While the BJP clearly lacks a face, yet it has a reasonably better middle management than the TMC compared to the 2014 polls. The TMC surely has a leader, but not a middle management
In the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha results, both Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) – the two key contenders in the Bengal poll – are equally tense as both have sufficient disadvantages. One key disadvantage of the BJP is its lack of a leader to match Mamata Banerjee in the State. The leaders do not deny that they “urgently need” one strong face in West Bengal to counter Ms. Banerjee.
“(Narendra) Modi may have managed it for us against Mamata. But this would not be the case (in Assembly poll of 2021),” said a State leader of BJP. The BJP vote share came down from 17% in 2014 to 10% in the 2016 Assembly poll, perhaps because Mr. Modi did not take as much interest in Bengal’s local polls as the national one. The BJP leadership does not want a repeat.
While the saffron party clearly lacks a face, yet it has a reasonably better middle management than TMC compared to the 2014 election. The TMC surely has a leader but not a middle management.
“In one word, TMC’s middle management is made of a bunch of nincompoops, who cannot even highlight TMC’s good work properly like the welfare measures initiated by the Chief Minister,” said a north Bengal District Magistrate, considered to be close to the Chief Minister.
Scores of schemes – including the key conditional cash transfer scheme to school-going girls inspired by Bolsa Familia [Family Grant] introduced in Brazil in 2003 – have reached those who need government support to survive and grow. Independent international observers certified the model. Hence, this is an advantage for Ms. Banerjee, but the negatives galore may affect her.
A clear disadvantage for Ms. Banerjee, which is debated and discussed extensively, is the shift of Left’s votes to the right. While this shift has indeed taken place, largely owing to TMC’s suicidal strategy to decimate the Left, the extent of the damage would depend on the reduction of Left’s share of votes. If CPI-M’s 2014 share of 22.96 and 19.75 (2016 Assembly) drops below 10, TMC can start counting its days. Knowing that such a drop would eventually decimate the TMC, “they the (TMC) have now stopped slapping false cases on us over the last few months,” said Dohoreswar Sen, a very senior CPI-M leader in Jhargram.
TMC’s biggest disadvantage is perhaps its limited understanding – at every level of leadership – about the Sangh Parivar’s functioning and its relationship with the BJP. The network of RSS outfits, which were covertly operating in Bengal for many decades, came out in this election and put its weight behind the BJP which helped the saffron party immensely. TMC’s senior leaders acknowledged that they did not have “trained activists” to gather information and process it to resist the Sangh Parivar. Hence in order to resist the Sangh Parivar and the BJP, TMC targeted rivals indiscriminately which worked against the ruling party.
In addition, the party had to fight Mr. Modi, who invoked religion and nationalism, bypassing issues like unemployment or investment opportunities in the State. Mr. Modi never said a word about his policies to get investment in Bengal and rather focused almost in every speech on how he is going to isolate the Hindu refugee and offer them citizenship while marking infiltrators.
Ms. Banerjee had very little ammunition to counter an overtly religious and covertly anti-minority campaign and resorted to reciting mantras to welcome Goddess Durga. How much of it worked would be known in another 48 hours.
She neither could match the BJP’s massive resource mobilisation, which was never questioned by the Election Commission of India, and neither a parallel substructure of support created by BJP’s various cells, especially the Information Technology (IT) cell. The IT cell was way above the rest in production and delivery of content compared. The TMC could not match the BJP in dissemination of information, controlling eye balls.
Among other disadvantages, the TMC could not manage infighting in the party from State to Panchayat level. Large number of TMC leaders, even at Panchayat level, allegedly made “enormous money” which displeased voters, particularly in rural areas.
Biswanath Sarkar, a masseur, who lives in the suburbs, said that he availed “TMC’s transport to reach the booth but voted against the party” as he is upset with the “might and money” of local cadres and leaders. Political Scientist Sanjeeb Mukherjee said “lack of ideology is both strength and weakness” of TMC.
Mamata vs Modi
However, the party has two distinct advantages. One, it may not have a middle management – like the BJP – but has a leader unlike other parties. Ms. Banerjee is still the undisputed leader of the party in Bengal with no one in any other party to challenge her in the north to deep south. She, moreover, has emerged as a player at the national level by consistently challenging Mr. Modi over the last five years. This may have enhanced her national image, in turn rejuvenating cadres and perhaps a section of sizeable anti-BJP electors in the State. While CPI-M’s vote would generally move to the BJP, it may also, partially, go to TMC.
Finally, TMC could be the only party to engage a dozen young women and men to manage each of States’ 77,000 booths. “It would require 77,000 young activists, which no party has,” said a senior TMC leader, considering booth management is singularly the most important event of the election in Bengal, unlike in many other States. The Vidyasagar statue demolition may also have added to BJP’s woes more than TMC’s.
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