The election result of the state of West Bengal is bound to create ripples in Indian politics. It is not only a fight between David and Goliath, but also reveals a new strategy of political warfare. It is almost guerrilla warfare, planned very meticulously. Let me explain.
It is not that people are very happy with the present incumbent getting a third term. “Cut money” is a common term today and everybody is aware of the ‘bullies’ all around. A change would have been desirable – but then change to what? The people of Bengal have recoiled from an alternative which would have been worse. Literacy is a matter of pride of the state, and however poor the state might be, it is a wrong strategy to rub the people with a campaign which often sounded like a pack of marauders trying to run over the state with obscene wealth and grandeur. The campaign of the defeated team obviously lacked finesse.
On the other hand, let us try to understand the phenomenon called “PK” who planned the campaign for the winning party meticulously. His young team has been working at the grassroots level for the last two years. They have been visiting every block of the battlefield, collecting feedback and trying to rectify grievances. In the process they discovered many ‘leaders’ working against the party itself. As a result, caught unawares, many had to walk over to the enemy camp, and many candidates were replaced in the final list.
But let us try to understand the larger picture in the strategy. PK’s team is turning the academic sociology on its head. The society, to his team, is not a ‘hierarchy’ as academics would like us to believe. He treats the society as ‘modules’ which need to be given the right ‘sop’ which will make them vote for the party. Society is no longer seen in the traditional ‘caste’ hierarchy, or in the Marxist proletariat-bourgeois divisions. The ‘dalits’ in Bengal – Rajbansis in Coochbehar, or the Matuas in South 24 Parganas and Nadia or the Santals in Jhargram - needed to be treated separately according their aspirations. The popular schemes – like free cycles for the girl child, free shoes, money for continuing education, grants for marriage, subsidised rations (free in Covid times) - came in handy as effective sops. Women, who voted massively for the winning party, were consciously ‘well-oiled’ as a separate segment or module. And that is 50% of the population. Pampering the minority communities has been an accusation against the ruling party; but that too paid dividends – since all attempts to divide their vote failed.
Prasant Kishore built his battle strategy on the already popular schemes introduced by the ruling party. It was reaching the masses in spite of the complaints about discrimination, especially during the cyclone Amphan relief work. He knew the weaknesses of the state – unemployment and lackadaisical GDP growth; but he in the campaign did not plan to promise the skies in those sectors, which unfortunately the defeated party did. That was a trap where any promise would sound hollow. Rightly, PK’s strategy highlighted not the GDP growth, but the Human Development Index of the state which was clearly higher than many of the bigger and industrially more prosperous states of the country.
Though PK’s strategy of the state revealed an unconventional study of sociology, it is doubtful how long this would be sustainable in the future. The state’s finances will be in ruins if this ‘dole’ economy continues to be stretched beyond a limit. The desires and the demands of the people will continue to rise. With money easily available, the people of the state can become more and more lazy. It runs contrary to the idea of ‘atma-nirvarata’ which brings self-respect to a human being.