Trinamool war room and its strategy to counter BJP

IANS
From using a "jumla meter that nails the BJPs "lies" to highlighting the achievements of the eight-year-old Mamata Banerjee government, West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress has built a "pro-active campaign" for the Lok Sabha polls with the help of social media and conventional canvassing.

Kolkata: From using a "jumla meter that nails the BJPs "lies" to highlighting the achievements of the eight-year-old Mamata Banerjee government, West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress has built a "pro-active campaign" for the Lok Sabha polls with the help of social media and conventional canvassing.

The campaign is being driven from the party's 24x7 war room in Kolkata, under the leadership of Trinamool Youth Congress national president and party supremo Mamata Banerjee's nephew Abhishek Banerjee.

Alongside Banerjee junior, the perceived heir to the party chief, is a crop of media savvy, tech savvy functionaries like the party's leader in the Rajya Sabha Derek O'Brien.

"Our campaign strategy is partly decided on the basis of our own surveys. There is a research team which also places its findings. We have done a lot of work based on support from the ground," a party source told IANS.

Abhishek, who is MP from Diamond Harbour and now contesting to retain the seat, is the overall in-charge of the campaign

"Abhishek is extremely sharp politically, just like his aunt, and comes up with valuable suggestions. Derek and a group of young leaders are with him," a Trinamool Congress leader said on condition of anonymity.

"The 24x7 war room is the venue for constant deliberations, brainstorming sessions, strategy meetings," he said.

A lot of self-criticism takes place during the interactions to understand where the party stands in a particular constituency.

Colonel (retired) Diptangshu Chaudhury, Convenor, Social Media, Trinamool, Congress said: "We are laying equal emphasis on social media and conventional campaign. For instance, our Asansol Lok Sabha candidate (Moon Moon Sen) has already done 195 public meetings and road shows".

Incidentally, Chaudhury is also party's election observer and election agent for Asansol, which the Trinamool Congress is striving to recapture from the BJP.

"Apart from our meetings and rallies, there are many of our dedicated soldiers working behind the scenes.

"In every booth, we have at least 20 people who are working day and night for the party. At the grassroots we are very strong. On the other hand, take my word, the BJP won't get polling agents in 80 per cent of the booths in Asansol."

Asansol is only a microcosm of the political battleground in West Bengal. The Bharatiya Janata Party has never been in power in the state even though Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, was Bengali. An aggressive BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah wants to set the record straight.

Both have led several rallies in the state and have several more planned for the coming days. For the sheer intensity of the political campaign here, this could be Ground Zero of the BJP's 2019 Lok Sabha campaign.

"We are combating the BJP in a pro-active, and not defensive manner. We set the agenda, others defend," said Chaudhury.

For taking on the BJP's aggressive campaign led by Modi and Amit Shah, the Trinamool Congress social media team has come up with novel features like eJumla Meter' which gives immediate, crisp and fact-based rejoinders to the BJP's punches.

For instance, on April 20 during his election meeting in South Dinjapur district's Buniayadpur, Modi said: "We have shown the way by improving law and order in UP and Tripura:".

Within 45 minutes, the Trinamool's Jumla Meter had a post that said: "Yesterday (April 19, 2019) Election Commission probe confirmed large scale "booth capturing" in Tripura. Uttar Pradesh had the highest number of crimes against women".

Chaudhury claimed that the BJP's campaign is based on "fake news, lies and disinformation". "They are mostly selling dreams and jumlas," he said.

Abhishek also heads the social media team, where O'Brien plays a very vital role in strategy and coming designing an innovative campaign.

Besides Chaudhury, former NASSCOM Eastern Regional director Suparno Moitra guides the party's social media activities under Abhishek Banerjee's overall direction.

"The social media is an instrument of god for poorer regional parties lacking in resources to match more oppulent opponents,' Moitra, the party's social media joint convenor, told IANS.

After Abhiskek Banerjee revamped the social media unit between mid-2017 and January last year, the focus of the content was broken into two - highlighting development projects of the state government and countering negative propaganda by the opposition with facts.

"While we have no control over our well wisher, we have ensured from them that we stay close to facts and not use words which are derogatory or unparliamentary," said a party source who works closely with its IT cell.

The Trinamool Congress now has a huge presence on every online platform - Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram - and makes extensive use of videos, data and memes.

There is a social media team in each of the state's 42 constituencies. That is apart from core teams in 80 per cent of the blocks in all the 23 districts. The control unit in Kolkata monitors content.

The party's campaign managers say while social media needs to be used extensively, conventional canvassing continues to be the main weapon in wooing the vast majority of people. The party has therefore done much backroom work to ensure its rallies and meetings get high traction.

Party sources said the venues of meetings and rallies are selected after feedback on location so that party leaders can connect with a large number of people to get votes.

For instance, the party may be strong in a locality where it sees scope to increase its votes. There could, meanwhile, be a neighbouring locality where the party is relatively weak. "We will put in more effort in the first area to increase our voting percentage in order to offset the losses we may suffer in the area where we are weak."

Party supremo Mamata Banerjee's meetings0rallies and road shows are not micromanaged.

"The chief minister herself decides the venues of her rallies, meetings and road shows. These are not micromanaged. See, Mamata Banerjee is herself an ideologue. So whatever she says gets transmitted all over the state and also across the country," said Chaudhury.