With less than a year to go before West Bengal assembly polls, the political face-off between the ruling TMC and its principal challenger BJP is set to get intense, with both the parties pulling out all the stops to connect with people in virtual space amid the lockdown.
Given the unrelenting rise in coronavirus cases, physical distancing and minimal human contact have become the new norm everywhere, leaving the arch-rivals of Bengal politics to bank on social media for garnering support.
The BJP and the TMC, which have been blaming each other over the handling of the COVID-19 situation, migrant workers’ plight and cyclone Amphan, are all set to launch a blitzkrieg on various virtual platforms, tearing into each other over these issues. The TMC was first off the block with its supremo Mamata Banerjee holding a virtual meeting with functionaries and public representatives on June 5, outlining the party strategy for the polls.
The Bengal BJP will take the plunge on June 9, with Union Home Minister and senior BJP leader Amit Shah kicking off a virtual rally. West Bengal BJP president and MP Dilip Ghosh said it was important to prepare a plan of action to highlight the poor governance of the TMC-led dispensation, as well as to reach out to the netizens.
“We can very well say that Amit Shah, will launch the virtual campaign for the 2021 assembly polls. Due to COVID, it is not possible to organize rallies or mass gatherings. So we are resorting to social media campaigns to connect with the people and highlight the TMC’s poor governance in the state. COVID and cyclone Amphan will be the major poll planks for the next year”s polls,” Mr Ghosh said,
The BJP, which had last week released a “nine-point charge-sheet” against Mamata Banerjee’s rule of as many years, has recently floated a social media drive christened “Aar Noi Mamata” (no longer Mamata Banderjee’s rule).
According to state BJP sources, the party is planning to conduct more than 1,000 virtual rallies, covering every nook and corner of the state.
“As cadres have been sitting at home for the past two months, these virtual rallies and online programmes will motivate them and boost their morale. We will organize such rallies, with our state and district leaders addressing people across Bengal. The cadres will send out messages and videos over Whatsapp highlighting the failures of the state government in resolving migrant crisis,” the BJP leader said.
The TMC government, which had been facing flak over alleged mismanagement of the COVID situation and delay in restoration work post-Cyclone Amphan, has also launched a massive drive last week, with public representatives in their assembly constituencies conducting virtual meetings.
Senior state minister and TMC leader Firhad Hakim said the party would have to effectively counter the BJP”s propaganda, and its “practice of peddling fake news”, while highlighting the “excellent work of our government over the past nine years.
“Mamatadi had asked us to make preparations for 2021 assembly polls, without further delay. We have been asked to promote the achievements of the state government and the failures of the Union government in tackling the COVID situation and migrant workers” crisis, despite the unplanned lockdown,” Mr Hakim said.
The party will draw people’s attention to the state government’s recent move to transfer Rs 20,000 to the bank accounts of each of the five lakh families affected by the cyclone, and the assurance of an additional Rs 28,000 to them under the MNREGA scheme.
The TMC’s online team has been circulating videos and pictures of the apparent “mishandling” of the pandemic in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
According to TMC sources, Banerjee has also instructed district-level leaders to start door-to-door campaigns in adherence to social distancing norms, while emphasizing on the importance of maintaining transparency at the grassroots.
“In the post-COVID world, the campaigns will no longer be the same. The thrust will be more on online initiatives,” a TMC leader said.
The opposition CPI(M) and Congress, however, slammed both the parties for shifting focus to poll campaigns, amid the “insurmountable” crises.
It is a wonder how the two parties can talk about “political campaigns at this hour, when thousands of hapless people are still waiting for relief”, a CPI(M) leader said.