Performing rallies, moving from village to village, participating and walking alongside the common people; lead to an effective election campaign. Physical movement has always been an integral part of winning the crowds as it reflects the leader’s approachability and accountability—the make-or-break point of leadership. However, in the West Bengal state elections of 2021, an incident in Nandigram hampered not only Mamata Banerjee’s bodily movement that led to her hospitalization with severe fractures but made a deep dent in her campaign with the elections being just one week away. With the urgency of changing tactics and keeping up her candidature’s momentum in this see-saw battle, she turned her wheelchair.
She marched ahead by claiming victimhood of a larger conspiracy.
‘Motion is important’
All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) supporters have called on Mamata Banerjee’s, popularly known as Mamta Banerjee, photos of campaigning in a wheelchair, an expression of her fighting spirit. Mamta Banerjee took the streets of West Bengal and charged forward, unaffected by the restrictive movement in her campaigning strategy. Some political analysts have claimed that it will garner sympathy among the voters and help AITC’s probability of winning a close-call election like this. Despite these assertions, one should not forget the quote by Leonard Susskind, “Einstein, who propounded the theory of relativity, evinced that different observers, in different states of motion, see different realities”.
The very personality and charisma of Mamta Banerjee are defined by her grassroots level outreach and aggressive participation, whether it was at the very beginning of her political career in the peasant movement or at the peak of her dissent against the then incumbent Left Front state government. The photo of her on a wheelchair, though it will indeed move some people’s sentiments in the short run, the ailing woman being criticized still by unfeeling men; it would not be able to sustain her popularity against mammoth contenders and a mighty opposition party’s growing presence in the long run. The death over being bowled by the strategy of sympathy certainly puts AITC on the back-foot as a defensive batswoman whilst sending the signal of increasing confidence in the Opposition’s pacers.
High Tide and its Salty Taste
The 2016 West Bengal state legislative elections showcase the popularity of AITC, with 44% of the total vote share, winning 211 seats out of 293. In contrast, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could only touch the 10% mark and get three seats. Even so, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections indicate a strong tide of people voting for BJP with 40% of vote share, but a marginal difference of 3% led to a four-seat win for AITC. This tide peak washed away some of Mamta Banerjee’s confidence and left a salty taste in her home pitch.
Thus, the West Bengal state elections indeed pose an uphill battle for the lady in the wheelchair with allegations of corruption among AITC local cadres, inefficient management of Amphan cyclone, and the effect of AITC party members leaving to join BJP have set the stage for an anti-incumbent wave.
Mamta’s Retort Comes with Broken Bones
The narrative of blaming, conspiracy and claims of intentional harm, put forward by the AITC in the last hour indicated haphazard retort in a desperate attempt to reverse the damage done by BJP’s infiltration in West Bengal. The Election Commission of India’s findings and reports declared it as an accident, which further spurred the conspiracy theories by AITC supporters.
The blame-game of the Nandigram incident not only depicts the growing tensions; it also depicts AITC being on the defensive line for the first time since Mamta Banerjee became its face. Mamta Banerjee’s mass appeal and bottoms-up approach could not be executed with her in a wheelchair, having limited movement ability to perform rallies and meet people door-to-door. Nevertheless, this hindrance was converted to an opportunity by demonizing the Opposition on their inhumane tweets and comments on Mamta Banerjee’s injury, with 1.43 lakh out of 2.57 voters being women in Nandigram AITC might gain sympathy votes.
However, sympathy as a strategy is usually used when a political party has two faces: the victim and the other the harper of seeking justice on the victim’s behalf. But this is common phenomena in all the regional parties which are dependent on a single person. TMC is also not an exception to that. Mamata Banerjee is presenting herself as a victim and trying to get sympathy votes basis on that. This could be a good strategy if she had some other face who could get sympathy for her or mobilize people on this issue. Her nephew is the leader of a particular region; his aura is not independent of the Mamta Banerjee that’s why he cannot serve the process. Like in BJP, where they have a pool of able leaders who are given task for different issues. Apart from Modi, Amit Shah, Yogi Adityanath are also pulling the crowd in favour of the BJP.
Mamta Banerjee’s sympathetic voters might even not remember her as a victim as the state assembly elections are stretched throughout eight phases, where she is expected to recover from her injuries by then. This strategic loss in a pendulum election, where rather than a face, strategy becomes vital to get an edge over the opponent. Mamta Banerjee can suffer a political fracture, resulting in a coalition government, denting her image as the supremo and harming AITC’s future in West Bengal’s political milieu.
Battle of persistence
With the dynamic conditions, mounting up of fouls, and violent uproars, the first two phases of elections saw a decrease in voters’ turn out, from 86.97% in 2016 to 80.79% in 2021. The battle pitch has become the arena for all-out war as all the political players leave no stone unturned. But the best chance for those who will hold the nerve till the last phase of polling.
The political violence, corruption, and appeasement play their role in this election for BJP so that reliable issue leadership, Bhadralok image, is playing a role for TMC. The Kolkata presidency was a stronghold of TMC for the years, but a new challenge has emerged from the Congress-Left-ISF alliance, which can pour water on the prospect of TMC win.
But we can say that the election is still open where TMC is defensive in its strategies where BJP is making all out with its large number of resources.
The West Bengal State assembly elections are underway, where all the political parties tried to weave their narratives around the incident of Nandigram to gain votes. AITC attempted, with all its might, to subdue BJP’s appeal. Nonetheless, it is crucial to keep in mind that AITC has already achieved its electoral peak, whereas BJP has yet to do so. The new tides, rising towards the BJP as its moon, may vanquish the recessing waves of Mamta Banerjee’s popularity. But, surely, this election will decide how many roles a sympathy card play in today’s electoral politics. The Nandigram accident indeed harms Mamta Banerjee’s political chances as it halts her moment. The “Motion” is essential in all aspects, whether it is an election or physics.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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