Modi in West Bengal, 2014 & 2016: then sweet as ‘sandesh’, now stings Mamata

It was an attempt to replay 2014 – only far more aggressively. Narendra Modi’s maiden West Bengal (WB) rally in Kharagpur town may have been a shot in the arm for the BJP in the state but it may still be too little too late.



Prime Minister Narendra Modi , West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Baner jee and Babul Supriyo, Minister of state for Urban Development during the launch of three Social Security Policy by Central Government at Nazrul Mancha, Kolkata on Saturday. Express photo by Subham Dutta. 09.05.15

Prime Infighting within different factions of the party had left the BJP rudderless for the past six months. With a weak leadership and little direction, the BJP had lost steam and seems to have frittered away an unprecedented 16 per cent vote share that it had captured in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, riding on a nationwide Modi wave. And this was a vote share in a state that has traditionally had absolutely no BJP presence.

So when an aggressive Modi took the stage on Sunday to address an enviably large gathering of thousands of people, he appealed to those present to “not consider” whether they knew their MLA candidate or not but to think instead beyond the state leadership and vote for the BJP and for Narendra Modi.

During his one-hour long speech, one of the longest speeches in WB so far (Mamata Bannerjee typically speaks for 20-25 minutes. One of her longest speeches in her toughest district of Malda lasted 45 minutes), the Prime Minister took on the Left and Congress alliance calling it opportunistic. More importantly, he took Mamata Bannerjee’s Trinamool Government head on.

Sample this. In 2014, addressing equally large and excited crowds in Hooghly, Modi began his speech with trite expressions, calling West Bengal “amar shonar Bangla” ,”Aami tomake bhalobashi” and “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow”. The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2014, proceeded to extol WB for its rasgolla, sandesh and Durga Puja, and followed that up with a number of “connections’” between WB and Gujarat: how Rabindranath Tagore’s brother had stayed in Ahmedabad to help build it, how Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s brother had lived in Gujarat for a while and how Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo had visited the state. In between, he merely touched upon his main platform of development.

Now Prime Minister, Modi’s speech at Kharagpur was sharper, more intelligent and more focused. He slammed the Mamata government for corruption. For the first time, he mentioned Sharada and the Narada sting operation (“Sharada se narada tak”). He said that the only change the Mamata government had brought in by ridding West Bengal of the Left was that of extortion and violence. He hit out at the lack of industrialization and said that the only industry running in the state were those that manufacture arms and bombs. He said that all the schemes that the incumbent chief minister was taking credit for were schemes launched successfully by his government at the Centre. He ended on his usual note of bringing much needed progress, employment and development to West Bengal.

While his speech was an open attack on his rivals in the state and hit all the right chords with the cheering crowds, it is remains to be seen if the huge number of supporters who arrived at the venue will translate into actual votes — or will voters veer toward the safer option of voting in a stable government in the garb of the Trinamool Congress?