West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with Kolkata Police commissioner
Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal Image Credit: PTI

“There is a cult of Modi in India now. He is very popular in Bengal. As popular as Mamata Banerjee. And, that is a big thing”. Prashant Kishor, the chief strategist of Mamata Banerjee, incumbent chief minister of West Bengal said to me and a bunch of other journalists on a social media app.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tried to create a huge political controversy over the chat, leaking out some bits, making the point that Banerjee’s brains-trust had conceded the hotly contested Bengal election.

Kishor then publicly dared the BJP to make the entire chat public and said he still maintained that the BJP would not cross 100 seats (win 100 assembly seats in the ongoing elections) and if the BJP won he would give up his lucrative career of “ideology agnostic” political strategy.

Kishor is the political strategist de-jour in India. He came in to the limelight as the strategist of Narendra Modi’s successful 2014 bid to be Prime Minister and then had a very public fall out with Amit Shah.

Since then Kishor has built up a huge career as a election manager of top leaders in India. He made some extremely interesting political points in the viral chat, most of which I have written about in my Swat analysis in Gulf News.

One that West Bengal was a very tough fight for the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) as the BJP had been able to push the narrative of minority appeasement done by all political parties in West Bengal for 20 years. The “secular veto” is being used by the BJP to great effect in Bengal.

This appeasement bogey is the gift that does not stop giving for the BJP as they accuse every other party of indulging in it and create a persecution complex in the minds of the majority community.

WIN BENGAL Ghosh  WITH MODI1-1616526536185
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi chats with BJP State President Dilip Ghosh during an election campaign rally at BNR Ground, Kharagpur in West Midnapore district Image Credit: PTI

Kishor said that the BJP, contrary to the media narrative, had boots on the ground most of which were workers who were originally with the Left Front in Bengal. Kishor felt that they were now sincere to the ideology of the BJP.

The point of Banerjee trying to obliterate the Left in a complete way and unwittingly paving the way for the rise of the BJP is a point I have also written about repeatedly. Banerjee, in many ways, seems to be shell shocked by the rise of the BJP - an unintentional consequence of her determination to destroy the Left and its cadre.

According to Kishor, the BJP had an appeal to all the Hindi speakers who live in Bengal and the projection of Modi, his numerous blitzkrieg rallies and public meetings had made the election a tough call.

Modi versus Mamata

Even the BJP’s call not to project a chief ministerial face against Banerjee and make Modi versus Mamata seems to have worked for the BJP said Kishor, adding it would have been easy to pit a local leader against Banerjee. As I have been writing here in Gulf News, the Bengal elections is now completely “Modi versus Mamata”.

Whether the move to pit Banerjee head on against Modi was a good strategy, only the results will reveal. We already have a case as I have pointed out of Arvind Kejriwal, CM of Delhi dialling back his personal attacks on Modi and virtually sidestepping Modi and the BJP to win the Delhi elections.

Banerjee in her wheel chair as the main campaigner of her party has a huge emotional resonance with women voters, something which Kishor confirmed, saying that women voters would see Banerjee through.

Interestingly Kishor said that as a campaigner Modi was pretty much the only star and weapon for the BJP in Bengal. He made the point that other leaders such as Amit Shah, union home minister and Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh chief minister, had negligible impact on the elections.

Kishor was vocal about the fact that the BJP had three Ms on its side. According to him this comprised of “money, Modi and the media”. Kishor was pretty cynical about the role of the Election Commission saying that he knew it was helping a particular party. The EC is a constitutional body and has remained mum on the holding of mammoth public meetings across these state elections.

The EC belatedly issued an advisory to follow Covid-19 norms after the second wave of fierce Covid-19 mutants hit India, following a record high in infections. The EC has also ordered an eight phase unprecedented long election for Bengal which is a test of resources and endurance for the Bengal contenders. It unsurprisingly benefits only one political party.

Bengal election results and Bengali exceptionalism, which had till the 2019 elections kept the saffron wave out, seems to be on the wane. If the BJP does not win the elections it will be the main opposition to the TMC. If the BJP wins then expect a ripple effect across the political landscape.

The Maharashtra government seemingly tottering might collapse with its architect Sharad Pawar, NCP chief, having opened a channel with Shah post a quiet meeting at the home of a billionaire industrialist in Ahmedabad earlier this month.

Post Bengal, the mother of all election battles looms in Uttar Pradesh, which will go to the polls in February-March next year. A Bengal victory will underline the BJP’s status as the dominant political party across India. Next will be Punjab where an 80 plus Amrinder Singh, who has rescinded his retirement plans, will try to win another term.

The opposition is anxious because the BJP and particularly Modi seem tough when it comes to elections. Let’s give Kishor the last word with a lovely Indian example. “Bengal has never tasted the BJP ladoo (sphere-shaped sweet) and is curious to know its taste”.

Laddoos are always deployed in large quantities post every election. Let’s see who is winner in the laddo-stakes.