Narendra Modi at the rally in Kankurgachhi on Wednesday. Picture by Amit Datta
May 7: Narendra Modi today wrapped up the Bengal leg of his campaign for the Lok Sabha elections by firing fresh salvos at Mamata Banerjee, with whom he has been engaged in a duel since he broached the Saradha scam at a rally in Siliguri on April 10.
Every time he said “Didi” today, the crowd at Kankurgachhi’s CIT Park erupted in applause. The BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister tore Mamata apart, accusing her of letting down the people of Bengal who had voted in her favour in the 2011 Assembly elections.
“Parivartan Bangal mein ana tha, lekin parivartan Didi mein aa gaya (Change was supposed to come to Bengal, but Didi changed),” Modi said, adding that he had “great expectations” from the Bengal chief minister.
“This is my fourth term as chief minister, but there has been no change in me in 14 years. What happened in three years that you (Mamata) changed so much?” he asked.
Modi’s Kankurgachhi rally in support of Rahul Sinha, the party nominee for Calcutta North, was his eighth meeting in Bengal in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.
The Gujarat chief minister had launched the BJP’s campaign in Bengal with a rally on the Brigade Parade Grounds on February 5. On April 10, he held his first-ever meeting in north Bengal. Modi came to the state again on April 27, addressing a rally in Serampore. He held two more meetings in Bankura and Asansol on May 4. Today, he held public meetings at Krishnagar and Barasat before addressing the 5,000-plus gathering at CIT Park.
“I have been coming to Bengal so frequently and I am overwhelmed with the response I have got here. You have full right on me,” said Modi, who thanked the people of the state for “increasing his strength”.
Although the BJP won only one seat in Bengal in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and drew a blank in the 2011 Assembly elections, the party’s support base has increased in the run-up to this general election. Modi’s meetings in the state have witnessed huge turnouts.
That Modi held eight meetings in Bengal, BJP sources said, was an indication that the party was expecting a better showing in the state this time.
Barring the Brigade rally, Modi has been critical of Mamata in all the other meetings. He raised uncomfortable questions for the Bengal chief minister and gave a new lease of life to the Saradha default scam, which the other Opposition parties had failed to capitalise on during the panchayat polls last year.
“You love me so much. Because of your love, Didi is angry with me. I am worried about her health,” the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate said.
In the last few meetings, Modi has found another tool to attack Mamata with, accusing her of playing vote-bank politics and allowing infiltration from Bangladesh. He vowed to send the “infiltrators” back after May 16, the day the election results will be announced.
Infiltration from Bangladesh is an emotive issue in Bengal, which shares a porous border with the neighbouring country. Since the formation of Bangladesh in 1971, lakhs of refugees have come to Bengal, creating an imbalance in the use of scarce resources such as land and employment opportunities.
As refugees and infiltrators often become synonymous and there is discontent in the bordering districts at people from Bangladesh entering Bengal in search of a better life, BJP leaders have been trying to highlight the issue to make electoral gains by polarising votes.
With Modi broaching the topic ahead of the polls, Trinamul and the CPM — both of which are competing for minority votes — have launched an attack on him.
Mamata said at a rally on May 5 that Modi should be “sent to jail with ropes tied to his waist”. She had called for his arrest a day earlier for allegedly inflaming the situation in Assam where violence has claimed 39 lives since Thursday.
Modi today criticised Mamata for what he perceived as her double speak on infiltration. “On August 4, 2005, Didi had shaken Parliament. She had fought alone like a lioness on the issue of how infiltrators were being allowed into Bengal to swell the Left’s vote bank. But when as a brother I repeated what she had said, I became a criminal,” he said.
On August 4, 2005, Mamata had flung a bunch of papers at the deputy Speaker’s chair and marched out of the Lok Sabha after her demand to raise the infiltration issue was disallowed.
At the CIT Park rally, Modi mocked Mamata for saying she wanted him arrested. “For a Rs 100 rope, the government will float a tender and Rs 1,000 will be quoted and these Saradha people will take part in the tender. As the rope will be used to tie Modi, the tender will be cancelled on quality grounds and a fresh one will be floated and the price will go up to Rs 10,000. What’s the point of spending so much money?” he asked.
“Please tell me the (name of the) jail in which you want me lodged. I will go there. It will give me the opportunity to learn this sweet language and I will also learn Bengali songs. But I know that Didi will not give me the opportunity,” he added.