This Article is From Aug 01, 2019

Mamata Banerjee Minus Mercurial Is Prashant Kishor's Strategy For 2021

"Get out of election mode. Get out of war mode. Return to peace and do your job: govern," that is Prashant Kishor's message to Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress.

The last time Mamata Banerjee reacted furiously Jai Shri Ram slogan was on 30 May


  • Mamata Banerjee is believed to be willing to give it a try
  • "Get out of war mode": Prashant Kishor's message to Trinamool Congress
  • Trinamool leaders, at least some, taken aback by that

A three-stop mantra for Mamata Banerjee - stop getting angry, stop taking communal divides, stop fighting the BJP. This is the strategy emerging for the Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister days after poll strategist group IPAC, steered by Prashant Kishor, made a low profile on the Bengal scene. And Ms Banerjee is believed to be willing to give it a try. 

Both the Trinamool Congress and IPAC know the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not fade away by the time the 2021 Assembly elections in Bengal come along.

It will be a big fight. 

"An almost Indira Gandhi-like charisma of Narendra Modi. Plus a Left party-like cadre base of BJP. Versus one solitary woman" - That's how the party and the poll strategists are viewing 2021 state elections.

But before that Kurukshetra comes along, it is coaching Trinamool to pick its fights. 

"We all know the chief minister shouldn't have reacted the way she did to "Jai Shri Ram". The problem is, who will tell her? We have," say sources. 

Indeed, the last time Ms Banerjee reacted furiously to the slogan was on May 30. 

"Get out of election mode. Get out of war mode. Return to peace and do your job: Govern" - that is Prashant Kishor's message to the Trinamool. 

Trinamool leaders, at least some, were taken aback by that, given most had never quite emerged from the poll 2019 mode. 

Some Trinamool leaders privately feel Mr Kishor and his team know nothing of Bengal and its politics which, they is very different from Andhra Pradesh and Bihar where IPAC have had stellar success.  

But many others are willing to wait and watch. On Monday, the day she launched the 'Didi Ke Bolo' or DBK campaign, she was restrained when asked about the case of the Unnao rape survivor.

"We expected her to attack the prime minister in her usual angry style. But you must have noticed that while condemning the incident strongly, she ended with an appeal to the prime minister to intervene," a Trinamool leader present at the media interaction remarked. 

Even over the death of the Cafe Coffee Day founder VG Siddhartha, Ms Banerjee was critical of the government at the centre but put out her "thoughts" first on social media and stuck to script when later speaking to the media about it. 

"She was not her aggressive self. Her statement was definitely pointed but also tempered," an observer said. 

With Mamata Banejree's anger management on track, the poll strategists - who abhor the term spin doctors - plan to use every trick in the book to prepare a fightback. 

Distraction, diversion, deflection, discipline and, yes, Dial A Didi.

Since its launch, "Didi Ke Bolo" has changed the discourse in the state, claim, from cut money and Jai Shri Ram to Mamata Banerjee's new campaign. The BJP has called it a gimmick but have had to shift from their old barbs to new.

BJP's Shivraj Singh Chouhan, former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, said, there's no point calling Didi, call PM Modi instead.  

The basic strategy, say sources, is to get the Trinamool to set the agenda and not be driven by BJP's.

Didi Ke Bolo's target is to reach 50 lakh people in the next 20 months. It is expected to provide rich data on what voters want and don't want - data on performance of the government and the administration and the Trinamool party. 

"That data will be turned into 10-15 actionable buckets. We gave Bihar's Nitish Kumar seven actionable points, Jagan (Mohan Reddy) nine," sources said.  

For doubters, this may all sounds straight out of a book potentially labeled 'Poll Management For Dummies'. 

But neither Mr Kishor nor his client, as it were, Mamata Banerjee is a political novice. She slayed the Red Dragon. He gave India its second BJP Prime Minister. 

Mamata Banerjee's meteoric rise to power is history. 43-year-old Prashant Kishor's, much more opaque. 

A doctor's son who grew up in Buxar, Bihar, he began his career with anti-polio advocacy, went to the United Nations for a decade, spent five of those 10 years in West Africa to return to India in 2012 and a brand new career: Steer the Modi campaign.   

Team PK has more successes than failures under its belt today. And they are not looking at Bengal through rose-coloured glasses. With the BJP jumping from two seats to 18 in the last polls, there is no question that the BJP's inroad into Bengal is significant.

It is studying factors that pushed the door wide open for the BJP.    

"BJP entered Bengal by constant messaging about Hindus and Muslims. The more they talked of polarization, the more polarized the state got. BJP pushed the communal drawing rooms, into families. Stop talking communal," it has advised, say sources.  

At the moment, Team PK - short for Indian Political Action Committee or IPAC - is in the process of hiring 1,000 people in the state for Project Mamata. 300 more than Project Jagan Mohan Reddy, now chief minister Andhra Pradesh.   

"If BJP knows Mr Kishor's strategies, he too knows how the BJP operates," say sources.

Its own mantra: No two wars are the same, every war has to be fought differently. And it goes without saying, everyone fights a war to win. 

'Mercurial Mamata' may be on the verge of losing a long-term title to keep another for the third time.