KOLKATA: Buffeted by reverses in the Lok Sabha polls, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday unveiled a massive public outreach programme under which over 1,000 party leaders will visit 10,000 villages over the next 100 days to understand people's problems and redress their grievances.
As part of the outreach programme, the brainchild of election strategist Prashant Kishor, Banerjee, also the Trinamool Congress chief, launched a helpline number 9137091370 and a website www.didikebolo.com which people can access for a direct interface with party functionaries.
"Over the next 100 days, more than 1,000 party leaders and workers will reach out to 10,000 villages in the state, spend days there with local people and try and address their grievances," Banerjee told a press conference after a brainstorming session she had with TMC MLAs and top party functionaries.
"Assembly elections are still 20 months away. So, it is not happening with an eye on assembly polls. It is our mass connect programme to reach out to people," she said.
The outreach is being seen by many as an effort to gain political ground the state's ruling party had ceded to the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections in which the saffron party clinched 18 of West Bengal's 42 Lok Sabha seats, just four less than the TMC.
"People can directly get in touch with us on the helpline number and the website and speak about issues affecting them. We will try and address them. They can share their opinion and views with us. They can directly speak with us," Banerjee said.
She said the campaign through the website will be in Bengali language.
The TMC has hired the services of Kishor's Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) to shore up its popularity after it took a beating in the Lok Sabha polls.
Kishor has had several rounds of meeting with Banerjee and her core team over the last few weeks and I-PAC representatives were present at Nazrul Manch, the venue of Monday's event, where the TMC chief called upon party leaders to return to "Trinamool" (grassroots), after which the party takes its name.
"Prashant Kishor is behind the massive outreach programme. The feedback of this will be scrutinised by Kishor and his team who will use it to chalk out the party's strategy and plug the loopholes," a senior TMC leader said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The surge in BJP's popularity in West Bengal took the TMC by suprise.
The TMC has ruled the state since 2011 after Banerjee powered it to a historic win that brought an end to the 34-year unbroken communist rule.
A senior TMC MLA said Banerjee told her party leaders during the closed-door meeting that they should shun "VIP culture".
She asked them not to use beacon-fitted vehicles while going to interact with common people.
Banerjee, he said, asked those present to woo back TMC old-timers "even if we have to apologise for mistakes we might have committed in the past".