Tread Cautiously on the Outsiders Jibe: This could be a double edge sword for Mamata
As heat builds up on the West Bengal Assembly elections, the outsider jibe could well be a double-edged sword for Mamata Didi says Smita Mishra.
For months now, Mamata Bannerjee and other Trinamool Congress leaders have been throwing the 'outsider' jibe at BJP. At times they refer to the historical North-India identity of the party and at other times at the BJP's alleged lack of sensitivity towards Bengali culture and ethos. In her most recent comment, she pulled in an entire community while saying Gujarat would not rule over Bengal, an unveiled reference to the roots of PM Narendra Modi and HM Amit Shah.
The BJP leaders, both national and state-based, are giving it back by pointing out Mamata Bannerjee's alleged aversion to Indians from other states but 'love' for the Rohingyas. The party is also fashioning its campaign in a manner which showcases their special association for local culture and practices. Visits to Shantiniketan, praying at well known temples and invoking local deities, eating at poor farmers' houses have become everyday images lately.
Just a cursory look at the comments and counter comments of the past few weeks makes it clear that the 'outsider' is fast becoming the X factor in the high-voltage West Bengal elections. This is neither the first time that the outsider-insider issue is being whipped up in elections nor is it likely to be the last.
From Jammu-Kashmir to Tamil Nadu the bogey of the outsider has been looming large on the poll horizon. But this may be a good milestone to analyse whether raising the outsider bogey does really help to win an election. This is easier said than done because there are always a hundred reasons for victory as well as defeat.
In the last few years, Nitish Kumar can be singled out for taking the outsider jibe to the highest pitch when he coined the Bihari vs Bahri slogan in 2015. The Maha-gatbandhan (Grand Alliance) he was leading won the elections hands down. That he left the Grand Alliance even before hitting midterm and happily joined the Bahri (or BJP) is also worth recording. What cannot be simply incidental here is that the strategist, Prashant Kishor, who held charge of Nitish Kumar's campaign in 2015 is also Mamata Bannerjee's manager in these polls. So did Nitish Kumar's stoking the Bihari sentiment against the outsider win him the polls? The jury is still out on that. But what is an undeniable fact is that the BJP had lost the Bihar polls in 2015 the very moment JDU and RJD came together. The social alliance umbrella was just too formidable for the BJP to breach.
Similar attempts made against the outsider in Assam, other North Eastern states and the South have had a chequered graph.
One might point out that Prime Minister and the most powerful BJP leader till date, Narendra Modi, himself fought more than one assembly election on the highly emotional Garvi Gujarat slogan. But there are glaring dissimilarities here. The Garvi Gujarat or Proud Gujarat slogan was not directed against any 'outsiders'. It was against the attacks on Gujarat and Gujaratis or a campaign to malign the state following the 2002 riots. It brought rich electoral dividends. It primarily aimed instilling a sense of pride without questioning anyone from campaigning in the state.
Coming back to West Bengal, the new inductees in BJP, who are very much sons of the soil, would help to blunt the outsider charge but in the end the election would be decided on who the voter perceives as the better in governance.
And while we are on the issue of outsiders, it may not be off the mark to mention some of the stalwarts in Indian politics who made their mark as 'outsiders'. From Indira Gandhi in Medak to George Fernandes in Muzaffarpur and Sonia Gandhi in Bellary, the Indian voter has time and again showered her support on outsiders. Prime Minister Narendra Modi winning from Varanasi is just the most recent.
(Smita Mishra, Adviser, Prasar Bharati)