On November 7, when MPs, MLAs and functionaries of the Trinamool Congress were summoned to the party headquarters in Kolkata, they thought they would be attending a routine meeting chaired by their leader Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal Chief Minister.
Only on reaching the venue did they realise that Prashant Kishor, the high-profile strategist hired by the party to boost its prospects in the 2021 Assembly elections, was waiting to hand them their report cards and pull up those who had been found wanting.
Two meetings were held on that day. The first, of party leaders belonging to the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Schedules Tribes (ST), lasted about two hours and was anchored solely by Mr. Kishor, with Ms. Banerjee choosing to be a spectator. The 294-seat West Bengal Assembly has 68 seats reserved for SCs and 16 for STs, and the party had fared poorly in these regions in this year Lok Sabha election. The second meeting, of the party’s elected representatives and office-bearers, lasted nearly 90 minutes and was chaired by Ms. Banerjee, with Mr. Kishor by her side.
‘Taken by surprise’
“The MLAs were taken aback that Prashant Kishor knew exactly what they had been up to. He pulled up those who were taking the directives of the Chief Minister — such as spending nights in villages — lightly. He also scolded those who were engaged in self-propaganda rather than promoting Ms. Banerjee and her welfare schemes,” a source who was present at both the meetings said.
“This was probably the first time an outsider addressed what was meant to be a party meeting. [Mr. Kishor’s] team seemed to have done their homework meticulously because he had precise information about the activities of the MLAs,” the source said, adding that two Ministers hailing from north Bengal were particularly picked out for admonishment.
Mr. Kishor, according to the source, asked the MLAs to give a big push to the ‘ Didi Ke Bolo (Reach out to Didi)’ initiative, which he felt was losing steam because of the lack of required interest shown by them. He asked them to popularise her schemes so that people could distinguish between the State and Central schemes. The MLAs, the source said, were asked to identify people who otherwise worked for the Trinamool Congress but voted for the BJP during elections.
Ms. Banerjee, who has been worried ever since the BJP staged an impressive performance in the State in the 2019 elections, also asked the MLAs to pull up their socks and warned some of them that she was giving them one last chance, the source said. She asked them — according to the source — to avoid attacks on individual BJP leaders and focus on campaigning against the BJP government’s policies, such as the proposal for a National Register of Citizens in West Bengal.