In battleground Bengal, data becomes key weapon for BJP, TMC
The campaign for next year’s assembly election in West Bengal is witnessing for the first time a more focused battle in which data is the principal weapon as the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP spar on social media.
In their extensive social media campaigns, the parties are dishing out statistics, videos and photographs to counter each other’s claims on sector-wise development and social welfare measures. In the past, only the Communist Party of India (Marxist) focused on statistics in poll campaigns but social media was in its infancy when the party was in power.
“The data war intensified about two weeks ago when Amit Malviya, head of the BJP’s national information and technology (IT) cell, was given additional charge of Bengal by Union home minister Amit Shah and party president J P Nadda,” said a senior state BJP leader who did not want to be named.
“IT cell members compiling data and experts in the multimedia teams have their hands full. Current and old recordings of speeches of chief minister Mamata Banerjee and senior TMC leaders are being played back and forth so that short clips can be made out of selected portions and used with data in social media posts. These have an impact on people,” the leader added.
The TMC, on the other hand, is focusing on statistics not only on social media but at special press conferences being held every afternoon for the last two weeks.
“Unlike Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we are open to questions. A senior MP or minister focuses on a specific area and speaks for 20 minutes. This is followed by a 15-20 minute interactive session with journalists. We will do this till Mamata Banerjee completes her third term in office,” Derek O’Brien, TMC Rajya Sabha member and national spokesperson told HT.
O’Brien is also leading the TMC’s data war on social media.
“Mitron, Modi-Shah and their tourist gang are photo-op know-alls in Bengal. But data shows how BJP’s governance is anti-Dalit. 2019 saw 62% increase in deaths due to manual scavenging (Swachh Bharat?!) States with highest deaths 2019: UP: 21, Maharashtra: 17, Gujarat: 16.” O’Brien tweeted on Tuesday. The Dalit vote bank, incidentally, is crucial for the BJP in Bengal.
On November 27, Abhishek Banerjee, Lok Sabha member and Mamata Banerjee’s nephew targeted the Prime Minister with a tweet comparing the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat healthcare scheme with the state’s Swasthya Sathi programme. He posted a chart showing that while the entire cost of treatment is borne by the Bengal government the Centre bears only 60 % under Ayushman Bharat.
“It is indeed high time that @narendramodi ji starts taking governance lessons from @MamataOfficial!...” tweeted the young TMC leader.
The BJP quickly posted a counter tweet, referring to him as bhaipo (nephew in Bengali) and the chief minister as pishi (aunt in Bengali).
“Will Bhaipo explain to people of Bengal why he and Pishi opt to get treated at a multispeciality hospital that has refused to come under Swasthya Sathi? Or is it that Bengal’s poor don’t deserve to get treated at Kolkata’s top hospitals under Pishi’s scheme?” the BJP tweeted.
Incidentally, Malviya refers to Mamata Banerjee as pishi in almost all his tweets even if they are not related to Abhishek Banerjee.
“Election campaign and media outreach programmes are intertwined. Social media posts are necessary for remaining in focus all the time. It is not that these will increase vote share but some posts get tremendous response. Malviya’s tweet on Tuesday on Bengal’s debt burden is a good example. I got calls from two media houses,” said BJP state vice-president Jay Prakash Majumdar.
O’Brien, however, did not want to link the posts to the polls.
“We are not into this campaign for the elections or counter the BJP’s fake posts. Our intention is to focus on the positive aspects of governance. The BJP leaders camping in Bengal are tourists. They will enjoy local vegetarian food for five months and leave. We will win the elections,” said O’Brien.
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