National

I-PAC plots makeover for Mamata

Prashant Kishor. File photo: Ranjeet Kumar  

Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee appears to be undergoing a transformation, with the extempore rants and off-the-cuff remarks that were a characteristic feature of her combative political style having largely disappeared over the last few weeks.

The change in the West Bengal chief minister’s approach is being credited to the Patna-based political strategist Prashant Kishor, who was hired by Ms. Banerjee in the wake of the Lok Sabha elections that saw the TMC suffer reverses including a dent in its overall vote share in the State.

The TMC leader has made “only one off-the-cuff comment” since Mr. Kishor and his consulting firm, Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), were hired to advise her, said a senior I-PAC official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It was when she made a little off-the-cuff remark in the Assembly on minority schools’ budget,” said the official.

The I-PAC team, which includes at least 250 part-time employees and an undisclosed number of professionals from the fields of statistics, information technology, data analytics, field survey and management, is now advising Ms. Banerjee for the 2021 Assembly elections. The number of I-PAC employees may go up to about 1,000 in future, according to the official. The consultancy had deployed about 700 people to advise Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s campaign in Andhra ahead of this year’s elections in the State.

After taking on the assignment, Mr. Kishor gave Ms. Banerjee a five-point agenda.

“One, that the TMC should come out of poll mode; it should not engage with a Hindu-Muslim binary discourse while analysing the [poll] setback; and should govern the State properly without using State machinery to drive violence or even engage in any violent activities as bloodshed affects the ruling party negatively,” the official said.

Kishor’s role

“Mr. Kishor’s job is bit like that of a coach in a football match and not that of a player,” the official said.

A key change in Ms. Banerjee’s approach — witnessed in a recent press conference — was that she frequently looked at her briefing papers while addressing the journalists.

“Atal Bihari Vajpayee used to be extremely nervous before a speech and had long discussions with the speech writers; he knew, it is better to say things, which are free of errors,” the official said, explaining the rationale behind the change in the TMC leader’s tack. “People usually like the approach, as one looks at the notes and [talks] carefully. It is not a weakness,” the official asserted.

Based on inputs from the strategist, Ms. Banerjee also recently started the Didi Ke Bolo (DKB) initiative, a platform to talk directly to ‘Didi’ as the TMC leader is popularly known. Sixty percent of the 250 people tasked to field calls on the platform are women.

The platform, which now receives about one lakh calls a day, has three objectives.

Firstly, identifying the nature of people’s problems by using data analytics to sift the calls, and then addressing the issues that are most common.“It would be easier to identify 20 actionable [problem] buckets and address accordingly,” the official said.

The second objective is to change the narrative. “If there is an intervention on the basis of complaints then people will start talking about it more, slowly changing the immediate narrative from debates on Ram to DKB or direct intervention.

“And you would be surprised to note that since DKB was launched, one-third of the callers are calling up to congratulate Didi, which reassures us about her popularity,” the I-PAC official added.

As of now, the problems, received via DKB, are categorised under three broad heads: government-cum-administrative issues, political and personal problems. I-PAC plans to reach out to 50 lakh people in a specified time frame. “And one suggestion [received] was to bring the old guard of TMC back. At least 700 of the callers said so on phone,” the official said.

I-PAC has also given guidelines to TMC MLAs with specific directions.

It has asked the leaders and the MLAs to meet eminent people in their area, irrespective of their political affiliation, spend the night in villages and dine with activists. I-PAC has even suggested the names of the eminent people they should meet in each area.

“It is now mandatory for the party representatives to visit their constituency for at least eight days a month with two of their aides who would manage booths, one person to handle political issues and complaints and a fourth person to look after social media,” said the official. A five member team — comprising ministers close to Ms. Banerjee — would coordinate with the political representatives and report to Didi,” the official said.


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Printable version | Aug 1, 2021 12:50:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/i-pac-plots-makeover-for-mamata/article28787781.ece

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