Narendra Modi mentioned sarbhaja and sarpuriya — the sweets West Bengal's Krishnanagar is famous for. For added sweetness, his opening notes of address in both of Sunday's rallies — in Krishnanagar and Kolkata — were in Bangla. But the syrupiness ended all too abruptly as the prime minister launched a bitter attack, continuing his recent belligerence against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The Bengal Chief Minister has been under the scanner of late for letting West Bengal chief secretary Basudeb Banerjee respond on Saturday to an Election Commission show-cause notice issued against her for prima facie violating the model code of conduct. It was, at best, an unusual move.
Modi suggested that it was a blatant misuse of state machinery. Interestingly, he chose to give Indira Gandhi's example.
"Didi, Indira Gandhi lost her membership for six years for misusing the government," said Modi, referring to the Allahabad High Court's decision in 1975 barring the then prime minister from holding elected office for six years.
"I read somewhere that the reply to Mamata Banerjee's notice was sent by the chief secretary. If this is true, then this is the biggest violation of the polling code. The EC show-cause wasn't sent to West Bengal's Chief Minister, it was sent to the Trinamool Congress candidate. The party, its lawyer or Mamataji herself should have answered it. Misusing government machinery is wrong," said Modi before a packed house in Krishnanagar on a searing hot and humid day.
Ever the master communicator, Modi's mention of Indira Gandhi's name — who had unilaterally imposed a state of emergency for 21 months across the country in 1975-77 — seemed a clever attempt at drawing an equivalence with Mamata Banerjee's rule which the opposition has frequently criticised as despotic.
The subtext of the comparison was also hard to miss, since it pointed to a close relationship between the Bengal CM — who cut her political teeth under Rajiv Gandhi's tutelage and still considers the former PM as her mentor — and the Gandhi family, a charge Modi had first leveled on 7 April this polling season. During that rally in Madarihat, the PM said Mamata never cares to attend CM's meetings but never fails to call on Sonia Gandhi whenever she is in Delhi.
Modi carried the charge of tyranny throughout his speech.
"The EC was doing its duty by issuing a notice against Mamataji. The country runs on rules, laws and order. If you refuse to go by the rules, then you should make it clear before the people whether or not you believe in democracy.
"Election Commission is an independent body and is respected by everyone across the world. Just as players respect the umpire, politicians should also respect the panel. Polls will come and go but if these institutions are destroyed, the country will not be able to be run," said the prime minister.
Ever since campaigning began for the West Bengal Assembly polls, the BJP has been forced to frequently dismiss charges of collusion with the ruling party. The Left Front-Congress alliance has gone to town alleging a "tacit understanding" between BJP and TMC since the Centre is weak in the upper house of the Parliament and needs TMC's help in passing bills. The charge has stuck somewhat thanks also to the apparent slowdown in CBI's probe into Sarada chit fund scam, raising suspicions of a quid pro quo.
Modi's belligerence, therefore, is aimed as much against TMC as against the charge of a collusion. And he spared no issue.
He said the Chief Minister's fight with EC is evidence that her party has given up the fight.
"On the brink of defeat, the Trinamool has lost its senses, Mamata and her party have accepted defeat. That is why she is not fighting with political parties, but rather with the EC. If the CM had looked after her state these last five years, she wouldn't have had to issue a threat against EC of 'tackling it' after 19 May."
Modi said Sarada chit fund scam, where lakhs of poor people were duped of their life's savings, is the fallout of the failure of India's banking system which left the poor outside its ambit.
"Sarada se Narada", said Modi, "is in a nutshell what's happening in Bengal. Party leaders were busy trading your future to fill their pockets and the entire country saw it live on TV."
He touched upon the much-discussed 'syndicate culture' in the state and draw a correlation between the syndicate regime and the Vivekananda Flyover collapse, accusing the Chief Minister of carrying forward the legacy of the Left.
Charging the three opposition parties — the Left, Congress and TMC — of turning Kolkata into an old-age home, Modi said his three-point agenda for the state is "development, development at a fast pace and overall development."
"Bengal has become an old-age home as youths here are forced to migrate in search for jobs, leaving their parents behind. And all three parties are guilty of turning the state into a graveyard for dreams," he later said during a rally in Kolkata's Shahid Minar ground.
He said the Narada sting videos were referred to the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee since the BJP is in a majority in the lower house. "But that did not happen in the Rajya Sabha, because we don't have majority there. Didi, Left and the Congress call the shots there. The issue was not handed over to the Rajya Sabha ethics panel to save those involved in the Narada scam."
Modi, however, spent a considerable time criticising the Left Front-Congress alliance, calling it "morally depraved."
"It is crucial that you understand how the Left and Congress are cheating you," said Modi. "The media in Delhi has stopped discussing the unholy tie-up between the two, actually they never even started it. Don't know what the media's compulsion is but it is an issue that must be discussed.
"Congress and the Left are cheating the people in both Bengal and Kerala. In Kerala, the communists say Congress is the source of all evil, while in this state they claim Congress and communists will join hands to work together.
"Do these parties consider the people fools? Voters in both Kerala and Bengal will seek an account from this morally corrupted parties whose only glue is opportunism and power is the only goal."
The BJP failed to cash in on the highs of 2014 when it polled an unprecedented 17 percent vote share.
Since then, it has been one downhill ride for the party which has been riddled with factionalism and lack of leadership in the state. Fracturing of the BJP's votes, largely expected this season, has inserted an element of uncertainty. Though Modi remains BJP's strongest weapon and the party has been careful not to overuse him as they did to poor effect in Bihar, it is anybody's guess whether he will able to change the game at the eleventh hour.