When Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress holds its annual show of strength on July 21, which it observes as Martyrs' Day, the party will also kick off its battle for the assembly elections. Perhaps not a moment too soon, given the inroads made by the BJP in the state over the last few months.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has roped in poll strategist Prashant Kishor to get the Trinamool Congress ready for 2021, or whenever the state elections are held.
At the Martyrs' Day rally last year, Mamata Banerjee had set ambitious targets for the Lok Sabha elections - setting her sights on Delhi and calling for a clean sweep of all the 42 parliamentary seats in the state. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. Although party leaders may not want to admit it, they know that the road to the assembly elections will be an uphill one.
Trinamool Congress leader Subrata Bakshi, who was at the Khunti Pujo or ground-breaking ceremony for setting up the stage for the July 21 event, evaded a question on the challenges that lie ahead for the party. "No question of any challenge. This year's rally will be bigger than any of the rallies in the last 26 years," he said. Asked about suggestions put forth by poll strategist Prashant Kishor, he said: "That I will say when I talk about him."
Discussing Prashant Kishor is a bit of a no-no in the Trinamool Congress. Although the poll strategist has kept a low profile in Kolkata, he is meeting party leaders regularly - the last time being July 13.
He is believed to have said that there's enough time to iron out creases before the assembly elections.
Prashant Kishor's last project, Jagan Mohan Reddy, was a mega success. After sweeping Andhra Pradesh in the national and assembly polls, Jagan Reddy managed to dislodge N Chandrababu Naidu as Chief Minister.
The poll strategist has an impressive client list starring Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
Can he swing it for Mamata Banerjee?
Bengal has 294 assembly seats, of which the Trinamool Congress had won 211 in 2014. Break down the 2019 Lok Sabha results into assembly segments, and the count would come down to 171 for the ruling party and 116 for the BJP. To win Bengal, you need 148. Striking distance? The BJP certainly thinks so.
"The appointment of Prashant Kishor is a great sign of weakness and uncertainty on the part of Mamata Banerjee. She is feeling threatened. She thinks it will not be possible for me to win the next assembly elections. But the Lok Sabha election results have given her such a jolt that she is back in election mode again," said state BJP vice-president Jaiprakash Majumdar.
To avoid a serious threat in the assembly elections, some sections suspect that Mamata Banerjee may spring a surprise and call for elections before 2021 so that the BJP doesn't have enough time to consolidate its gains.
Therefore, all eyes are on the signals she sends out on Sunday.