The poll strate­gist’s re­vival plans for Tri­namool Congress rub party lead­ers, state of­fi­cials the wrong way

India Today - - STATES - By Romita Datta

Poll strate­gist Prashant Kishor is hav­ing a hard time with his new clients, Tri­namool Congress. Kishor was drafted to re­vive the party’s fortunes af­ter its re­verses in the Lok Sabha elec­tion at the hands of the BJP. TMC lead­ers are up­set that an out­sider is telling them what to do, where to go and whom to meet. Kishor has re­port­edly been is­su­ing “dik­tats” to party leg­is­la­tors to spend nights at con­stituents’ homes to gauge the mood of the elec­torate.

“A novice in Bengal pol­i­tics is telling us where to go, what

to do and how to take care of our con­stituen­cies,” says a se­nior TMC leader from South 24 Par­ganas, on con­di­tion of anonymity. “[Kishor is] se­lect­ing a few peo­ple based on his sur­veys, and in­struct­ing us to visit them.”

Kishor has put together a 650-mem­ber team to tour Bengal and iden­tify the rea­sons for the peo­ple’s dis­en­chant­ment with the TMC. Party lead­ers have been asked to visit ag­grieved vot­ers and bring them around. But that hasn’t gone to plan. “Tourism min­is­ter Goutam Deb paid a visit,” says Shankar Bag of

Phapri vil­lage near Silig­uri. “He stayed with us [for a night], had tea, did yoga, lis­tened to our griev­ances about pro­mot­ers forcing us to sell land—that was it. There was no follow-up.” North Bengal de­vel­op­ment min­is­ter Rabindrana­th Ghosh could barely spend 30 min­utes at each stop Kishor’s team had rec­om­mended. ‘Jai Shri Ram’-shout­ing mobs forced him to beat a hasty re­treat.

Some TMC lead­ers are lim­it­ing their en­gage­ment with con­stituents to photo-ops—vis­it­ing des­ig­nated vil­lages, getting pho­tographed and leav­ing. The pho­tos make way to Kishor’s team for use on social me­dia. “Kishor made it dif­fi­cult for us with cam­paigns like ‘Re­fund cut-money’ and ‘Didi ke Bolo’,” com­plains a TMC leader from Bankura. “Peo­ple are hound­ing us like we are thieves.”

To be fair, Kishor has quite a task at hand. Hav­ing se­cured a 40 per cent vote share and 18 of the 42 seats in the Lok Sabha elec­tion— just four less than the TMC—the BJP has emerged as the pri­mary chal­lenger to Ma­mata in the 2021 state assem­bly poll. Kishor’s prob­lem is com­pounded by the fact that he was put on the job by Ab­hishek Ban­er­jee, Ma­mata’s nephew—a fairly un­pop­u­lar fig­ure in the party. “Kishor’s en­try has made the par­al­lel power cen­tres in the party all the more ap­par­ent,” says a se­nior TMC leader.

Biswanath Chakrabart­y, pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Rabindra Bharati Univer­sity, says it is one thing to launch an outreach and quite an­other to re­gain vot­ers’ trust. “Peo­ple re­alise that the changes in Ma­mata, such as her vis­its to slums or her mak­ing tea at tea stalls, are scripted,” he says. “Per­haps they see these as des­per­ate sur­vival tactics.” TMC spokesper­son Partha Chat­ter­jee, how­ever, in­sists Kishor’s in­flu­ence is re­stricted to party lead­ers. “Ma­mata Ban­er­jee has been a brand for decades. She does not need to change or im­prove [her po­lit­i­cal strat­egy],” he says.

Kishor has also been in­ter­ven­ing in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of social wel­fare schemes. Three bureau­crats from the chief min­is­ter’s of­fice, re­spon­si­ble for the griev­ance mon­i­tor­ing cell, have been trans­ferred, al­legedly over dif­fer­ences with him. Bureau­crats are be­ing prod­ded to ad­dress complaints re­ceived un­der the ‘Didi ke Bolo’ ini­tia­tive. Since its launch in July, the helpline has got over 0.4 mil­lion griev­ances, of which only 750 have been ad­dressed. This, when Rs 6.6 lakh was spent till Au­gust on ads for the ‘Didi ke Bolo’ Face­book page and Rs 1.25 lakh on the ‘Amar Gorbo Ma­mata (Ma­mata, my pride)’ page. “It al­most seems as if an out­sourced agency is using the gov­ern­ment plat­form to pro­mote it­self as the de­liv­erer,” says a prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary.

Al­ready, three mem­bers of Kishor’s team have com­plained of non-co­op­er­a­tion from TMC lead­ers and ex­pressed their de­sire to quit. Worse, ac­cord­ing to team in­sid­ers, an internal sur­vey sug­gests the like­li­hood of the TMC per­form­ing poorly in the next assem­bly poll. Kishor’s team has, till now, worked with op­po­si­tion par­ties that ben­e­fit from an­ti­in­cum­bency. This time, his team finds it­self fight­ing against the cur­rent.


IN A DILEMMA Ma­mata Ban­er­jee

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