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Bengal pops up in Modi's Varanasi speech

PM's targeted audience were the voters, BJP workers and the Trinamul establishment in Bengal

By Piyush Srivastava and Meghdeep Bhattacharyya in Varanasi and Calcutta
  • Published 27.04.19, 6:56 AM
  • Updated 27.04.19, 6:56 AM
  • a min read
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Narendra Modi Picture by Prem Singh

Bengal weighed heavy on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mind as he addressed party workers in Varanasi on Friday, painting a gruesome picture of BJP activists being murdered in the eastern state and attacking chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

The uncommon focus on the east in the northern heartland prompted suggestions that Modi’s targeted audience were the voters, BJP workers and the Trinamul establishment in Bengal.

BJP leaders have been claiming in private the east has gained critical importance for the party because of an assessment that it would be difficult to replicate the spectacular performance of 2014 in the north.

“You are lucky that you don’t suffer the way the BJP workers suffer in Bengal and Kerala,” the Prime Minister told booth-level workers in Varanasi, his constituency. “BJP workers in Bengal and Kerala tell their mothers before leaving home that she shouldn’t let the party flag droop if they are killed outside. In Bengal and Kerala, our people are working under the shadow of the bomb and the gun.”

That Modi was briefed in detail about Bengal was evident. “A BJP worker was hanged from a tree in Bengal in full public view to terrorise the people. Our workers in Varanasi don’t face such threats,” Modi said. A BJP worker was found hanging from a tree in Purulia district on April 18, and the police had lodged a murder case.

In an interview with a TV channel, Modi lamented what he called a change in Mamata. “It is sad to see that Mamata Didi has changed so much…. I have publicly admitted that my assessment about Mamata Banerjee was wrong. I used to think of her as a committed and hardworking woman.”

Modi, however, added that his relations with Opposition leaders, including Mamata, were not affected by ideological differences, for “they are also playing their democratic role”.

Mamata hit back, saying Modi’s comments betrayed his fear of a drubbing in Bengal, and asked the state’s voters to teach the “below standard” Prime Minister a lesson.

“He is so afraid of a poor showing here that he talks only about Bengal these days wherever he goes, even in Varanasi. Everyone else is scared of Modi, but not us. He knows it. That’s why keeps harping on Bengal,” she said in Raniganj.

“We have never seen a Prime Minister so below standard,” she added. “Look at the way he speaks….”