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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Why Mamata Banerjee needs an image makeover | Opinion

It’s the biggest public relation exercise since Mamata Banerjee swept the 34-year-old and seemingly invincible Left Front regime out of power in Bengal in May 2011.

india Updated: Aug 04, 2019 18:19 IST
Avijit Ghosal
Avijit Ghosal
Kolkata
Kolkata, India - July 29, 2019: Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee addresses the media before her meeting with MLAs and 1000 TMC leaders at Nazrul Mancha, in Kolkata, West Bengal
Kolkata, India - July 29, 2019: Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee addresses the media before her meeting with MLAs and 1000 TMC leaders at Nazrul Mancha, in Kolkata, West Bengal(Samir Jana/HT Photo)
         

‘Didike Bolo’ (Tell Didi) is the new whisper in Bengal. From giant hoardings across Kolkata and beyond, a smiling visage of chief minister Mamata Banerjee is asking people to telephone her to vent grievances or offer any advice that they might have. Didi is also poking citizens in the cyber world.

It’s the biggest public relation exercise since Mamata Banerjee swept the 34-year-old and seemingly invincible Left Front regime out of power in Bengal in May 2011. The moot question: will Mamata Banerjee’s attempt to rebuild her image work?

Analysts point out that the very fact that Mamata Banerjee, who founded her party on grassroots politics, had to undertake an image building exercise, is a sad indicator to the ground slipping under her feet – something that is more than evident in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s seats in Bengal rising nine-fold to 18 from 2 in 2014.

Ironically, from the name of the party, its logo, slogan Ma Mati Manush, to the way Mamata Banerjee chose her words, diction, attire, food and conducted her lifestyle – Trinamool Congress had everything geared towards establishing a firm connect with the people at the grassroots level.

“Mamata Banerjee had to go for an image makeover since the party’s image was badly tainted due to corruption and extortion at various levels, and the BJP successfully used it during the election campaign,” said Biswanath Chakraborty, professor of political science and Rabindra Bharati University.

Political analyst Amal Mukhopadhyay felt that by repeatedly referring to tolabaji (extortion) during the campaign Amit Shah and Narendra Modi succeeded in triggering an anti-TMC wave. Mamata Banerjee realised it late and is now desperately trying an image makeover mission.

Observers have pointed out to various factors such as extortion (famously described by Didi as ‘cut money’) by ruling party leaders, high-handedness of local leaders in the districts, denying a large section of the people the right to vote in the 2018 panchayat elections, have sullied the image of Mamata Banerjee.

Though ‘Didike Bolo’, crafted by election strategist Prashant Kishor, was unveiled on Monday, the chief minister has been trying an image makeover on other fora too.

One of the fiercest critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah who would not even hesitate to launch personal attacks, Mamata Banerjee has almost stopped slamming them and other BJP leaders in public.

Opposition leaders such as Congress legislators Abdul Mannan, Manoj Chakraborty and Left MLA Sujan Chakraborty acknowledge that she attended the Assembly and answered opposition questions regularly in July, something that she never did since 2011.

In June, Mamata Banerjee announced a monitoring cell for implementation of government welfare schemes and redressal of public grievances. Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim, too, started a weekly conversation with the citizens of Kolkata once a week.

Most significantly, pointed out former Union culture secretary and Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sirkar, Hakim has asked the people (read Muslims) to observe Eid responsibly. “The message is clear – TMC does not want the sentiments of the majority community to be hurt,” said Sircar.

Will the chief minister’s attempts work?

Opinion is divided, though everyone reckons that Mamata Banerjee faces an uphill task, and some think that trying for an image makeover now may be too little too late.

BJP leaders such as Kailash Vijayvargiya have already said that the chief minister is trying to wear a clean image and sacrificing that of her party leaders.

Former Presidency College principal Amal Mukhopadhyay thinks her crusade against cut-money would not be an effective one. “I doubt if TMC can rebuild its image. People have seen senior party leaders accepting cash in the Narada tapes. Since Mamata Banejee has not taken any action against them, and has rewarded them in various ways, she will not be able to convince the people that she is a crusader against corruption.”

Sircar, however, thinks, though the TMC has woken up late to the power of social media, the party may be able to tap its potential.