TMC chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee during an interaction with media in Kolkata on Sunday, May 2. (PTI)
TMC chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee during an interaction with media in Kolkata on Sunday, May 2. (PTI)

How TMC pulled off a massive win against formidable BJP

TMC successfully used a combination of Asmita, messaging about successful delivery of welfare schemes and a strategic campaign against anti-incumbency to defeat a formidable campaign launched by the BJP, according to party members and election strategists involved in the campaign
By Sunetra Choudhury
UPDATED ON MAY 03, 2021 10:13 AM IST

When Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat winning successive elections from 2002 to 2012, there was a buzzword that was credited with every win -- “Gujarati Asmita or Gujarati Pride”. That same word has now emerged in Bengal, only this time, it is being cited by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP’s) rivals as the secret formula for their success. Trinamool Congress (TMC) successfully used a combination of Asmita, messaging about successful delivery of welfare schemes and a strategic campaign against anti-incumbency to defeat a formidable campaign launched by the BJP, according to party members and election strategists involved in the campaign.

“It was a matter of Bengalis’ self-respect or asmita,’’ said TMC Member of Parliament and key strategist Saugata Roy. “We pitched it as a fight between outsiders and Bengal’s own daughter. After all, all the people that the BJP brought in were all from outside and this touched a chord with the people. They weren’t going to vote for outsiders.’’ Every time the BJP shouted Didi vs Dada (Modi) or called her Pishi (aunt), the TMC’s messaging drove home the idea of outsiders taking over Bengal.

This theme was at the heart of their slogan -- Banglar nijer mei ke chayi ( Bengal wants its own daughter) . For the TMC, it captured the spirit of their messaging that centred around the popularity of their chief minister. And there was no argument by strategists such as Prashant Kishor about the popularity of the plain cotton sari-wearing chief minister, there was an acknowledgement that her legislators had not delivered or kept up with Bengal’s promises of welfare schemes or in the case of Amphan cyclone, relief delivery.

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So the second strategy was to get rid of the deadwood. “We decided that we had to get rid of at least 10% of sitting MLAs,’’ said Pratik Jain of IPAC, an associate of Kishor. They dropped 27 MLAs out of the 211 they had, three of them ministers.This obviously didn’t go down well with many leaders, leading to some changing camps to the BJP, but it seems to have paid off in the long run. But countering anti-incumbency was a two-pronged campaign and just getting rid of non-performers wasn’t going to be enough.

“The government launched two programmes. One was Didi ke Bolo (Talk to Didi) and the other, which was very popular, was Duar-e-Sarkar or ‘Government at your door’,’’ said Jain. Both Roy and Jain say that these programmes launched well in time gave an opportunity to not just hear grievances -- like cut-money -- but also gave the government time to fix things.

But, there was more messaging required. According to Kishor, one of the key tactics that the BJP employs is intimidating by sheer volume, by hype. And the TMC needed to counter that with an appropriate message and that’s where they came up with the slogan - Khela Hobe (let the games begin). “It was our way of telling our cadres that okay, if they want to bring their thunder, let them. We are ready,’’ said Jain. PM Modi tried to attack the CM on this aspect, accusing her of trivialising the problems of the people. But in the end, it seems Bengalis bought TMC’s idea and voted for Didi. In her winning speech, Mamata acknowledged the line.

“I knew from the exit polls that they can’t be right,’’ said Kishor of the tight margin that was indicated in Saturday’s predictions. “Bengal has always voted decisively and this time was no different.’’

But the BJP has a different take, seeing this as a pit stop on the road to success, ‘’The BJP in Bengal, when it set itself a target of 200, displayed audacity of ambition. An ambition that gave the electorate confidence, unnerved opponents (political and ideological), an ambition that drove us to do more. We may not have finished first but this is a good start,’’ said the co-incharge of the state Amit Malviya.

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