By Tirthankar Mitra
A redoubtable politician, a no-nonsense administrator, a poet whose works often finds place in bestsellers list (a fact which her detractors take with a pinch of salt), West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee wears many hats. But though she has never staked a claim for managerial skills, her campaign technique in the run-up to the rural polls is a pointer to her acumen in marketing management.
‘Didi’, as she is widely known among her followers, displayed this skill during the short period she was able to campaign for the panchayat elections. Had she not been out of action after suffering a foot mishap while getting down from a helicopter and awaiting a minor surgery, the Trinamool Congress supremo would have continued to display more of her managerial skills.
One may hazard a guess that Banerjee may have picked up the idea of “target audience” from Prashant Kishor and his marketing team. But it does not reduce her credit as the woman of action has put into practice a theory in a manner few of her peers or political rivals could have done.
While most of her supporters may be unaware of it and her political opponents remain tightlipped about it, Mamata Banerjee knows the ins and outs of “target campaigning”. Small wonder, she told a crowd during one of her rural poll rallies in north Bengal, that she would never discriminate against them even though they did not support her party in past elections.
The chief minister was sticking to the facts. The voters she was addressing had indeed exercised their franchise for the BJP nominee in past elections, yet they have been the recipient of benefits of the social welfare schemes like Lakshmir Bhander, Kanyasree and Sabuj Sathi to name a few.
It did not matter to the Trinamool supremo that the venue of the meeting was Coochbehar, one of the Assembly segments of Alipurduar parliamentary constituency, from which a BJP candidate has been elected. She beckoned to the crowd to stand by her in the rural elections just as her government had showered development schemes on them without taking into consideration their political preference in earlier elections.
In the election meetings in southern districts of the state, in her speech over a mobile phone, an incapacitated Banerjee graciously acknowledged the support of the people, which was amply manifest in 2019 and 2021 elections. And in 2023, thundering approval greeted her address as she expressed hopes that this support would continue to remain with her party nominees in the panchayat elections.
It was a remarkable display of the Trinamool chief’s instincts when to overlook and when to oversee. And it is also a pointer that she has the finger on the people’s pulse. The people voting for BJP over successive elections cannot wish away the Trinamool dispensation. Nor can they do without the benefits of the social welfare schemes of a government, which does not subscribe to the saffron ideology.
Assuring them of continuance of the social benefit schemes, the chief minister is trying to wean the people who had supported BJP away to her party’s side in the coming rural polls. Election results will be a pointer whether her game-plan has been a success or failed to take off. Differences between the northern and southern parts of West Bengal cannot be wished away. People in northern part of the state have complained of disparity in development with south Bengal.
If extremist political movement emanating from Naxalbari in north Bengal changed the political contours of the state forever, indigenous groups like Rajbanshis and Kochs have felt that they are yet to be given their due recognition of the ethno-cultural identity. The BJP have stoked these feelings together with maintaining an ambivalent stance on creation of Gorkhaland, a stand which has helped in reaping rich electoral dividend for the saffron camp.
Landslides and road maintenance have plagued the hills and Banerjee’s attempts to upgrade infrastructure and administrative assistance have not yet fetched her election results she expected. This is the reason behind her well concealed sulk in the hills.
The chief minister’s tone and tenor are thus hurt but hopeful in north Bengal. On the other hand, during her campaign trail in south Bengal in her address over a mobile phone, she was unmistakably on her front foot talking at length about the benefits of her brain child projects and the people’s support which turned the tide in TMC’s favour when BJP was breathing down its neck.
The Trinamool chief may not be up and about nursing an injured limb. But the speeches of TMC de facto number two and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee as well as other leaders criss crossing the state being in identical vein of the supremo’s words are pointers that she has set the tone of Trinamool campaign for July 8 panchayat elections. (IPA Service)