Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi
West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Image Credit: PTI and AFP


  • Modi has met his match in Mamata Banerjee
  • Banerjee is defending her citadel from the BJP with fury
  • Left cadres deserted the Front and migrated to the BJP
  • Can Modi out austere Mamta?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally met his match in West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Modi as Gujarat chief minister used to deftly play the “Gujarat Asmita” (Gujarat pride) against all comers.

With nine seats going to the polls today in the seventh and last phase of elections, Banerjee is now attacking Modi and BJP president Amit Shah using the “Bengal pride” slogan. She is saying with some justification that the vandalising of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s bust happened during Shah’s road show in Kolkata last Tuesday.

Derek O’ Brien Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader says: “No Bengali could ever desecrate the bust of such a sacred figure in Bengal. Shah had brought in a huge number of BJP workers from other states, including Gujarat, for his show of strength. And Bengal is a state where knowledge is particularly venerated alongside a strong regional cultural identity.

The BJP’s galloping inroads into the state keeps rubbing itself against local tradition and language. Banerjee, who is India’s most famous agitprop leader, has taken to taunting Modi and Shah as “expiry babu” and the “dhokla mafia”. The duo is not used to being taunted and jeered in the Banerjee way and react with inchoate fury.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah after the release of BJP's manifesto for Lok Sabha elections 2019, in New Delhi. Image Credit: PTI

Banerjee is defending her citadel from the BJP with fury. One of the reasons that the BJP has been able to grow strong in Bengal is the comprehensive way Banerjee has decimated the Left Front. Banerjee simply left no Opposition and the Left’s alliance with the Congress finished whatever little credibility it had as an Opposition.

The vacuum

The BJP filled the vacuum. Left cadres deserted the Front and migrated to the BJP. Sure there is a mismatch of ideology, but the cadres simply had no other way to oppose Banerjee.

Banerjee’s erstwhile second-in-command Mukul Roy defected and joined the BJP in 2017. Roy got respite from the CBI cases he was accused of once in the BJP. The erstwhile TMC strategist then ensured a steady stream of defections from the TMC to the BJP.

The BJP, which had reached saturation growth in the Hindi heartland in 2104 getting 73 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, is sanguine about making a Great Leap Forward in Bengal with its 42 Lok Sabha seats.

Shah and Modi have been regularly making forays into Bengal and making incendiary claims about Hindus being in danger in Bengal. Shah repeatedly says that Banerjee does not allow Saraswati Puja (very sacred in Bengal).

Bengal, the land that venerates goddesses, is now receptive to the Modi war cry of “Jai Shree Ram”.

Banerjee, is perhaps, the one politician who can take on Modi and more. He claims to be a “chaiwala” (tea seller), but she actually took tuition classes to pay for her university after losing her father at an early age. Modi claims to have no family ties. Banerjee is one better – she is single unlike him and has no attachment to her brothers. The one family member who a younger Mamata could not do without was her mother.

Unlike Modi who lives life billionaire style, Banerjee is a study in simplicity. She clings to her home in a shanty, wears the most inexpensive cotton saris and rubber flip-flops. Very unlike Modi and his monogram suit.

Banerjee refused to attend her nephew’s marriage, saying she did not celebrate such occasions. Banerjee is a published poet and writer. She also paints and sells her paintings to fund her party.

Can Modi out austere Mamta?

No way. So he attacks her on the criminal worker nexus of her party and how he wants to bring real development to Bengal, crippled first by the Left and now Banerjee.

Banerjee’s administrative record is patchy, but so is Modi’s. And with the vandalising, the Bengal voter is again listening to Banerjee.

Read more

Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi once said: “Kolkata is a dying city” and caused an outpouring of rage. Shah now calls Bengal “kangal” (broke). Banerjee says it is an insult to every Bengali.

So far the voting in Bengal has been marked with violence. But it is one of the most interesting battles in 2019. Will the BJP be able to make up its heartland losses in Bengal or will the Bengal tigress fend off Modi?

Banerjee is open about her prime ministerial ambitions, but they will come a cropper if the BJP can wrest seats from her.

Watch this space. Mamata versus Modi is an epic fight.

Swati Chaturvedi shirttail, Swati Chaturvedi intro, Swati Chaturvedi
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