A week is a long time in politics. Two years, by that metric, is eternity. In 2014 when he was an aspirant for the Prime Minister's chair, Narendra Modi had urged voters in Kolkata to send him to Parliament for the proverbial "dono haath mein laddoo" — a BJP sarkar in Delhi to complement the Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal.
That bonhomie didn't last long.
But in a measure of just how much water has since flown over Ganga, Modi launched a severe attack on the West Bengal Chief Minister in back-to-back rallies in different parts of the state on Thursday, giving an indication that the BJP, written off as an also-ran in 2016 Assembly elections, still believes it can pull off an unlikely upset or at the very least play the spoiler in an election which increasingly looks headed for a photo-finish.
Stepping into the state on officially its hottest day of the season, Modi ramped up the temperature a several notches, taunting the ruling TMC as a "Terror, Maut, Corruption" party that has demolished in five years what little of the state was left after 34 years of Left "misrule".
"I am amazed when I hear about the discussion that is going on in Bengal ahead of the Assembly polls," Modi said in Birpara block of Alipurduar where he addressed the fist rally of the day.
"When CPM says why are so many women getting raped under your rule, Didi responds by saying how many were raped when you were in power?
"When CPM asks the Chief Minister why are so many people getting killed in this state due to political violence or while making country bombs, Didi reminds them of the deaths that happened under their watch.
"When CPM asks an account from the CM over charges of corruption, she snipes back at the Left, saying were you also not corrupt?", posed Modi, wondering aloud if this is what the state needs and its people want while electing a government to power.
In a house of 294, the TMC is projected to win 156 seats down from 184 five years ago, says a recent C voter poll.
There is still no doubt that had the Left Front-Congress alliance not taken place, Mamata Banerjee would have still romped home despite a reduced number of seats in the first-past-the-post system. But the most unlikely of alliances has not only changed the chemistry of the election, it has also changed the mathematics of it with the combined vote share of Left and Congress now expected to run the ruling party close.
In this scenario, no one takes the BJP seriously with the C Voter poll pegging its vote share at 10 per cent, up 6 per cent from 2011, a decent rise but still no threat to the major players.
But these calculations are based on an assumption that transfer of votes between the Congress and Left Front shall take place. What if it doesn't? While a part of the grassroot workers from both parties were canvassing for an alliance, a sizeable number were opposed to it. For the Left and the Congress, there is also the moral hazard of cozying up to each other in Bengal despite being at daggers drawn in Kerala. What is to say that the voters in Bengal won't see through this dichotomy?
Modi, ever the strategist, wasted no time in driving the point home.
"Once upon a time, the Congress used to sit in Parliament with over 400 seats," he told a rapturous crowd in Asansol, his second stop.
"Now look at its pitiable state. Desperate to stop the slide it is now riding piggyback on the Left," he said.
"So eager is Congress for power that it is fighting the Left in Kerala as the principal opposition, slamming each other and washing dirty linen in public while in Bengal, it hopes to fool people by cozying up to the Left in an opportunistic embrace", said Modi.
"Bhaiyyon or beheno, Kerala mein kusti, Bengal mein dosti, yeh hai Congress ki asliyat", Modi thundered on in front of a packed house in Asansol from where Babul Supriyo was elected during the 2014 general elections.
Modi knows that BJP is the only party which comes with a clean slate with Bengal, shorn of all baggage and he sought to press home the point by hinting at a grand electoral conspiracy between the TMC and Congress.
"As the Prime Minister, whenever I called a meeting of the Chief Ministers in Delhi to know about the problems they are facing in their respective states, I never found Mamataji attending the meeting.
"It was almost as if since 'Modi has called a meeting, I will not go and meet him, doesn’t matter if I fail to voice the problems of the people in the forum'."
"But even if she remains absent from the Chief Ministers' meeting, she never fails to call on to Sonia Gandhi. In fact, whenever she comes to Delhi, Mamata didi makes it a point to visit Sonia ji and seek her blessings. They even pose for photos together," said Modi in barely concealed sarcasm.
"Does it leave anyone in any doubt that no matter what they say in public, the Congress-Left-TMC are all the same?
"It is only the BJP which through its proven track record of development in each of the states where it is in power can legitimately stake claim for a government in Bengal that will focus on education, healthcare, jobs, studies, electricity, water and all other factors needed for development," he said.
If Union home minister Rajnath Singh's rally on Wednesday created murmurs about BJP not highlighting corruption charges against the TMC, Modi today sought to set the record straight.
"This isn't Ma, Maati, Manush sarkar dear friends", Modi paused for emphasis. "This is Maut, Maut and Money sarkar. Where they show on TV ministers taking bribes in thick wads of cash and asking for more."
"When the flyover collapsed, I was astonished to hear the Chief Minister start a blame game by putting the onus of the accident on the Left Front government instead of directing her efforts into saving the lives which were still trapped under the debris. Was it a time for politics? Is this is what is expected of a Chief Minister," Modi said, reminding the crowd that had the flyover been completed, Mamata Banerjee would've been the first one to cut a ribbon and claim credit.
"It wasn't an Act of God, did, it was an Act of Fraud."
"Just give us five years," he added dramatically. "You have given 34 years to the Left, 5 years to a corrupted government. Now give us 5 years and see the difference," Modi ended with a flourish.
It may all still be poll jumla, but in an election where every guess may end up as egg in the face, only the boldest will hazard a prediction.
First Published On : Apr 7, 2016 18:38 IST