Wednesday, June 23, 2021
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Sympathy Points Earned or Personal Charisma Lost? A Month On, Decoding Mamata’s Wheelchair Campaign


A month-long wheelchair campaign of chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been marked by a volley of direct attacks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and name-calling, much unlike the strategy Arvind Kejriwal adopted to win Delhi last year.

It was on March 10 that Banerjee suffered her foot injury in Nandigram during campaigning. Two days later, she was released from a hospital in Kolkata. And then she began her campaign in a wheelchair.

She has since sharpened her attacks on the PM. As Banerjee completes a month in the wheelchair, she has even accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of trying to kill her. But will this translate to an advantage for Banerjee in the ongoing West Bengal elections? History says otherwise, with the BJP believing the wheelchair campaign has actually “restricted” the CM rather than earning her sympathy.

Politicians such as Kejriwal have learnt it the hard way that attacking Modi personally, or making it a direct showdown with the PM, is counterproductive. The Delhi CM once infamously called the PM “a liar” after demonetisation. Kejriwal, however, avoided all attacks on the PM during last year’s assembly elections in Delhi and rather made his campaign all about the BJP’s missing CM face, and his development agenda.

In fact, records show that PM Modi cashes in on such attacks on him, as he famously did during the 2019 general elections when Rahul Gandhi coined the slogan “Chowkidaar Chor Hai” on the Rafale deal. But the opposition leader was answered with the BJP’s mega campaign of “Mein Bhi Chowkidaar”. In West Bengal, too, with Banerjee calling Modi names and saying the state does not want to see his face, Modi has raised the issue in every public meeting. “Why is Didi (as Banerjee is popularly called) abusing me? It is because her frustration of loss is showing,” Modi has been saying.

A senior BJP leader told News18, “Narendra Modi is a cult figure in popularity and by abusing him, you end up upsetting voters who voted for him in the Lok Sabha elections but could have voted for a CM (from another camp) in the state elections if such attacks were not made.”

But a Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader argued that the CM had to respond to the “virulent campaign launched by the PM…and the deeply problematic remark of ‘Didi, o Didi’ at rallies”. Unlike Kejriwal, Banerjee has not stuck to simply questioning who the CM face in the BJP is, and has walked into the BJP’s trap by making it a direct fight between her and Modi, the BJP leader claimed.

Wheelchair Sympathy?

Banerjee has been in a wheelchair for a month now, holding rallies and road shows in the same in what critics call an apparent attempt to get sympathy from voters, especially women voters who have been loyal to her. However, the BJP feels this has not brought the TMC any dividends. “Her wheelchair campaign has, in fact, stolen her thunder and restricted her. Every politician has a particular style and Banerjee’s style was to pace up and down the stage, or walk into any village or shop…or speak freely to people. The wheelchair campaign has ended up restricting her,” a top BJP leader said. The CM has tried to compensate for the same by being more aggressive in her speeches and even throwing footballs into the crowd from rally stages.

The jury is out on whether woman voters would stick with Banerjee given the various women-centric welfare schemes run by her, and sympathise with her over the injury she claims was caused by the BJP. “The women support this time is mixed. While some women voters could remain with Mamata, many are upset over political violence in the state and are attracted towards the BJP. Our manifesto promises for women are also very big in scale,” a BJP leader said. As for her injury, BJP leaders have demanded that her injury report be made public. “It is surprising that the injury has not healed even after a month,” a BJP leader said.

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