- Both are headstrong, filled to the brim with messianic zeal
- Modi and didi are both mercurial, though he conceals it far better behind a forbidding imperial mien
Ratan Tata, the iconic billionaire once called Narendra Modi the “good M” in contrast to Mamata Banerjee the “bad M,” who had agitated successfully to get the Tata’s dream Nano factory out of Singur.
Modi, the then Gujarat Chief Minister, had sent a text massage, welcoming Tata to Gujarat to build what was dubbed the “world’s cheapest car”.
Lot of things have changed since then. Modi has become a second term prime minister, post the successful Singur agitation; Banerjee decimated the Left and is now chief minister of Bengal; and the Nano car is nearly out of production, an example of a flop product.
What remains are the similarities between Modi and didi (sister) as Banerjee is called.
Both are headstrong, filled to the brim with messianic zeal, always convinced they alone know what is right and near dictatorial in their treatment of colleagues and officials.
Both also have a fierce connect with the public, drawing their strength from the masses, and near identical rags to riches stories.
Modi cannot taunt didi as a “naamdaar” (known because of a family name). She is as self-made as he is, pulling herself up by the “chappal” (slipper) straps to become the first woman chief minister of West Bengal.
Modi and didi are both mercurial, though he conceals it far better behind a forbidding imperial mien, and both given to strong likes and dislikes.
The Bengal dream
Didi ousted the Left, her singular achievement and created a party, the Trinamool Congress, after breaking away from the Congress, which she has ensured is a reflection of her.
Modi took the BJP, a strong cadre-based party with a joyous tradition of inner party democracy, and he along with his doppelgänger Shah, made it into a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to the greater glory of Modi.
Modi and Shah in their audacity of ambition now dream of wrestling Bengal away from didi. And this is the fight of Banerjee’s life, much bigger than her epic struggle against the Left.
After a disastrous confrontation with junior doctors, which saw didi and appeasement politics painted as the villain of the piece, lovingly showcased by the cheerleader channels, a chastened Banerjee has reworked strategy.
To stop Modi and Shah from marching into Bengal, all guns blazing, didi has now played the sub-nationalism card. Didi says that you will have to know the Bangla language if you want to work in Bengal.
Some of the BJP candidates, who won the recent elections from Bengal, are unable to speak Bangla.
Banerjee also refused to attend a meeting called by Modi for his pet project “one nation, one election”.
The sub-nationalism and language card by strong regional satraps is going to be the defining feature of Modi’s second term. Modi as chief minister was for a strong federal structure as envisaged by the Constitution. No surprises now that he wants unitary control for the Centre as he desires all powers.
Interestingly, Modi’s ally, Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, whose status is currently complicated in the BJP relationship, has not objected to his party member, poll strategist Prashant Kishor, working with Banerjee.
Didi recently hired Kishor, fresh of his success with Jaganmohan Reddy, to work on her campaign for the Bengal polls.
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Kumar, battling an image shrink and the death of more than 140 children in Muzaffarnagar due to encephalitis, is more than happy to encourage little fires everywhere for Modi and Shah.
Shah had made 81 trips to Bengal before the general elections. And now as one of the most powerful Union home ministers has riled Banerjee up every day sending advisories on the collapsing law and order in her state.
Didi has retaliated by stoking up “Bangla pride” much as Modi used “Gujarati asmita” (Gujarat pride) throughout his tenure as Gujarat chief minister. Another uncanny similarity. Didi has also dialled back appeasement of minorities, understanding that angry Hindus are turning to the BJP.
Will Bangla pride work against the two Gujarat strongmen?
Watch this space as we bring you the most fascinating political battle.