'Didi' working on rejuvenating party
Days after her Trinamool Congress suffered huge reverses in the Lok Sabha polls, a visibly distraught West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had promised to "take care of my party".
True to her words, over the past two months, Banerjee has been spending more time in organisational matters, meeting party leaders from the districts and trying to figure out strategies to checkmate a determined challenger BJP.
Perhaps the biggest step has been the decision to rope in political strategist Prashant Kishor - known for giving winning formula to a number of governments over the past five years.
Banerjee has had two rounds of meetings with Kishor so far, and political analysts feel some of the decisions like exhorting her party workers to hold demonstrations asking the BJP to return black money may have his imprint.
But even before Kishor arrived on the scene, Banerjee had raised the issue of cut money - or bribe or commission beneficiaries had to pay, mostly to Trinamool leaders, to get government services and benefits of its social welfare schemes.
Following a feedback that the people in villages and towns turned against the Trinamool in the Lok Sabha polls as they were fed up of paying local ruling party leaders a certain percentage of the amounts of government grants, scholarships, widow pensions or housing schemes, Banerjee publicly asked the Trinamool workers to return the money to the people.
It was an effort at improving her own image as well as that of the party, but it is debatable whether the move backfired as the BJP seized on the opportunity to "expose" Trinamool leaders and public representatives by surrounding their houses and offices and raising high pitch demand for return of cut-money.
Images broadcast daily on television channels of Trinamool leaders actually returning money to the people or promising to do so, may not be the best of advertisement for the party.
Actor Rudranil Ghosh, now seemingly estranged from the Trinamool after being close to Banerjee for years, articulated the same.
"She brought the word 'cut-money' following which people (read Trinamool functionaries and public representatives) are returning some amount which is creating a perception that perhaps the party runs on cut money. I also didn't really like countering cut money issue with black money," Ghosh said.
Besides, the chief minister has tried to give a fresh ammunition to her party workers - hassled over the cut money protests - at her July 21 martyrs' day rally by claiming that the BJP leaders indulged in corruption over giving LPG connection, petrol pump licences and setting up of LPG outlets under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana.
She exhorted Trianmool activists to go to villages and ask the BJP leaders and workers to account for the "cut money thy have taken" in the PMUY.
Trinamool sources said party workers have been asked to get list of PMUY beneficiaries from local dealers, prepare list of influential BJP leaders in that particular area and go door to door asking the people whether they had to pay bribes for getting the benefit.
Already cases have been registered against some BJP leaders, and - in a not-so-subtle message to the administration - Banerjee said at the rally that she favoured a probe into the complaints.
Soon after the declaration of election results, an upbeat BJP - having won a rich haul of 18 seats, as against only two it grabbed in 2014 - had organised protest demonstrations outside Trinamool offices and even took control of a number of such buildings.
However, prompted by Banerjee, the Trinamool workers flexed muscles and have regained control of many of them.
With the BJP constantly poaching on her councillors and organisational leaders, Banerjee instructed senior party functionaries to get in touch with former leaders who have now for some reason or the other distanced themselves from Trinamool.
Towards that end, party secretary general Partha Chatterjee paid a late night visit on Tuesday to the residence of estranged party leader and former city mayor Sovan Chatterjee, who was for decades one of Banerjee's most trusted aid.
Sovan Chatterjee, who also held several important ministerial portfolios in the past, was forced to step down as mayor and resign from the ministry after the chief minister got irritated over his constant public frictions with his wife and "friendship" with a woman college principal.
However, it appears the former mayor has not given any assurance to Chatterjee, despite the latter's fervent pleas to his old colleague to return to the party fold.
Amid a perception in the Trinamool ranks of the non-Bengali Hindus having sided with the BJP in large numbers during the Lok Sabha polls, Banerjee has been propagating a Bangla (meaning both the state and the Bengali language) and Bengalee (those whose mother tongue is Bengali) line, in order to woo the local Bengali speaking populace.
To take on the BJP's "Jai Sriram" slogan, which the saffron outfit recently raised in Banerjee's presence regularly leading to the Trinamool chief losing her cool, she has advocated ‘Jai Bangla' and ‘Jai Hind' as counters.
‘Jai Hind' was the war cry of the Indian National Army of revolutionary freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, one of the glorious sons of Bengal.
‘Jai Bangla' and ‘Jai Hind' in Bengali script now also figure in the display picture (DP) of all top Trinamool leaders on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as also the party's website.
There is also a stress on highlighting the achievements of Bengal's heroic figures, particularly of those from the 19th century Renaissance period.