard to this mission, the party has launched the ‘Lokkho Sonar Bangla’ campaign. Under this scheme, the party is inviting suggestions on all kinds of issues from between 3 and 20 March, through boxes that have been made available in all the 294 assembly segments.

The party is seeking suggestions on how to give a push to industry, agriculture, health and religious tourism, among other sectors. The best ideas will be incorporated in the BJP’s West Bengal manifesto.

A similar campaign had been launched during the Delhi assembly elections — ‘Meri Dilli, Mera Sujhav’.

During the Lok Sabha elections 2019, ‘Bharat ke mann ki baat, Modi ke saath’ was launched to seek suggestions from 10 crore people across the country to help the party prepare its ‘sankalp patra’ (manifesto).

The aim of these campaigns is to increase public participation in the electoral process and democratise it as much as possible.

The BJP has launched a ‘Modi Para’ (Modi’s neighbourhood) app for supporters and volunteers. The app, which is in Bengali, is a “one-stop destination” for all campaign activities of the party in West Bengal. It allows the sharing of content and offers merchandise too.

A similar app named ‘Kamal Connect’ was launched before the Bihar polls, showcasing the development work done by the state as well as the central governments.


Old Wine in New Bottle: TMC & BJP’s Poll Campaigns Lack Novelty

The TMC has launched the campaign ‘Bangla Nijer Meyekei Chaye’ (Bengal just wants her own daughter), to highlightMamata Banerjee’s image as the ‘daughter’ of the state. It has launched a dedicated website around the slogan and held an outreach programme across 23 districts.

Conceptualised by Prashant Kishor’s I-PAC, the slogan aims to appeal to the state's women voters while also visiting the theme of Bengali sub-nationalism to counter the BJP’s Hindu nationalism.

The TMC has launched an ‘amra verus ora’ (insider versus outsider) campaign, portraying the BJP as a party of Hindi-speaking North Indians and Gujaratis who have no knowledge and regard for the rich culture and heritage of West Bengal.

Similar campaigns have been launched in many states by other parties too. The BJP launched a ‘local vs outsiders’ campaign in Assam, and in a way is also using the same tactic in Bengal though in a different context — ‘locals vs migrants’.

Through the ‘Duare Sarkar’ program (government at your doorsteps), the benefits of government schemes and services will be delivered to eligible beneficiaries through camps organised in each gram panchayat and municipality area.

Prashant Kishor, while advising Arvind Kejriwal, had suggested that the Delhi government announce a similar ‘Home Delivery of Services’ campaign. This is also similar to the ‘Lok Suraj’ campaign launched by Chief Minister Raman Singh in the 2018 Chhattisgarh polls.

TMC has also launched the ‘Didir Doot’ application, designed for the people of West Bengal to directly connect with Didi and contribute to achieving her mission and vision for the state. This is similar to the ‘Shivraj ke Sipahi’ campaign launched in Madhya Pradesh.

To sum up, the election campaigns by both the main contenders in Bengal remind us of the adage ‘old wine in a new bottle’. Despite significant resources and services of political consultants, both sides are playing it safe — sticking to an old template rather than employing out-of-the-box ideas.

(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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