After historic virtual politburo meet, is the Left ready to take Bengal poll fight digital?
Top CPM leader Mohammad Salim pulled no punches while taking about BJP's and TMC's "virtual rally" expenses. "Of course, we can't hire a video van and put up 72-inch LED TVs on bamboo orchids..."
Addressing citizens from her home, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee launched her blitzkrieg for the crucial 2021 state Assembly election through a "virtual rally" on "Shahid Dibas", a day that has gained significance for Bengal's polity.
With over 77000 screens set up across the state, Banerjee in her first public address ahead of the polls trained her guns on the BJP, accusing her rival of "destabilising governments in Opposition-ruled states".
Her rally comes a month after Home Minister Amit Shah sounded the poll bugle "virtually" on June 9.
With the COVID-19 pandemic denying politicians the opportunity to address rallies where a sea of humanity will have to jostle for space, both the TMC and BJP are now bracing to fight it out digitally in Bengal.
The TMC, which handed over its campaign duties to the Prashant Kishor-led I-PAC, is building an army of youth to counter the BJP’s social media onslaughts led by its IT cell head Amit Malaviya -- a notorious spin master.
The only key contender yet to join the "virtual rally" bandwagon is the Left, who defiantly maintain that their work on the ground will outshine any virtual theatrics.
"The Prime Minister and the Home Minister are in 24x7 election mode. When they launched their rally in Bengal last month, we were helping people on the streets. We have been extending support to the people of Bengal for over 110 days now. The BJP and TMC are oblivious to the sufferings of the people. Be it the migrant workers or those hit by Amphan or the flood-affected people, the CPM is helping everyone. We are exposing corruption. We are providing ration and relief and making people aware of the coronavirus," former Lok Sabha MP and senior CPM politburo member Mohammed Salim told The New Indian Express.
He argued that instead of "sitting behind the microphone", the foot soldiers of the party are extending help to the people on the street. "Left has activists and foot soldiers across the state. BJP doesn't have foot soldiers. They have rumour mongers," a dismissive Salim stated.
The Left's emphasis on their work on the ground comes at a time when they have revamped their approach to social media after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. From senior leaders addressing netizens live to organising Twitter storm (a sudden spike in activity surrounding a certain topic), they have been there and done that.
The Left, which had aggressively protested against the use of computers in early 2000, conducted their first "virtual politburo meet" earlier in June, a revolution for the revolutionaries indeed.
"This is nothing new for us. We are taking the help of mobile and technology to mobilise volunteers. We could make our organisation active through videos and audios. We are using virtual media for communication. We don't want to give it a brand name," Salim added.
There is also the not-so-small matter of raising money and mobilising resources that might be prompting the Left's hesitancy. In a country where only 23.8 per cent of rural households have digital literacy, this is a key factor to run a full-fledged online campaign.
Salim pulled no punches while talking about BJP's and TMC's "virtual rally" expenses. "Of course, we can't hire a video van and put up 72-inch LED TVs on bamboo orchids. We don't have IT cells nor can we engage companies. The young minds, who are volunteering and helping people on the streets are our social media activists," he said.
Jadavpur MLA Sujan Chakraborty echoed Salim's views. "Let BJP and TMC show their money power, we will beat them in our ways," he insisted.