Even as the opposition Left Front and the Congress go through a labyrinth of procedures in their bid to cobble up a possible alliance for the assembly polls later this year, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has steamed ahead with a clear-cut three-pronged strategy to charm the voters.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief has been showering goodies aplenty on various sections of the people to drive home her development agenda, wooing the minorities who comprise a sizable part of the population and scouting for potential allies to widen her base.
While populism has always been an integral part of her polity, Banerjee has been raining sops by inaugurating a plethora of projects across the state, announcing distribution of foodgrain at Rs.2 a kg and doling out scholarships to girls, bicycles and shoes to students and loans to the jobless youth for self employment.
Among the several schemes she has been tom-toming is her pet Kanyashree project – a cash-transfer programme for the education of girls which has even been recognised by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – and the Sabooj Sathi scheme under which four million government school students are entitled to get bicycles.
In January, she came out with Khadya Sathi (food programme), under which nearly 80 million beneficiaries will be entitled to wheat and rice at Rs.2 per kg, and a Rs.154 crore scheme for providing shoes to students in Classes 1 to 4.
In her frequent public meets, Banerjee has also been claiming that her government has provided jobs to over 6.8 million youths across the state.
While the opposition has been targeting Banerjee over the "dismal" industrial scenario and agrarian distress, political analysts Anil Kumar Jana asserts the sops showered will play a large role in influencing the voters.
"The Trinamool’s base is the rural population and it will not look into why there is lack of industry or ponder much over agrarian distress so long as they get foodgrain at Rs.2 or their children draw benefits under the Kanyashree or the Sabooj Sathi," Jana said.
"Banerjee has of late been ensuring the smooth implementation of central schemes, thereby sending out a signal that it was her government that is doling out benefits when in fact it is using only the central funds," Jana opined.
Often accused by the opposition of indulging in appeasement politics, Banerjee has been reaching out to influential minority leaders of the likes of Siddiqullah Chowdhury of the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and Toha Siddiqui, the peerzada of Furfura Sharif, a prominent shrine for Bengali Muslims.
Muslims comprise 27 percent of the state’s population.
While Chowdhury has announced that his party would align with the Trinamool for the assembly polls, Banerjee got a further shot in the arm by inducting former state minister and one-time frontline Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Abdur Rezzak Mollah into the party fold.
"Even as the Congress and the Left Front drag their feet on the alliance issue, Banerjee has been making the right moves in consolidating the support of minorities. Besides wooing prominent Muslim leaders and clerics, her bid to reach out to the likes of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has further strengthened her secular credentials," political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty said.
Amid the countrywide debate over growing intolerance, Banerjee also scored some brownie points on the secular front by hosting Pakistani ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali in the city.
Despite vowing to never return to India after his concert was cancelled in Maharashtra following threats by the Shiv Sena last October, the legendary singer was elated and expressed gratitude to Banerjee after his performance in the city on January 12.
Cultivating new allies in areas of the state where her party is comparatively weak, Banerjee has roped in the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha ideologue and legislator Harka Bahadur Chhetri, who has broken ranks with his parent party and formed the Jana Andolan Party political platform. The Kalimpong MLA is all set to align with the Trinamool, which is also assured of support from eight other breakaway central committee members of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM).
The GJM’s split could stand the Trinamool in good stead in Darjeeling hills and adjoining areas of northern Bengal, even if the Left and the Congress succeed in forming an alliance.