On the competing Sunday matinee show, Mamata Banerjee stole the thunder

On Sunday afternoon the Prime Minister and the Bengal Chief Minister shared the limelight on split TV screens. By all accounts, the CM outsmarted the PM in messaging

Mamata Banerjee’s march on Sunday (left), PM Modi’s rally in West Bengal on Sunday (right)
Mamata Banerjee’s march on Sunday (left), PM Modi’s rally in West Bengal on Sunday (right)

Abhijit Roy

The day before the International Women's Day, on a Sunday afternoon Bengal witnessed how a street savvy woman turned a political tussle into a Prime Minister vs. Chief Minister battle. I'm not a political commentator and my interest in and understanding of politics is strictly limited. However, as a communication professional and a storyteller, it was fascinating to watch the battle of the messages and the messengers.

Let's first talk about messages. The Prime Minister rather sadly missed an opportunity to present a clear, doable roadmap to revive the state's economy. He complained about the sorry state of affairs in the state, but there was no alternative plan presented.

The Chief Minister in contrast had correctly identified the burning issue of rising fuel prices, especially cooking gas, and sharply focused on it to highlight the mishandling of the situation by the Prime Minister. As an extremely street-smart woman she had her finger on the pulse of women in middle class households and zeroed in on cooking gas.

The Prime Minister on the other hand sounded a tad tired, looked far less energetic as he repeated the same old charges of extortion and running a syndicate. He not just missed the opportunity to talk about a revival plan and showcase an alternative leadership, but ended up parading the same old people whom he had managed to lure to his party. Sometime ago he had accused these very people of being extortionists but now he finds them as comrades-in-arms. He avoided addressing the fuel issue completely.

The Chief Minister on the other hand briskly walked in front of a sizeable crowd of people in Siliguri. It was a good show of physical energy. The idea of a huge, blazing red cutout of a cooking gas cylinder riveted the attention of the audience and cameras and provided a strong visualization of an economic crisis from unchecked fuel price rise.

If the Brigade Parade ground can fit in 300,000 people at its full capacity, the crowd at the Prime Minister's rally looked sparse on television. Political analysts with years of watching rallies estimated that the crowd was at best around 150,000. One would have to wait for confirmation from police figures. But more importantly, the crowd didn't pick up the refrain from the slogans coming from the stage. I felt they were a shade unresponsive.

The TV screen which would have been 100% on the Prime Minister, had been vertically split 50-50 between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister, who decided to hold a rally at the same time in a district town. The red gas cylinder cutout was a clear focal point of the cameras. In any case red is a vibrant color and is bound to draw more attention than any other hue. An excellent communication strategy to deny the PM a full screen television presence.

The messengers of the Prime Minister's team were unconvincing at best with the show stopper film star Mithun Chakraborty an utter flop. He should have realized that during the pandemic people’s tastes about movies had undergone a huge transformation. Even stars like Shah Rukh, and Salman have been digitally disrupted by real actors like Manoj Vajpayee and Pankaj Tripathi. Presenting an aging actor who clearly has lost his magnetism was a poor choice.

Bringing out jaded one-liners from ancient movies which the new generation hasn't even heard of, was also a bad idea. Worse was the new slogan which was tacky and only provided fodder for social media memes and a flurry of jokes.

My take on the Sunday matinee political show is that the lady skilfully turned this into a one-n-one war between a heavyweight Prime Minister versus a Chief Minister of a small state. This is the classic David & Goliath tale. I have no idea about what the endgame would be, but as of now the first game of the set, to borrow tennis parlance, has gone in favour of Mamata Banerjee 40-0.

(The author is a Communication expert based on Kolkata. Views are personal)

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