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Mamata and Modi in no-holds-barred battle

With Congress reduced to a “fringe” party as Arun Jaitley recently termed it, a resurgent BJP’s main challenge comes from regional players like TMC in West Bengal which has 42 Lok Sabha seats. TMC’s firebrand leader and WB CM Mamata Banerjee is one of the prime challengers to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

With Congress reduced to a “fringe” party as Arun Jaitley recently termed it, a resurgent BJP’s main challenge comes from regional players like TMC in West Bengal which has 42 Lok Sabha seats. TMC’s firebrand leader and WB CM Mamata Banerjee is one of the prime challengers to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

 

While Modi is an out and out an organisation man who rose in the ranks to become a four-time CM and finally PM, Banerjee is a street fighter, who broke away from Congress, formed her own party in January 1998 and made it the ruling party of West Bengal within 13 years when she overthrew 34-year-old Left Front government in the state.

The acerbic Mamata-Modi relations were at full play even in the run-up to 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when she called him “Danga Babu” (Mr Riot); Modi, she said was “very jealous and angry” over people of all faiths, caste and creed living together in peace in Bengal.

It grew bitter with each passing day. Two years before Lok Sabha polls 2019 rolled out, she had called on Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in April 2017, taking the bold initiative towards forming a non-BJP, non-Congress front to check the saffron surge days after BJP unveiled its “Act East” plan during its national executive in Odisha.

That was also the month when BJP chief Amit Shah launched his party’s expansion programme from Naxalbari village in West Bengal, from where left-wing extremism had started in the late 1960s, indicating BJP’s bold ambition to effect a turnaround shift in the state’s political narrative.

Two years later as elections take place in West Bengal, the most vitriolic war of words that Modi has engaged with any regional leader so far is Mamata and the discourse has not spared even the classic sweet of Bengal Rosogolla.

Irked at Modi’s remarks in the run-up to polls that she sends him sweets occasionally, the fuming TMC leader said this time Bengalis will give Modi rosogolla made of clay with gravels that will break his teeth. Modi responded that rosogollas made of Bengal’s soil, on which countless legends and freedom fighters from Bengal have walked, will be a holy offering for him.

The rosogolla repartee apart, Modi never spared an opportunity to target what he called “speed-breaker” Didi as he accused her of obstructing implementation of central government’s programmes in the state.

Addressing a rally in Midnapore before the sixth phase of polls on Sunday, Mamata drew the parallel of 1942 Quit India movement with 2019 polls saying her party was fighting to oust a “fascist Modi” from power.

After Modi at an election rally said that West Bengal under Mamata was known for “triple T -- Trinamool, Tolabaazi, Tax”, Banerjee hit back with full force, “If I am a tolabaaz, what are you? Your entire body - from head to feet - is drenched in the blood of people. Only riots, only riots and only riots”. Tolabaazi” is a derogatory word to describe organised extortion.

Ma Mati Manush is the triple M slogan, coined by Mamata. On April 4, she released a music video “Maa, Mati, Manush” for the Lok Sabha polls.

BJP’s answer to triple M is Modi, Mukul and Muslim. Modi is the Hindutva poster boy drawing huge crowds. Mukul Roy is the organisation man, who after deserting TMC and joining BJP is trying to do for the saffron party what Himanta Biswa Sarma did for the saffron party in Assam after deserting Congress.

The BJP has now a government in Assam and in Bengal, Roy is known for the same skill, which Himanta is in the North Eastern state. Credit for a large number of TMC leaders joining BJP, goes to Roy.

And Muslims are the favourite punching bag of BJP in almost all election speeches directly or indirectly-be it in the name of attacking Pakistan, illegal migrants from Bangladesh or NRC. According to the 2011 census, Bengal has 24.6 million of Muslims, nearly 27.01% of the total population and they do not vote for BJP for sure. In this highly-polarised election, they serve both the ends, not by design but by default.

‘Extorting money’

Modi is also targeting Mamata government of neck deep corruption telling her “Didi is busy building her bhatija’s career when her ministers and cadre are looting and extorting money from the people”.

As it reaches out to aspirational youths in the state, who want to seek Kolkata at par with other metros in the country and have a feeling that the state missed out in the development journey, the BJP has repeatedly been accusing Mamata of failing to generate employment. TMC vehemently counters and claims that it has created employment through the promotion of handicrafts, small scale and cottage industries, village-based industries and self-help groups. But clearly, the state has not made quite a mark on industrialisation, though TMC has been in power for only 8 years as of now.

In January this year, Mamata, in a show of strength against the BJP government at the Centre, organised a rally in Kolkata attended by leaders from 23 political parties. After May 23, Mamata will again be in news. Already Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu has kicked in speculation when he said that under Mamata’s leadership the country will get a new PM.

For the BJP, which is extending its footprint beyond the Hindi belt, West Bengal is its destination next in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Congress is a marginal player for a long time in the state while Left seems to have left the imagination among the people. BJP is clearly seeing an opportunity to become the alternative force in the state.

In a quirk of irony, Trinamool is now being accused by a resurgent BJP of the same allegations which the former had levelled against CPI-M in past and made it an election issue, won WB decimating 34 years-rule of Left Front.

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