A day after the Election Commission took unprecedented action in response to poll-related violence in West Bengal, campaigning for the final phase of Lok Sabha polls came to a close in the state amid sharp (and unusual) barbs between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and All India Trinamool Congress (TMC). While TMC chief Mamata Banerjee said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should "do sit-ups" for 'destroying' the state's heritage, the prime minister said that West Bengal is "not the private fiefdom" of Banerjee.
On Thursday evening, Banerjee held a padyatra (march) through the streets of Kolkata, where people joined in with black flags and candles to protest against the 14 May violence near Vidyasagar College where social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's statue was broken during clashes.
State power minister Sovhandeb Chatterjee, MLC Debashis Kumar, South Kolkata candidate Mala Roy, and Jadavpur candidate Mimi Chakrabarty were also present at the march. Crowds engaged in vociferous sloganeering, chanting "Vande Mataram'" and "Amar deshe bar bar, Mamata dir sarkar (This country needs Mamata Banerjee's government)."
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Both the TMC and BJP have blamed each other for damaging Vidyasagar's statue. In response to the saffron party's promise to rebuild it, Banerjee retorted, "In the last five years, you (Modi) could not build a Ram Temple and you want to make Vidyasagar's statue? People of Bengal won't beg before you. We have enough money to build it. Your goons came here and said 'Bangal kangal hai (Bengal is bankrupt)'. Are Bengalis kangal?" Banerjee was referring to a comment by Shah at a poll rally at Canning earlier this week in which he had said that under Banerjee government "sonar (golden) Bangla has become kangal (pauper) Bangla".
On the other hand, Modi said at a rally in Dum Dum, "The youth in Bengal are being put behind bars for chanting 'Jai Maa Kaali' and 'Jai Shri Ram'. For sharing a meme, our daughters are being sent to jail. This won't be tolerated any more. The intruders will be held accountable when the Modi government is formed once again on 23 May." The prime minister's statement came against the backdrop of a Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) activist being arrested for sharing a meme of Banerjee.
'Bengali pride is hurt,' says Banerjee
Banerjee called Modi a liar, the likes of whom "have never been seen in the country". Later, in even stronger statements, she termed him a "fascist" and a "torturer".
Banerjee further said, "He (Modi) should squat holding his ears for destroying a heritage of the state."
"The media has shown how Vidyasagar's bust was broken. Bengalis' pride is hurt and they will not spare BJP. They will not give it (BJP) a single vote.... It will be very surprising if Modi gets a single vote from Bengalis," Banerjee claimed.
#MamataBanerjee has started her padyatra from Sukanto Setu and is heading towards Jadavpur Bus Stand. #LokSabhaElection2019 | Follow LIVE updates: https://t.co/33RCFDKyn3 pic.twitter.com/n7CEZaMuOf — Firstpost (@firstpost) May 16, 2019
Banerjee also accused the prime minister of holding a public meeting, in a nearby area, on a land owned by a person who runs an unlicensed micro-finance institution.
"I am going to file a case against the person who owns the land. Is BJP getting a share of the pie from him? I have come to know that the person is raising crores," she said.
She alleged that the BJP is spreading fake messages on the social media and warned the voters not to fall prey to it. Later speaking at another rally at Diamond Harbour, from where her nephew Abhishek Banerjee is seeking re-election, Banerjee said BJP has develeoped a sense of fear of losing the elections.
"As the last phase of elections is approaching, you (Modi) have become mad and are talking nonsense... Modi had promised to usher in achhe din but see how the prices of diesel, gas and petrol are being increased. The government is going to close down companies like BSNL and Air India if it comes to power.... The BJP government is now killing Adivasis and minorities."
'Bengal not Mamata's fiefdom', says Modi
Modi Thursday tore into TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee's criticism of the Election Commission saying had it not ensured free and fair polls she would have never been able to oust the Left and be the chief minister.
Modi also criticised Banerjee for her comments labelling BJP leaders in the state as "outsiders" and said Bengal is a part of the country and not her personal fiefdom.
"Didi is abusing the EC and central forces today. But there was a time when during the Left rule, she used to demand central forces. Had the EC and the central forces not conducted free and fair polls, she would have never been the Chief Minister of Bengal," Modi said at a poll rally at Dum Dum.
Hitting out at Banerjee for labelling the BJP leaders in the state as "outsiders", Modi said she has problems with people coming from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar but "welcomes infiltrators with open arms".
The Election Commission on Wednesday ordered campaigning in nine West Bengal constituencies to end at 10 pm on Thursday, a day before its scheduled deadline, in the wake of violence between BJP and TMC workers in Kolkata.
Deputy Election Commissioner Chandra Bhushan Kumar said it was for the first time that such an action has been taken using constitutional powers of the poll panel.
EC takes action after poll violence
The EC's action came a day after parts of Kolkata witnessed widespread violence during BJP president Amit Shah's massive roadshow in the city.
The order said it has been brought to the notice of the Commission that there have been growing incidents of disruption and violence during the political campaigns and processions in West Bengal during the ongoing elections.
"During the review with the observers it clearly came out that while logistics arrangements... are mostly on track... there is distinct resistance and non-cooperation from the district administration and district police when it comes to providing level playing field to all candidates for campaigning and in providing a fearless and free environment to the voters," the order read.
It said, the observers pointed out that while on the surface, everything looks fine, in their frank interactions with the public, the fear psychosis that is widely prevails comes out.
"They pointed out that utterances of the AITC (Trinamool Congress) senior leaders on the lines of 'central forces will leave at the end of elections, while we will remain, sends a chilling message among the officers as well as voters alike," it said, referring to the report of special observers Ajay Nayak, a former IAS officer, and Vivek Dubey, a retired IPS officer.
Reading out a statement, Kumar also said, the Commission is "deeply anguished" at the vandalism done to the statue of Ishwarchandra Bandyopadhyay (who was conferred the title of 'Vidyasagar').
In the previous phases of the election, while West Bengal has seen high voter turnouts, the polling process has been marred by numerous instances of violence.
With inputs from 101Reporters and agencies
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Updated Date: May 16, 2019 23:01:36 IST