The ruling Trinamool Congress on Thursday announced a new mass outreach programme with an eye on the upcoming panchayat elections in West Bengal.
Among other targets, the programme seeks to empower voters to choose candidates, whom the party will give nominations.
TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee told a press conference that the campaign, christened 'Trinamooley Nabajowar' (new wave in Trinamool), will start from April 25 and continue for 60 days during which he will cover 3500 kilometres from the northern part of the state to the southern.
"This programme will reach out to the masses and empower them to choose candidates for the three-tier panchayat system to build a people's panchayat. There will be a secret ballot system organised by the party, where villagers can provide feedback on who they want as their candidate. The party will nominate that person," he said.
Banerjee, considered the number 2 in the TMC, said the programme aims at ushering in a new wave of progress and development at the grassroot level by identifying the right set of public representatives through a democratic and decentralised process, taking the opinion of the people.
The mass outreach programme came at a time when the ruling party of West Bengal is facing various charges of corruption and a number of its leaders have been arrested by CBI and ED.
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Explaining the details of 'Trinamooley Nabajowar', Banerjee said during the two-month long programme, he will cover 3,500 kilometres and address 250 plus rallies across West Bengal.
"Every day, I will be addressing 3-4 rallies. The programme will start from Cooch Behar and end at Kakdwip in South 24 Parganas. I will be staying on the roads during this entire two-month stretch. I will be meeting people, participating in community dinners, conducting rallies," he said.
The campaign has been divided into two parts- "Jana Sanjog Yatra" (Mass outreach campaign) and "Gram Banglar Motamot" (Opinion of rural Bengal).
"Under the Gram Banglar Motamot, a first-of-its-kind referendum will be held to finalise candidates for the panchayat polls. The people can participate in a secret ballot to recommend the right candidate for the three-tier panchayat polls," he said.
The two-term TMC MP ruled out reports of similarities with the Congress's Bharat Jodo Yatra, saying had the programme been conducted by foot "to cover the entire state including municipal areas, it would have taken at least two years".
To a query about what the party would do if locals vote for an opposition party worker as their desired TMC candidate, he said he would personally talk to the person to convince him to fight on a TMC ticket.
"If he agrees to contest as our candidate, it will be fine. If not, we would again seek the opinion of the locals before selecting a candidate," the nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said. For the past few months, Banerjee has been iterating that the people will decide the TMC candidates for the panchayat polls.
When asked if the campaign is aimed at weeding out rotten elements, he said, "I cannot say there has not been any instance of corruption at some levels. This campaign will only empower the people to weed out corrupt elements."
The TMC presently controls all the Zilla Parishad and most of the gram panchayats in the state.
Widespread violence was reported from various parts of West Bengal during the 2018 panchayat polls in the state. There were allegations that opposition party activists could not file nomination papers because of threats by the TMC leaders.
The TMC's tally in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls came down from 34 to 22 the following year and the opposition BJP's tally went up from two to 18 in the state.
The senior TMC leader said that the party wants peaceful elections, and in case the opposition complains of being unable to file nominations, he would "personally ensure that their candidates can be able to do it.
With the majority of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal having rural and semi-urban areas administered by panchayats, absolute control of the rural bodies is a must for political parties to have the upper hand on rivals in the parliamentary elections in 2024.
This is the fifth mass outreach campaign conceptualised by the political consultancy group- I-PAC, launched by the TMC in the last four years. The first of them was "Didi ke bolo" (Tell Didi), which started months after the rout in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The last one was launched in January this year, christened "Didir Suraksha Kavach" (Didi's Protective Shield).
Party supremo Mamata Banerjee is called 'Didi' (elder sister) by her followers.
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