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…but Modi’s missiles are music to Didi

Narendra Modi speaks at the rally in Siliguri on Thursday. Picture by Kundan Yolmo

Siliguri, April 10: Narendra Modi has launched for the first time a scathing attack on Mamata Banerjee, which must have been music to her ears as she has been trying to put as much distance as possible between herself and the BJP to consolidate the decisive minority vote.

On February 5, the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister had dished out “laddoos” for Mamata from the Brigade Parade Grounds in Calcutta, offering the beleaguered Left a handle to accuse her of keeping the door ajar for an alliance with the BJP after the polls. Since then, Mamata has been referring to the “face of riot” and drilling holes in the Gujarat model of development.

Today, it was Modi’s turn.

Main soch raha tha yahan ki mukhya mantri Congress party ki alochana karengi, Left ki alochana karengi… Lekin din mein jab tak woh Modi ki alochana nahi karti, unko khana hazam nahi hota (I was thinking that the chief minister of Bengal will criticise the Congress and the Left, but unless she criticises Modi, she can’t digest her food),” Modi said.

He was addressing an election rally at Panchkelguri Grounds in Siliguri in support of BJP candidates in the region — S.S. Ahluwalia from Darjeeling, Satyalal Sarkar from Jalpaiguri and Birendra Bara from Alipurduar.

Modi did not mention Mamata by name but referred to her as “mukhya mantri”.

“She wanted him to attack her and that’s why she was going after Modi. Today as he has opened his mouth against Mamata, it will help her to convince the minority voters that there is no chance of an alliance between Trinamul and BJP,” said an official.

Last time at the Brigade, Modi had mooted a symbiotic relationship between the government in Bengal and Delhi — “A change has happened in Bengal. You give me a chance in Delhi… You will have laddoos in both hands,” he had said.

This time, he said: “Jo sarkar ko aapne chuna tha, usko agar sahi raaste par lana ho, to Dilli mein ek bade master-ji ko bithane ki zarurat hai (If you want to bring the government that you voted to power on the right track, there is a need for a senior teacher in Delhi),” said Modi.

The uncertainty about the extent to which the BJP will increase its vote share in Bengal because of the focus on Modi is the other reason why the Bengal chief minister has made her Gujarat counterpart a target.

Local compulsions may have been playing on the mind of Modi, too. Unlike in Calcutta where he was addressing a preparatory meeting, the rally today was held specifically to canvass votes for BJP candidates in a region where the party is expected to do better than last time. A soft stand on Mamata here would have proved counter-productive to the candidates.

For the BJP, the three north Bengal seats are important because of its traditional support base in the area. In 2009, BJP candidate Jaswant Singh won from Darjeeling while party nominees from Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri polled 21 per cent and 7 per cent votes, respectively, higher than the all-Bengal average.

In view of the four-cornered battle in Bengal, the BJP, which has sewn an alliance with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, is confident of winning the Darjeeling seat and giving a tough contest to the Left and Trinamul in the other two seats.

“That’s why we got Modi-ji here as the party has good prospects in this region,” said a local BJP leader.

Although there was significant divergence between the BJP’s claim on turnout (2 lakh) and police estimate (around 35,000), there was little doubt that today’s rally was the biggest ever by the BJP north of the Bhagirathi in Bengal.

The party’s rally at the Brigade Parade Grounds on February 5 had drawn around 1 lakh supporters, then a record of sorts for the party that has always been a marginal player in the state.

Modi, who was the main attraction at Brigade last month, had disappointed the BJP’s state leadership by steering clear of the usual fireworks associated with his performance

However, today he did not pull any punches, holding the state government responsible for the Saradha scandal and accusing Mamata of playing vote bank politics.

“We all know about the cheating of chit fund that happened here, the Saradha scam… They even looted poor people, who saved Rs 10 a day,” the Gujarat chief minister said.

The Supreme Court is expected to take up on April 16 — a day before four north Bengal seats vote — the question whether the CBI should probe the deposit-default scandal.

Modi twisted the knife in Trinamul’s Saradha wound. “Please give us a chance to teach a lesson to those who looted the poor people…. They have to be punished irrespective of their political affiliations,” he said.

Although Modi did not elaborate what he meant by “lesson”, he dropped hints that if he came to power at the Centre, the Saradha scandal could be probed.

Modi’s talking points suggested he wanted to go all out against the Mamata government and he was briefed on local issues. He mentioned the recent scam in the Siliguri-Jalpaiguri Development Authority, which led to the arrest of a district magistrate and later to the unceremonious exit of the commissioner who had dared to arrest the district magistrate on corruption charges.

“These people have carried out so much loot in such a short period… Just imagine what they will do if they get more time,” Modi said.

He could not resist taking a dig at Mamata for her past in the Congress. “Those who have the Congress DNA in their minds, they need to be thrown out. There are some people who change the name of the party, but don’t change the habit,” he said.

His audience in Siliguri had a considerable representation from the so-called apolitical or rally-allergic club belonging to the middle- or upper-income segments.

Sushil Marda, a businessman in his late forties, turned up with friends in trendy clothes and shades.

“This is the first political meeting I am attending after I came of age. The last time I had attended one was in 1977 when Indira Gandhi came here. I was a kid then... Today, am here because I like Modi who is a natural choice for businessmen,” said Marda. Siliguri is a trading hub and Marwaris have a decisive say in matters business.

In the evening, Mamata struck back through the usual medium of Facebook. She cited figures to claim Gujarat’s decadal growth rate has fallen and added: “The myth of industrialisation of Gujarat… is also false propaganda as industrialisation had already happened before he (Modi) came to power.”