With the launch of its campaign slogan, “Bangla nijer meyekei chay (Bengal wants its own daughter)”, the incumbent Trinamool Congress has set the ball rolling for what promises to be a game of one-upmanship between Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and PM Narendra Modi in the upcoming assembly elections here in Bengal. All the high decibel hype aside, the TMC is in a pole position to win a straight third term and it has the BJP to thank for it.
At a time when elections are becoming increasingly presidential and voters seem to rally around a face, not projecting a chief ministerial face is suicidal. No one knows this better than the BJP which has milked Modi’s image at the national level to win two consecutive majorities. But when it comes to Bengal, it is struggling to put up a face that can match Mamata Banerjee’s stature. Fear of factionalism within the state unit has also limited
Modi Shah’s options. Clearly, the saffron thinktank believes it can leverage Modi’s image but the latter’s performance in states with powerful regional satraps is a chequered one so far. If “If not Modi, who?” swung 2019 the BJP way, “If not Didi, who?” may swing Bengal the TMC’s way.
Secondly, the campaign slogan’s positioning of CM Mamata Banerjee as the daughter of Bengal provides her and the TMC a clear edge. Invoking regional pride or sub-nationalism is not new to Indian politics. Political leaders of all hues want to project themselves as the sons and daughters of the soil in a bid to assert their sense of belonging and identify themselves as one of their own. Modi did it with perfection in Gujarat, particularly in the last state election in 2017 when the BJP fortress was almost breached. It has tried everything- from appropriating stalwarts like Netaji to engineering defections, to blunt the outsider charge but things are not as simple as growing a Tagore like beard.
Thirdly, in the aftermath of the 2019 Lok Sabha results, Mamata Banerjee was quick to focus on welfare schemes and reach out to the disenchanted. The
“Didi ke bolo” campaign was
launched in no time to zero down on the electorate’s grievances and soon enough all government welfare schemes came to people’s doorsteps through “Duare Sarkar”. In my opinion, this is where the game changed. Go back to early 2019 when the states of MP, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh voted out the BJP. What was the BJP’s immediate reaction? PM KISAN, a direct cash subsidy scheme. This was in addition to the host of other welfare schemes such as Jan Dhan bank accounts, free LPG cylinders, electricity, housing, etc. By building a similar web of welfare schemes, Mamata Banerjee has made the BJP’s task that much difficult.
Thus, the TMC has pulled off a BJP on BJP: It has a face, an emotional connect with the electorate, and a focus on welfare and development. That has narrowed the BJP’s narrative to religion and an aggressive, high-decibel campaign meant to excite party workers on the ground. We saw the limitations of this strategy in Delhi where Arvind Kejriwal stunned Modi and Co. for a record second time. Mamata Banerjee would hope that she can pull off a similar stunner.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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