Brand Mamata takes centre stage as TMC begins its West Bengal campaign

Some TMC leaders feel this campaign will put all doubts at the local level to rest and reassert Banerjee’s supremacy in the party.
In the run-up to the West Bengal Assembly elections, the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has embarked on the Banglar Gorbo Mamata campaign, calling Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee the “pride” of the state.

Across 294 Assembly constituencies, party strongmen and TMC legislators are rolling out posters and billboards highlighting how Banerjee brought the state on the track of development. Her staunch opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is also part of this ‘Brand Mamata’ exercise.

However, why did the TMC, which earlier relied on catchy and inclusive phrases like Poriborton (change), choose to put Banerjee’s name in the front and centre of its campaign strategy? Some party insiders feel it is not only to reassert her supremacy across party ranks, but also give a clear message that only she can lead West Bengal’s resurgence.

Since the TMC was founded by Banerjee and her allies like Subrata Mukherjee in 1998, she not only led from the front, but also managed local committees. But, years of expansion and inclusion of leaders from other parties have led to serious infighting. Besides, some party leaders have become immensely popular in certain constituencies and managed to secure a personal following. 

Some TMC leaders feel this campaign will put all doubts at the local level to rest and reassert Banerjee’s supremacy in the party.

A few party veterans feel the Banglar Gorbo Mamata campaign will highlight Banerjee’s legacy — she ended the Left Front’s 34-year rule in the state, democratically destroyed the Communists and Socialists at the grassroots, led the movement against demonetisation, and also emerged as the fiercest critic of the amended citizenship Act.

This, political observer Biswanath Chakraborty says, puts the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the backfoot. The party has no state leader to match or even challenge Banerjee’s charisma. 

“Though the BJP has a state president, all party workers may not agree or listen to him. This has put the BJP in a state of (leadership) crisis. On the other hand, the TMC’s campaign and slogan portray a strong leadership,” he said. Chakraborty feels Banglar Gorbo Mamata is the reflection of a charismatic personality in which the leader supersedes the party and acquires a “larger-than-life” image.

Banerjee, of late, is part of several TMC posters figuring Bengali icons like Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Michael Madhusudan Dutta. 

The Left Front was quick to hit out at the TMC for the campaign. “The attempt of calling Mamata Banerjee the pride of Bengal is a narcissist approach. It is disrespectful towards our icons — from Vidyasagar to Rabindranath, Netaji, and others. It’s an insult to the rich legacy and culture of Bengal,” said Sujan Chakra­borty, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader.

The BJP, which after the panchayat elections in 2016 came to be regarded as the main Opposition in the state, too, is expected to leave no stone unturned to attack the Brand Mamata. “Aar Noy Anyay (no more injustice)” — the BJP’s campaign for West Bengal — is all set target Banerjee’s image. 

BJP leaders said their slogan drew inspiration from the repeated allegations of corruption, violence, and lawlessness in West Bengal.  The BJP’s West Bengal unit has been posting images of its “dead party workers” on social media and blaming the TMC for their demise. Its West Bengal unit president, Dilip Ghosh, the face of the party in the state, has been attacking the chief minister over corruption and nepotism.

Although in terms of seats, the BJP has a minuscule presence — three members in the Assembly against 211 MLAs of the TMC — it has emerged as the primary challenger.

In the 2016 state election, the BJP had a vote share of 10.16 per cent, while the TMC enjoyed a 44.91 per cent vote share. But, in the 2019 General Election, the BJP bagged 40.25 per cent of the votes, narrowly behind the TMC, which secured 43.28 per cent. 

After the General Election results, which came as an eye-opener for Banerjee, the TMC signed in political strategist Prashant Kishor to help formulate its poll strategy, reorganised the party, and launched an outreach programme for the masses — Didi Ke Bolo (Tell your Didi), whereby the common folk can tell the chief minister their problems and concerns to get them addressed. 

In a major self-assessment exercise, before Banerjee runs again for the chief ministerial post, the TMC not only needs to be sure of its victory but also needs to run a fact-check on its leaders. And, this has led the rollout of barcoded invitation cards for party leaders.

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