Battleground Bengal: BJP’s poll bugle gets TMC, others on their toes

TMC's core strategists decided to launch a statewide youth mobilization drive, 'Banglar Yuva Shakti'

Mamata Banerjee
Nadda attacked the state's Mamata Banerjee government over its handling of the COVID-19 crisis | PTI File

Union Home Minister and BJP leader Amit Shah’s virtual ‘Jan Samvad’ rally for West Bengal on June 9, though was damp squib, had set the poll ball rolling, compelling other major parties in the state to switch to election mode.

Barely a few hours after Shah ended his address, Trinamool Congress strategists went into a huddle inside a south Kolkata flat owned by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee.

There, after hours of animated discussions navigated by ‘team PK’ (Prashant Kishor), the party’s core strategists decided to launch a statewide youth mobilization drive, ‘Banglar Yuva Shakti.’

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The decision, a party leader privy to the minutes of the closed-door meeting told The Federal, was inspired by the data analytic, compiled by team PK, of the response that Shah’s address received in the state.

Related news: Amit Shah flunks virtual test in Bengal with lesser than expected views

The social media numbers, the team tabled before the party think-tank, showed that the YouTube stream of the address could elicit only 29,000 views at the time of the commencement of the huddle in the evening. The viewership on Facebook was better, but the around 20 lakh views it elicited were way short of the respectable mark, considering that the BJP boasts of 47 lakh registered members in the state.

Even the TMC’s #BengalRejectsAmitShah out-trended by several thousands the BJP’s #BanglarJanSamabesh on Twitter.

One explanation cited for the dismal numbers was that the youth, who were gravitating towards the BJP even eight to nine months ago, are now drifting away. Team PK’s data analysts further pointed out that it was this segment which was vocal on social media throughout the day seeking justification for Shah’s digital show when the central government was not even able to provide train fare for the migrant labourers.

The figures convinced Abhishek Banerjee, the party’s heir apparent and the president of its youth front, about the need for an immediate statewide mobilisation drive to tap this disillusionment among the youth about the BJP.

But there was a catch.

The party chief, Mamata Banerjee, was not very keen on launching a political movement at this juncture when the state is battling a pandemic. She had earlier conveyed to the party leaders to attack the BJP for trying to politicise humanitarian crises.

Related news: Mamata’s biggest challenge is to stem rot in Trinamool Congress

“Even Abhishek was of the view that it would not be possible to convince his aunt to change her mind to launch any movement under the party banner,” the TMC leader said.

The stalemate, however, was not an option as the BJP has already set the agenda, sounding the poll bugle.

Last month, the BJP released a “nine-point charge-sheet” against the Mamata Banerjee government and even launched a social media drive christened “Aar Noi Mamata” (No more Mamata’s rule).

The saffron party is planning to conduct more than 1,000 virtual rallies across the state to take forward from where Shah has left.

In view of the BJP’s poll preparedness, all in the room, as well as Prashant Kishor, who attended the discussion via video conferencing (no, Kishor did not travel to Bengal as claimed by the BJP and some media outlets), were unanimous in their view that the party could not afford to give the BJP a free run, when assembly election is just eight to nine months away.

It was then that Abhishek Banerjee came up with the idea to float a parallel youth front, which could later be tagged to the party. To camouflage its political intent, the front has been designed as an outfit of youth volunteers to “help the people of Bengal during this time of crisis.”

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It was formally launched on June 11 with a target to enrol one lakh members by July 11. Until June 14, as many as 22,131 youth from the state’s 331 blocks and 273 towns and cities have registered to work as full-time youth volunteers.

Three committees at state, district and field levels have also been formed, comprising 28,000 Trinamool Youth Congress members, for the effective implementation of the initiatives.

Apart from this youth initiative, Trinamool Congress secretary general Partha Chatterjee also, in a succinct message, told the party’s district units and elected representatives to become active on social media as well as on the field within the parameters of social distancing norms.

The TMC leader said this was only a prelude to the series of campaigns, highlighting the state government’s achievements, which the party is planning to launch on July 21, observed by it as the “Martyrs’ Day.”

In its counter attack, the TMC has decided to hit the BJP where it hurts it the most — its much tom-tommed Gujarat model. The party’s IT cell has already started circulating videos and pictures of the alleged “mishandling” of the pandemic in Gujarat, while its senior leaders too, in their social media, interactions are seen trying to punch holes in the BJP’s most hyped model.

When the “Gujarat model” has come under attack, the CPI(M) is flaunting its Kerala model as it too is gearing up for the poll battle.

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It held a state committee meeting on June 11, wherein the party’s state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra told its comrades to increase their presence on the field as well as on social media.

As part of its nationwide protest on June 16, the party has lined up a slew of protest programmes across the state. In the meeting, Mishra said that this time, the movement would be “more expansive, more powerful.”

In its attempt to revive its electoral fortune, the party has started holding up Kerala and Vietnam models.

“In the fight against COVID-19 in the entire country, the model is Kerala. While in the entire world, the model is Vietnam. It’s clear that there is no alternative to the communists when it comes to standing by the people,” said senior CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty.

The Congress is the only major party in the state which is yet to be stirred by the BJP’s poll bugle.

“At this hour, our priority is not electioneering, but to provide succour to the people,” said leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, citing how his Delhi office was turned into a control room for the stranded migrant workers seeking to return home.

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