India’s most prolonged assembly election is witnessing a battle of nerves as the psychological warfare intensifies.

“The time has come for you to know/ I’m victim of propaganda war,” say two lines from a track in the Serbian band Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra’s 2000 album, ‘Devil In The Business Class’.

Pratik Kumar Mandal, a young student who lives in Bandel town within Chinsurah assembly segment in Hooghly district, believes that these lines might perfectly fit himself and many other residents of West Bengal as they prepare to exercise their democratic franchise in a high-voltage electoral contest being fought in hyperboles.

“A psychological war is going on in great intensity. The BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] managed to create a strong perception that they have nearly captured power but Prashant Kishor’s teams [representing the Trinamool Congress] are not lagging behind in this game either. As a result, I see people all around myself who are confused and clueless about which factor might work in which party’s favour determining the electoral outcome,” said Mandal.Mandal identified himself as someone who has been politically indifferent and non-committal, but this time he is keeping a tab on the happenings and campaigns around the elections more closely than ever.

“It’s an unprecedented election. People who quite frankly expressed their opinion even two months ago have now gone silent. Both sides are bluffing and both sides are getting their bluffs called out. As one of the results of this high-octave propaganda battle trying to expose or exaggerate the weaknesses in the rival camp, the real issues are getting lost,” he said, adding, “I think both sides have managed, to a certain extent, to confuse their critics.

”Mainak Pal, a doctor based in the Bhatpara area of North 24-Parganas district, had similar views.

“The propaganda war is intense and, I must say that that either both camps have succeeded equally well or failed equally miserably, because supporters of both camps stand utterly clueless about the outcome,” Pal said, adding that an interesting trend he noticed was that supporters of the TMC thought that the party may not return to power, while supporters of the BJP thought that Mamata Banerjee was likely to sail through.One of the features of this propaganda battle is, according to Pal, that personal attacks dominate politicians’ speeches instead of the real issues.

“It’s become more about bullying and ridiculing the opponent camp without talking the real issues,” he said.

One of the features of this propaganda battle is, according to Pal, that personal attacks dominate politicians’ speeches instead of the real issues. “It’s become more about bullying and ridiculing the opponent camp without talking the real issues,” he said.

The ‘psychological war’ reached its peak on April 1, the day of the second phase polling, when Nandigram, the site of the state’s most high-voltage battle, voted to choose its representative.When polling in Nandigram still going on and chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the TMC candidate from the seat, stranded inside a polling booth (no. 7 of Boyal gram panchayat) where she went to verify reports of alleged malpractices, Prime Minister Narendra Modi predicted Banerjee’s defeat in Nandigram and of her party in the rest of the state.Modi said that the body language of the chief minister said it all about what the results were going to be.

The ‘psychological war’ reached its peak on April 1, the day of the second phase polling, when Nandigram, the site of the state’s most high-voltage battle, voted to choose its representative.

When polling in Nandigram still going on and chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the TMC candidate from the seat, stranded inside a polling booth (no. 7 of Boyal gram panchayat) where she went to verify reports of alleged malpractices, Prime Minister Narendra Modi predicted Banerjee’s defeat in Nandigram and of her party in the rest of the state.

Later, from a rally in Howrah, he said, “Look at Didi and you’ll understand everything. Didi is the opinion poll, Didi is the exit poll.

Everything is clear from her expressions and body language.”Modi also said that people were talking about the possibility of Banerjee filing nomination from another assembly constituency.

He asked, “Didi, is there any truth in the reports that you are going to contest from a second seat?”Later, her principal rival in the seat, BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari appeared on a TV channel and claimed that Mamata Banerjee going to contest from a second seat, Murarai in Birbhum district, because she knew that she had lost Nandigram.

In Nandigram, while alleging polling malpractices and false voting, Banerjee also accused the Union home ministry of instructing the paramilitary forces to influence the voting in the BJP’s favour.“We will approach the [Election] Commission. We have made 63 complaints since morning but no action has been taken.

We’ll take the legal course if needed,” she said while waiting at the polling booth for the paramilitary forces to clear her road to return.Later, though she showed the media the ‘V’ sign, referring to her victory in Nandigram, and said, “My concern is not about Nandigram. I am winning. My concern is the larger threat democracy in India faces. There was cheating in the elections today.”

Later, though she showed the media the ‘V’ sign, referring to her victory in Nandigram, and said, “My concern is not about Nandigram. I am winning.

My concern is the larger threat democracy in India faces. There was cheating in the elections today.”

West Bengal CM and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee addresses an election campaign rally for Assembly polls, at Baruipur in South 24 Parganas, Sunday, April 4, 2021. Soon after Modi’s rallies, TMC Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien addressed a press conference in Kolkata and slammed Modi for spreading rumours. “We have won Nandigram. We have got sufficient internal inputs to say so. But we may still approach the ECI over a few booths,” O’Brien said.

The party also wrote a tweet, saying, “Didi is winning Nandigram. The question of her fighting from another seat doesn’t arise. @narendramodi Ji, retract from your efforts to mislead people before they see your lies with the end of nomination in WB. Look for a safer seat in 2024, as you will be challenged in Varanasi.”

TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh rubbished Adhikari’s charges, saying that Banerjee did not go out because of her confidence and that she went to only one booth because there the BJP was not allowing TMC supporters to vote.Ghosh said, “He has gone mad sensing a loss.

He is trying to put up a brave face in front of BJP leaders. Overall, the BJP created problems in only about three booths and those too managed later. All the BJP is trying to do is to create a false perception among the voters of the next phases about their prospect.”

Political observers and common people said that both the TMC and the BJP were trying to influence public perception using the happenings in Nandigram on Thursday and the ‘body language’ of Banerjee and Adhikari during the day, keeping in mind the coming six phases of the elections when 234 seats will go to the polls.

According to Abhik Banerjee, a lecturer in physics based in Bhatpara town of North 24-Parganas, the mind game is played with two intensions.

To influence the ‘floating voters’ and to keep morale of their respective camps high.

“There seems to be a significant chunk of indecisive voters this time. The floating voters, who not committed to any party, usually tend to vote for the party that has greater prospect of winning. That is why both parties are trying hard to portray itself as a winner without even a contest,” the lecturer said.

He said that one of the plans of the BJP supporters in this perception game is to create confusion in the name of Prashant Kishor, the poll strategist working with Mamata Banerjee’s party since June 2019.

Abhijit Sengupta, a chartered accountant based in south Kolkata’s Garia area, said that neither of the camps seemed to have emerged victorious in this propaganda war, which evident from how a good number of people believed there could a hung assembly.“I have been voting since the 1970s and I have never witnessed an election with such tension, uncertainty, anxiety and war of words.

Every fault and lacuna in one camp is being magnified by the other, often disproportionately, making it very difficult for the people to assess the situation,” Sengupta said.

It is as part of this perception game that the media teams of both the BJP and the TMC keeping an eye on the rallies of the opponent parties, taking photos of those every time the crowd thin and chairs remained empty. These photographs promptly shared with journalists, showing how the rallies by the opponent party were drawing no crowds.

Responding to this, TMC’s Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien said, “I am amused by the ‘Mind Games’ of Amit Shah.

Overall, Trinamool held a 3% vote share advantage over BJP in Lok Sabha elections of 2019. In spite of the big talk from the ‘tourist gang’, Trinamool has substantially built on that lead in 2021. Catch us if you can. #KhelaHobe,” he tweeted.

The TMC has tried to portray the battle for Bengal as one between one woman (Banerjee) and the might of the Union cabinet, central investing agencies, paramilitary forces, BJP leaders from other states and even the EC. But when they refer to that woman, they refer to her as a born fighter who cannot be scared by any mighty power.