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Pre-election prep: Didi Ke Bolo and Constituency Manifestos
After a stinging defeat in the Lok Sabha polls, Trinamool Congress immediately roped in political statregist Prashant Kishor to map out damage control tactics. Under Kishor’s guidance, TMC approached the by-polls with a two-pronged strategy.
First, TMC started the “Didi ke Bolo” outreach programme which included a helpline number Bengalis could call to talk about their concerns. More than 250 party workers were engaged to ensure every grievance/suggestion reached separate buckets for all the government schemes for people and multiple trackers for each to keep an eye on how many issues have been resolved and the time taken. As a senior TMC leader told News18, “With the Didi Ke Bolo campaign, we managed to understand basic problems faced by the people at the grassroots level.”
Second, TMC chose to run campaigns specific to every constituency. Political tickets were given to local leaders instead of the party’s big names. Senior leaders like Rajib Banerjee and Suvendu Adhikari were tasked with garnering support for the party with area level “micro campaigns.”
TMC then prepared constituency-specific manifestos on the basis of information, complaints and demands collected from local people through the Didike Bolo helpline. Concerns over NRC and citizenship were specifically addressed.
The TMC’s win in the three crucial assembly seats—Karimpur, Kaliaganj and Kharagpur Sadar— is a clear indication that the party’s efforts to retrieve its political ground in their state bore fruit.
Post-election: Doubling down on anti-NRC rhetoric
Telegraph India reported that the Trinamool Congress has decided to continue with its campaign against the NRC and play the development card to stem the erosion of the party’s support base, bolstered by its victory in three Assembly bypolls. After the party’s dual strategy of highlighting the NRC issue and organising on ground micro campaigns worked for the bypolls, TMC appears to be using the same strategy in north Bengal, it noted.
Since the bye-election, TMC heavyweights like Gautam Deb, Suvendu Adhikari, and Mausam Benazir Noor have made public appearances to speak out quell concerns on the NRC being applied in West Bengal.
Bengal tourism minister Gautam Deb held a meeting with residents of his Dabgram-Fulbari constituency on December 1 so as to appeal to them to stay calm over the NRC. Speaking to the people of Ashighar and Ghogomali, Deb said, “We will reach out to every resident living in and around Siliguri and tell them that we will never allow the BJP or the Centre to carry out the NRC in Bengal.”
In efforts to revive Trinamool’s support base, Deb had also held an administrative meeting a day before this meeting so as to review the progress of different government projects and schemes in his constituency. The Telegraph reported that the BJP has led in his Assembly segment by over 80,000 votes in the last Lok Sabha elections.
Transport minister and senior Trinamool leader Suvendu Adhikari spoke on similar lines on December 1 at a meeting in Kaliaganj convened by the party, The Telegraph reported.
Adhikari thanked voters and party supporters with folded hands while passing clear instructions to the workers. “You should not discriminate against people who didn’t vote for Trinamool. You have to ensure that all eligible people availed themselves of the state’s welfare schemes. This attitude would help you win the support of more people,” Adhikari told Trinamool workers.
On November 1, Trinamool chief Mausam Benazir Noor said in a leaders’ meeting, “We will conduct relay rallies against the NRC in all blocks of the district from December 9 to 11. After the rallies, there will be a public meeting in Malda on December 12 where state leaders would be present,” Noor said after the meeting.
BJP wising up
The Bharatiya Janata Party does appear to have come to terms with the anti-NRC rhetoric issue being the cause of their loss.
The saffron party first used the NRC as a major issue during the campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal. The TMC managed to turn the issue on its head by pointing to how two million people Hindu Bengalis were excluded from the provisional NRC. This helped them regain the Hindu vote. For example, the people from Talbagicha colony, a predominantly Hindu refugee colony that was set up in 1951, switched allegiances from BJP to TMC six months after they voted for BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, reported Times of India.
Despite BJP’s attempts to quell these concerns of their Hindu voter base with claims of the citizenship amendment bill acting a saffron filter that would protect them, the results speak for themselves.
As Scroll.in notes, the West Bengal unit of the BJP has practically dropped the NRC as a campaign topic. “NRC is no longer an issue for us in West Bengal,” said state BJP president Dilip Ghosh. “We have never made it an issue,” he said.
To move from having the NRC cause in the Lok Sabha manifesto to this stance goes to show the party has learnt the need to address it with more tact.
Ghosh said the TMC misled the people of the state on the issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC). “Once the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is passed in the Parliament, all doubts over NRC would cease to exist,” he added.