The Trinamool Congress’s annual July 21 rally, which will constitute the stage for party supremo Mamata Banerjee to announce the roadmap of her party in the run-up to the 2021 Assembly elections, is going to be different this year. The reason: this year’s Martyrs’ Day rally is being held in the backdrop of the Lok Sabha polls, where the Trinamool lost considerable ground to the BJP, which has emerged as a powerful political force in West Bengal, and the main challenger to the ruling dispensation.
The July 21 Martyrs’ Day Rally is Mamata’s flagship political event. It is mass rally that she addresses in the heart of Kolkata to commemorate the police firing in the state capital on July 21, 1993, in which 13 people were killed during a demonstration by the West Bengal Youth Congress — led by Mamata at the time — demanding that the Voter’s Identity Card be made the sole required document for voting in order that stop is put to the CPM’s alleged “scientific rigging”.
The TMC, which won 22 seats in the Lok Sabha elections of this summer, 12 fewer than in 2014, is under great pressure from the BJP, which shot up to 18 seats from a mere 2 seats in 2014. There is visible support for the party on the ground across the state, and a large number of TMC leaders and councillors from various ruling party-led civic bodies have defected to the saffron camp.
For the first time since storming to power in West Bengal in 2011, Mamata Banerjee’s party has found itself in rough waters, struggling to cope with its challenges. So much so that the party has felt it necessary to rope in political strategist Prashant Kishor — the man best known for contributing to Narendra Modi’s 2014 election strategy — to prepare its strategy for the 2021 Assembly elections.
Mamata, who faces public anger for a variety of reasons, last month called upon her party leaders and public representatives to return illegal commissions or “cut money” they had taken from the public to facilitate their benefits from government schemes. This galvanised demands from beneficiaries of government schemes for Trinamool leaders to return their money.
Although considered to be an image-boosting measure, some leaders of the party feel this might backfire, because the BJP is describing it as a confession by the Trinamool of its “culture of corruption”, and providing moral support to the protesting beneficiaries. The Trinamool has been forced to clarify that the overwhelming mass of its leaders was clean, and that Mamata’s message was directed at a very small minority within the party.
All of this makes this year’s Martyrs’ Day rally different, and important. Under these circumstances, the party’s rank and file are looking to Mamata for directions. The Chief Minister has traditionally used the dais of this annual rally to describe the party’s political roadmap. Tomorrow, she will have an opportunity to course-correct — perhaps providing a glimpse of her response to the political challenge that has rattled even a mass leader of her standing.