New Delhi: Prashant Kishor, Mamata Banerjee's election strategist, appears to say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is "as popular as" the Chief Minister in Bengal in excerpts of a Clubhouse chat posted on Twitter by the BJP's Amit Malviya this morning, NDTV reported. The bombshell audio clips dropped as the state voted in the fourth round of polls, and triggered a wave of triumphant posts from BJP leaders.
In the chat last evening with journalists, Mr Kishor also appears to say polarization, anger against the Mamata Banerjee government and Dalit votes were the three factors working in favour of the BJP in this election.
"The TMC's election has just been thrown away," Amit Malviya, the BJP's social media in-charge, said in the clips that have gone viral in the middle of the nerve-wracking Mamata Banerjee versus BJP battle in Bengal.
In his first response to the damning tweets, Mr Kishor challenged the BJP to release the full transcript of the chat.
"I am glad BJP guys are taking my clubhouse chat more seriously than the words or their own leaders. With regards to the selective and distorted use of part of the conversation, I urge them to release the full conversation," the poll strategist told NDTV.
To underline his point on selective leaks, Mr Kishor flagged one of the audio clips posted by Mr Malviya in which he talks about what he calls the perception that the BJP will win the Bengal election.
Mr Kishor says in the clip: "If there is a vote, then it is in the name of Modi, in the name of being Hindu. Polarisation, Modi, SC (Scheduled Castes), Hindi-speaking - these are the factors. So whether a Hindu is going or Prashant Kishor is coming, that has no bearing. That is not the issue. Modi is popular here. Hindi-speaking people have more than one crore votes. Dalits are 27 per cent and they stand with the BJP fully. Plus, there is definitely polarization."
A journalist asks, "Which way will the Matua community vote?"
The reply: "Matuas will be predominantly voting for the BJP, not as unitedly as they did in Lok Sabha. I feel it will be 75 BJP to 25 Trinamool. We do a survey saying who will you vote for and who will form government. (The answer to) 'who will form government' is predominantly BJP. We analysed why this is. This is because those who are BJP voters are anyway saying BJP will come to power. The 15% voters who are Left - two-thirds of them believe BJP forming govt. So you will always hear a majority saying BJP is coming to power. Left supporters say whatever happens, if BJP comes to power then we are back in business, at least Mamata (Banerjee) should lose now. This is a matter of perception. The substantive issue on the ground is people think BJP does not have workers on the ground. That is not true. BJP has many workers on the ground. And they may all be imported from Left but they are working dedicatedly for the BJP. There is no area in Bengal where BJP does not have strong cadre."
The Matuas are lower caste Hindu refugees from Bangladesh who can impact Bengal votes significantly.
Mr Kishor is asked, "Then who's voting for Trinamool?"
He replies, "50-55% Hindus are voting for BJP..." before the audio cuts off.
Responding to the clip, Mr Kishor said today: "For example, this was said in response to the question - how BJP is getting about 40% vote and why there is a perception that BJP is winning?"
In another clip, Mr Kishor appears to concede that there is anger against the Mamata Banerjee government in the state but not against the centre.
Journalists ask why PM Modi is popular in Bengal and why there is no anti-incumbency against his government despite the economic crisis.
The strategist replies: "No there isn't. There is a cult of Modi in the entire country."
He also comments: "Modi is popular in Bengal. We are doing a survey on leaders and PM Modi and Mamata are equally popular, which is a very big thing."
Amit Malviya said in his tweets that Mr Kishor "spoke too much without realizing that the conversation is not private and is being recorded".