She said she would personally travel through the districts to reach out to the people; the party would concentrate on strengthening its organisation at the booth level; there would be an increased stress on “Bengali culture” as a counter to the BJP’s alleged North Indian-Hindi ethos; and there would be a revamp in the Trinamool Congress rank and file, where many leaders have jumped ship.
The context of the Trinamool’s strategy re-look is the remarkable inroads made by the BJP in West Bengal, its aggressive poaching of TMC leaders and MLAs, and the traction that the ‘cut money’ controversy continues to get in the rural areas.
Mamata faces civic body elections in the state next year, and Assembly polls in 2021. She told the Martyrs’ Day rally — the Trinamool’s flagship annual political show to commemorate the deaths of 13 Youth Congress workers who were killed in police firing in Kolkata on July 21, 1993 — that she would fight the BJP for “every inch” of the political space in West Bengal.
Election strategist Prashant Kishor has been working with the party, attending closed-door meetings, collecting grassroots data, and working to bring more youths into the Trinamool fold.
This is a new formulation for the TMC, and Mamata appears to have taken a page out of the BJP’s playbook in adopting it. The BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah has built up a cadre of micro-level election managers in ‘Shakti Kendras’, and as Panna Pramukhs, literally workers who are in charge of particular pages of the electoral roll in a constituency.
The BJP’s 18 seats and 40.30% vote share in West Bengal in the Lok Sabha elections are attributed to a significant extent to the role played by its booth-management machinery. (The TMC won 22 seats and 43.30% of the vote.)
Mamata has announced that special statewide drives would be undertaken from July 26 to strengthen the party organisation at the booth level. Party sources said the goal is to have a special cadre of trained workers who would reach out to voters at each booth.
Mamata wants grassroots leaders to extend their Jan Sanyog Yatras to reach almost every household and neighbourhood in both rural and urban areas, with special emphasis on the poor and marginalised communities, and SCs and STs. The BJP did well in SC and ST areas in the Lok Sabha elections, including in the districts of Purulia, Bankura and West Midnapore, and in North Bengal. BJP also did well in seats where the SC Matua community has an influence, including Bongaon and Ranaghat.
The Trinamool wants to counter the BJP’s attacks on the ‘cut money’ issue with its own demand for the BJP to return the “black money” that it alleges the saffron party has amassed. Mamata plans to initiate an agitation in the state on this issue from July 26-27. Parallely, the police and administration will crack down on agitators who have been targeting local TMC leaders demanding the return of ‘cut money’.
The issue of ‘cut money’ was raised by the CM herself, when she asked a section of her party leaders to desist from demanding “commissions” from beneficiaries of welfare schemes. The BJP jumped on the issue, and local people backed by the party gheraoed and ransacked the homes of TMC leaders demanding the return of the ‘cuts’ they had taken. At many places, TMC leaders were, in fact, forced to return money.
Revamp in party ranks
Aware that many Left voters had voted BJP in the elections, the CM has already called on both the CPM and the Congress to help fight the saffron surge in the state. The CPM and Congress have, however, spurned the TMC’s appeal.
Mamata has asked her leaders to approach booth-level CPM and Congress leaders and workers who might be willing to “do good” for the state. The Left, which got two seats and 34% of the vote in 2014, plunged to 7.46% of the vote and zero seats five years later.
The CM also plans to personally visit the districts starting the end of this month, and hold a series of administrative meetings. The aim is to streamline the administration, and ensure that the benefits of government schemes reach the people.
Accent on ‘Bengaliness’
The Trinamool turned up the volume on “Bengali culture” around the time of the last two phases of the Lok Sabha elections, and targeted the BJP aggressively for allegedly undermining Bengali icons such as Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, whose bust was vandalised during Amit Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata.
Mamata’s government has not only reinstated that particular statue, but has been erecting busts and statues of prominent Bengali historical figures and icons throughout the state. It plans to organise rallies and public meetings over the issue of preserving “Bengali culture”.