Kolkata: The ruling TMC in Bengal has steadily regained its glory and confidence after a temporary setback in the Lok Sabha elections, riding on anti-NRC campaign and frequently stoking "Bengali pride", senior leaders of the party said.
The TMC's win in the three crucial assembly seats — Karimpur, Kaliaganj and Kharagpur Sadar — was an indication that the party made significant efforts to retrieve its political ground in the state after being battered by its arch rival, the BJP, in the Lok Sabha elections, they said.
Earlier this year, the BJP had stormed into the fortress of Mamata Banerjee, bagging 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal, bringing down the TMC tally from 34 in 2014 to 22.
State Food Supplies Minister Jyotipriyo Mullick told PTI that the Mamata Banerjee-led party had been working hard since June for a turnaround in its political fortunes.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) successfully wrested control of all seven municipalities it had lost to the BJP after the parliamentary polls, he noted.
"There were signs that common people as well as our leaders, who had switched allegiance to the BJP, were not happy and wanted to return to the party fold. We applied a two-pronged strategy to take on the saffron party — by revising our plan of action and fixing organisational lacunae," Mullick said.
The minister contended that appointing poll strategist Prashant Kishor to revive its mass awareness campaign also worked in the favour of the party, which had earlier channeled most of its energy and resources to bash the BJP-led Centre and the erstwhile state governments.
"The anti-NRC campaign and the issue of Bengali pride helped us regain our lost ground. Kishor's 'Didi KeBolo' (Tell Didi) campaign rejuvenated our demoralised cadres. All these factors came in to play during the bypolls," a TMC MP said.
The ruling party in the state had been harping on "Bengali pride" by resisting the apparent "imposition of Hindi" by the Centre, following the Lok Sabha polls.
Banerjee's assertions that non-Bengalis in the state should learn Bengali, her demand for inclusion of the language in JEE Main examination, coupled with her election pitch centred on portraying the BJP as anti-Bengali helped the TMC champion the cause of the people of the state, where skepticism and confusion ran high after the final NRC in neighbouring Assam excluded 14 lakh Hindus.
Add to that, the mass awareness campaign not just refurbished the TMC's image, but also took on the well-oiled social media arm of the saffron camp, which "plays a role in influencing netizens", the MP said.
"But something was missing, as we were looking for an issue to turn the tables on BJP in Bengal and counter its communal narrative. The publication of the final NRC list in Assam, which excluded more than 19 lakh people including 14 lakh Hindus, gave us that golden opportunity," the parliamentarian added.
The oft-repeated contention by Union Home Minister Amit Shah that NRC would be implemented in Bengal had created a panic in the state. Eleven people reportedly committed suicide in Bengal due to fear over NRC implementation.
"Our party's demand for making Bengali a medium for JEE Main Exam reaped huge dividends in rural Bengal, where the BJP made inroads in the last elections," a TMC leader said.
Apart from that, Kishor's team had helped indentify grassroot leaders, who, due to their sheer arrogance, had alienated the party from the masses, he said.
"These leaders were made to fall in line or asked to step aside," he added.
An upbeat TMC secretary-general, Partha Chatterjee, said, "The plan to impose Hindi and discard Bengali will never be allowed as long as there is TMC in Bengal. We have respect for all languages but that doesn't mean the BJP will try to demean our mother tongue."
The state, which had always embraced syncretism, is currently witnessing a change in narrative as 'Bangla Pokkho', an independent group believed to have the backing of the ruling party, is going all out with pro-Bengali sloganeering, which the BJP termed as an "attempt to fuel identity politics" in the state.
The BJP Bengal leadership is confident that the TMC's euphoria over its bypoll win will be short-lived as the saffron party "would leave no stone unturned" to register its victory in 2021 Assembly elections.
State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said the TMC misled the people of the state on the issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC). "Once the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is passed in the Parliament, all doubts over NRC would cease to exist," he added.
The citizenship bill, which seeks to grant nationality to Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan after seven years of residence in India, is likely to be placed in the winter session of Parliament.