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Mamata launches ‘Tell Didi’ outreach drive

Party sources said this was probably a Prashant Kishor-inspired strategy to highlight Trinamul’s most bankable asset
The logo of the initiative

Meghdeep Bhattacharyya   |   Calcutta   |   Published 29.07.19, 11:00 PM

Mamata Banerjee on Monday unveiled an extensive phone-and-Internet public outreach initiative, “Didi Ke Bolo (Tell Didi)”, with Trinamul sources suggesting poll strategist Prashant Kishor had come up with the idea to turn the party’s fortunes around.

Kishor was not seen at the efficiently managed event on the Nazrul Mancha grounds where the chief minister outlined the programme’s contours before the media in an air-conditioned enclosure.

“People can get in touch and tell us their problems so we can solve them better. They can call 9137091370 or log on to didikebolo.com,” Mamata said.

Mamata mostly read out from a prepared draft — an unusual sight at a Mamata show. That she alone was on the dais was a rarity too. Party sources said this was probably a Kishor-inspired strategy to highlight Trinamul’s most bankable asset.

Asked whether the event was Kishor’s brainchild, the chief minister said: “We are not asking you about your workplace’s internal dynamics.”

When journalists highlighted the differences between the Nazrul Mancha event and usual Trinamul programmes and asked if this was the beginning of a “corporatisation” of the party, Mamata said: “No, you cannot say that. You can call it the modernisation of the Trinamul Congress.”

Mamata played down any suggestion that the outreach initiative stemmed from the setbacks suffered in the general election and was aimed at a turnaround before the 2021 Assembly elections.

“There’s a lot of time, nearly two years, for the Assembly polls. This is not aimed at elections. Our bond with the people is already strong; we are looking to improve it further,” she said.

Mamata kept reminding the media that the latest outreach initiative was in addition to a grievances cell she had set up in the chief minister’s office last month. “This is not for 2021…. This has nothing to do with that. We keep taking initiatives to connect better with the people round the year. This is a new one, that’s all,” she added.

The phone number Mamata cited was “busy” every time this newspaper tried calling it on Monday evening.

Besides throwing up the possibility of direct communication with Mamata, the outreach attempt will involve initiatives such as 1,000 elected party representatives spending at least one night each at 10 villages over the next 100 days. This move will cover 10,000 villages --- about a fourth of the state’s total.

After the media event, Mamata met her party’s lawmakers inside the auditorium to explain how the programme would work and assign responsibilities.

“She asked Subrata Bakshi, Firhad Hakim, Indranil Sen, Chandrima Bhattacharya and Ram Peary Ram to supervise the initial screening of the calls received on the helpline,” a party source said. Bakshi is a senior party official, Hakim, Sen and Bhattacharya are ministers and Ram a veteran politician.

“These five leaders will do the initial interventions on her behalf. Only matters that are extremely serious will be forwarded to her,” the source added.

Trinamul sources said Kishor was behind the outreach initiative and that his team would be scrutinising every aspect of the programme “to get better feedback, prepare a better strategy and plug the leaks”.

“All of this is only because the BJP won 18 Lok Sabha seats and secured leads in 120 Assembly segments,” a party insider said.

A Trinamul leader cited how BJP chief Amit Shah had launched a similar drive a couple of years ago, visiting village homes in Bengal. “The helpline is fine, although it could provide another avenue for the ‘cut money’ brouhaha,” he said.

Trinamul recently engaged the professional services of Kishor, a national vice-president of the Janata Dal United who also runs the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), a consultancy. The organisation makes ground-level assessments of the public mood to help a client decide its campaign strategy and focus areas.

Monday’s programme introduced several young I-PAC members in black T-shirts and blue jeans, wearing their IDs round their necks, who met journalists on the sidelines. That the I-PAC and not Trinamul or any of its frontal organisations was in charge of the event was evident the moment one stepped into the media enclosure.

Till now, the I-PAC had restricted itself to the shadows although Kishor was sometimes seen accompanying Abhishek Banerjee to meetings with Mamata.

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