By Uday Basu
The fifth phase Assembly polling on April 17 will be held in the backdrop of firing by Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) at Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar during polling in the fourth phase killing four persons and an "explosive" interview to a cross-section of the media by the Trinamool Congress poll strategist Prashant Kishor. A new propaganda war has now started between the ruling Trinamool and its principal challenger the BJP. It is a battle of perceptions that is going to influence this phase in which the fate of 45 seats spread across north and south Bengal will be decided.
The electoral discourse has suddenly shifted into a new gear after the BJP’s aggressive campaign during the first four phases of polling that the Trinamool is way behind it going by the massive turnout and voting patterns. So much so that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP’s mascot, told the electorate in rally after rally during the past few days that the Trinamool has been “clean bowled” in the first four phases and the BJP has already “scored a century” meaning it has won 100 of the 135 seats where polling has, so far, been held.
The repeated claims by top BJP leaders, including its biggest catch, former Trinamool minister and Mamata Banerjee’s trusted lieutenant Subhendu Adhikari, that Trinamool has been “wiped out” in the first four phases have a stunning effect on ruling party cadres and supporters. Their morale sagged further when their party supremo Mamata Banerjee kept urging the voters at election rallies to make sure that the Trinamool wins 200 seats, or else the party may not be able to make it this time. Her logic is there are still many “gaddars” (betrayers) in the party who are only biding their time before they are “bought” by the BJP. Unless the Trinamool gets 200 seats, its chance of forming the government may be scuttled by the “betrayers” who would join the BJP bandwagon.
There is widespread speculation that if the BJP fails to chalk up the magic number - 148 seats -, it will resort to horse-trading splitting the Trinamool and the Left-Congress-Indian Secular Front alliance. This is the ploy perceived to have been used by the BJP in other states as well in recent times. Mamata Banerjee’s appeal to the voters to ensure the party’s victory in 200 seats has created the impression that even the Trinamool chief is anticipating such an eventuality. In fact, such a possibility is now part of the political discourse in the entire state.
At this stage the whole narrative has been steered into a different direction when Trinamool poll strategist Prashant Kishor (PK) engaged in a candid chat on the social media App Clubhouse in which he described the BJP as a “formidable force” and predicted better results for it. He heaped praise on Narendra Modi for his ability to attract the people far more than any other leader, though he said Mamata Banerjee is still the most favourite leader in Bengal.
The BJP immediately lapped up the chat, shared clips of the conversation and said PK had virtually conceded defeat. He listed factors favouring the BJP in the state polls. Initially, it was claimed that the video was “leaked” as if a secret conversation was going on and PK was caught off guard.
But, PK himself later clarified to several media outlets that there was no question of the video having been leaked since what he had stated was nothing secret and he had not “conceded” defeat. He accused the BJP of circulating a doctored version of his chat and quoting him out of context.
He then rolled out a new narrative to counter the BJP’s claim of having won 100 seats in the first four phases alone. He used a cricketing analogy to explain the rationale of his poll strategy to give the Devil his due. He asked if the captain of Indian cricketing team praises his Australian opponent and mentions its strong points, will it be construed as an admission of defeat ?
On the contrary, he asserted a good strategist would take stock of the strength and weakness of his opponent and then marshal his forces accordingly to score victory. He has done exactly that. He has analysed the areas of the BJP’s strength and his conclusion is its tally will not cross the 100 mark. If it does, he will quit his profession of formulating electoral strategy for political parties across the whole spectrum and rejoin politics.
In fact, PK has now trapped the BJP by letting it go viral with his chat. This has given him the opportunity to present the Trinamool’s case like a professional strategist rather than as a politician whose words are taken by the voters with tons of salt. In an attempt to boost the morale of Trinamool supporters he punctures the BJP's claim of having already got 100 seats and predicts it won't touch the number even after polling in all the 294 seats is over.
"The 40 per cent votes (the BJP’s share in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll in Bengal winning 18 of 42 seats) that the BJP is getting is because of the Prime Minister's popularity, polarization and the support of Dalits and those of Hindi-speaking people. The BJP is powerful but it can also lose the election. There is a lot of difference between being powerful and winning the election. The Trinamool is far more powerful and its vote share will be more than 45 per cent, so it will win decisively," he declared.
Polling in the remaining four phases will show which of the two perceptions being created by the BJP and the Trinamool has won the day.
(The author is a Political Analyst, associated with Peoples Pulse, Political Research Organization. He can be reached at email@example.com)