Intense digital campaign expected in West Bengal ahead of polls by both TMC and BJP

While TMC has roped in election strategist Prashant Kishore to give a boost to the party’s social media strategy, BJP has fielded its IT Cell chief Amit Malaviya as co-incharge of the state

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: Social Media)

Sagarneel Sinha/IPA

During the last Lok Sabha elections, Trinamool Congress supremo and Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee was quite sure that her party would get most of the 42 seats. Based on that hope she even dreamt of her party playing a major role in national politics. However, it was not to be. Her party lost 12 seats and got only 22 out of 42. The main beneficiary was BJP — which increased its seat share from 2 to 18.

The results were shocking for Mamata — who later thought to change the campaign strategy of her party. Although in terms of social media, her party has always been well ahead of the Opposition parties but in the Lok Sabha elections her party faced a big challenge from the BJP. As a result, she decided to appoint election strategist Prashant Kishore to give a boost to her party’s social media strategy.

For BJP, winning Bengal is very crucial — as the party has never won this state, which has the third highest number of seats in the Lok Sabha. A win will definitely be a big push for the party in terms of 2024 Lok Sabha polls. With Trinamool appointing Prashant Kishore, who earlier worked with BJP during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, it was the saffron party’s turn to give more priority to the social campaign to defeat Trinamool’s plan. That’s the reason the party appointed its IT cell chief Amit Malviya as co-incharge of the state along with Kailash Vijayvargiya and Arvind Menon.

Already the BJP has made its list of main issues to target the Mamata government. The main issues include the corruption in local levels, weakening of democracy in the state, issue of illegal immigrants and of course the strong allegation of Muslim appeasement. All these issues are already repeatedly highlighted by BJP in its social media campaign. Now, the state unit also has the party's national IT cell chief’s strong backing to formulate an attractive social media strategy to polarise the voters in BJP’s favour.

Already, Trinamool has been launching many programmes for the party — including Didi Ke Bolo (Tell Didi) and Banglar Gorbo Mamata (Bengal’s pride Mamata). The party has even made an official twitter handle for Banglar Gorbo Mamata — and recently it launched a new drive from this handle named “Mark Yourself Safe from BJP.”

To counter Trinamool, BJP also has launched its own social media campaigns — Aar Noi Onnayi (No more injustice) and Aar Noi Mamata (No more rule of Mamata). Banglar Gorbo Mamata is tweeting mainly on welfare schemes and development done by the Mamata government. Amit Malviya too has increased his focus on Bengal. He, as of now, is mostly tweeting highlighting the alleged misrule under the Mamata government.

It is to be mentioned that there have allegedly been rampant attacks on workers, supporters and leaders belonging to BJP, CPI(M), Congress, CPI, RSP, AIFB etc by the Trinamool workers and supporters. Also, there has been widespread violent groupism among Trinamool supporters.

Another issue that is making the most noise in BJP’s social media strategy is the issue of alleged Muslim appeasement by the Mamata led Trinamool government. However, it would be wrong to blame the BJP, which always, anyhow, is blamed for causing religious polarization in the country. For this, the blame goes to Mamata Banerjee. It is to be mentioned that her government has managed to increase the meagre Muslim representation in government jobs. This is, no doubt, a commendable effort done by the Mamata dispensation.

However, Mamata didn’t stop there. Her government even decided to give allowances to imams — a step which was termed unconstitutional by the Calcutta High Court. Not only this, her government also decided to ban immersion of Durga Puja pandals on the day of Muharram, drawing strong allegations of appeasing the 28% Muslim vote bank. This controversial decision too was overturned by the Calcutta High Court. All these incidents have handed BJP the weapon of Muslim appeasement to target Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool government.

The saffron party’s social media strategy under the guidance of Malviya to raise the issue of Muslim appeasement by Mamata government is to strongly polarise the majority Hindus in its own favour. It is not that there were no communal incidents during the 34 years of CPI(M) led Left Front rule. However, Left’s well oiled machinery was able to carefully suppress any violent incident related to religious matters — including the 1978 Marichjapi massacre of Dalit Hindu refugees by the police.

Also, the Left’s politics always maintained a line of untouchability towards religious issues — a major reason for Left’s failure in Indian politics and society. The bitter truth is that Mamata’s alleged Muslim appeasement politics, mainly aimed to polarize the Muslims, reignited the old Hindu-Muslim unhealed wounds of the 1947 partition — which resulted in division of Bengal into two parts. This is now causing a counter polarization of the majority Hindus in favour of BJP — the CSDS-Lokniti post-Lok Sabha poll survey strongly indicates this.

BJP’s social media strategy is to influence the aggrieved Hindus through the use of apps and local TV channels by transmitting fake news to rouse the feelings of the Hindu voters against Trinamool candidates. Malaviya is an expert in doing that and Amit shah is depending on him to do a digital miracle in the assembly polls. The Malaviya strategy is to circulate maximum disinformation just on the eve of the polls so that Mamata does not get much time to counter that. Further Malaviya will try to create an atmosphere of campaign as if the BJP is coming to power. This will have impact on the senior police officers of the state and BJP is trying its best to neutralize some of the most loyal officers of Mamata in the vulnerable districts by hook and crook.

No doubt, in today’s age, social media has become a necessary tool to target the voters, particularly the young generation, which also include the new voters. In the case of Bengal, both Trinamool and BJP are heavily investing in social media to push their own narratives. The Left and the Congress are way behind. This digital campaign is expected to be more intense as the days of elections will keep drawing closer. In such a scenario, one can’t rule out the amount of fake news that will be generated from the IT cells of all these parties, particularly BJP, to polarise the voters.

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