To Get TMC Poll-ready, Prashant Kishor Sets Barcode Bait to Catch Leaders Dodging Party Meetings

Kolkata: The West Bengal State Election Commission (WBSEC) is likely to announce poll dates for the 110 civic bodies across the state by mid-March, in what many see as an electoral semifinal before the high-stakes assembly elections next year. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) led by chief minister Mamata Banerjee is preparing in earnest, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) snapping at its heels. And to ensure that leaders don’t play truant, has learnt that the ruling party’s poll strategist Prashant Kishor has decided to issue barcoded entry cards for meetings.

The first set of such invitation cards is being used for Banerjee’s mega meet on March 2 at the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata.

Party sources said a barcode will contain information like a leader’s name, designation, address, contact details, from which gate he or she will enter the venue, etc.

“This barcoding is similar to what we see in flight boarding passes. The whole idea is to keep a list of party leaders who make it to the meetings and those who do not. I think the move is bold and necessary as we noticed leaders skipping such meetings and later claiming that they were present. The experiment will start from the March 2 event and will later become regular practice for all party meetings across the state,” said a source.

Ever since Banerjee roped in Kishor last year after the BJP made big gains in the state during the Lok Sabha polls, the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) founder has given a complete makeover to the chief minister’s public personality. From a combative leader being portrayed as a Muslim appeaser by rivals, she has tried to appear more prudent and more inclusive.

In the last six months, she has avoided any slips of the tongue, except a controversial statement purportedly seeking a UN-monitored referendum on the Centre’s steps regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens. The CM later said she was misquoted. The most striking change is that instead of party leaders being at the forefront, Banerjee now participates in protest rallies against the CAA and NRC alongside common people.

TMC sources say Kishor has not only crafted a new political strategy for the party and Didi – meaning sister, as the CM is popularly known – but also implemented system-driven assessment to identify ‘non-performing assets (NPAs)’. The launch of the barcoding system is another step in this direction.

In one of the party’s internal review meetings recently – where at least 100 Trinamool Congress MLAs, local leaders, booth presidents and districts president were present – a legislator was stunned, when he was told that he spent insufficient time with villagers in his assembly constituency despite being briefed. He could not believe that his work on the ground was being monitored by the I-PAC team.

“Such system-driven assessment was not there before in the party. Prashant Kishor has decided to close the old book and write a new one. Earlier, leaders used to come and tell Didi that they had done everything asked of them the party. There was no one to crosscheck it. Now, everything will be monitored and marked for assessment like in the corporate sector,” a senior TMC MLA said.

More than 14,500 party leaders from all ranks are expected to be present at the Netaji Indoor Stadium on March 2 at the meeting to be chaired by Banerjee. Invitation cards loaded with barcodes have already been sent to all the councillors, panchayat pradhans, youth presidents, minority unit representatives, SC/ST group leaders, district presidents and district observers.

The meeting is scheduled a day after BJP leader and union home minister Amit Shah’s arrival in Kolkata to meet party leaders to warm up before the municipal polls. Shah will also address a big rally at Kolkata’s iconic Shaheed Minar on March 2.