By Sirshendu Panth,
Kolkata : Keeping up a strong anti-BJP rhetoric, West Bengal’s indefatigable ‘Didi’ gunned for Prime Minister Narendra Modi through the year, lacing her speeches and social media postings with sarcasm and choice words as her government clashed with the Centre on various issues.
From mythology to ancient Indian history, Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee left nothing untouched in letting loose incessant verbal volleys at Modi, while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continued to increase its vote-share in various by-polls and local body elections in West Bengal.
As the BJP tried to emerge as a viable alternative to the Trinamool, Banerjee in turn endeavoured to project herself as the most prominent opponent of the Hindutva brigade nationally.
The feisty leader networked with regional leaders opposed to the Sangh Parivar — the ideological parent of the BJP as well as several right-wing outfits — and formulated decisions and actions that could give her brownie points over the central dispensation and its propelling force.
She fired on all cylinders, targeting Modi’s key policies like demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) while trying to exploit burning issues like sliding economic growth, rampant intolerance, the beef ban and cow vigilantism.
However, it was her colourful and strident attacks on Modi that grabbed the spotlight.
If she likened Modi to the greatest Sanskrit poet and dramatist Kalidasa, it was not because of the writer’s literary prowess but only a reference to an oft-told story of him “lacking intelligence as a youngster — cutting the branch he was sitting on”.
“All institutions (of the nation) are under attack. This is a dangerous game. The PM is behaving like Kalidasa, trying to cut the branch he is sitting on,” Banerjee remarked.
During another aggressive speech, Banerjee drew a parallel between Modi and demon king Ravana of the Ramayana epic.
“He claims that he has broad chest and shoulders. Even Ravana had broad shoulders. And he also had 10 heads,” she said, alluding to Modi’s drumbeating that he has a “56-inch chest”.
On another occasion, she predicted that “Barda” (elder brother) will have to bow out of office after the 2019 parliamentary polls.
Addressing a public meeting in Bankura district, Banerjee raised the pitch further, dubbing the Modi government “deaf and dumb”. But a separate barb was reserved for the Prime Minister.
“He used to call himself a ‘chaiwala’ (tea seller) before. Now he has become a millionaire ‘Paytm-wala’ (one who endorses e-wallets like Paytm).”
Demonetisation, to her, was Modi’s “shameless flop show” that she dismissed on Twitter as “visionless, missionless and directionless”.
Not in a mood to let go of any democratic mode of protest, she even knocked on the door of then President Pranab Mukherjee, urging him to “save the country from the mess” and sought a “national government” minus Modi. Banerjee was ready to accept another BJP leader at its helm and went to the extent of naming L.K. Advani, Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley as being acceptable.
While backing GST, Banerjee took the Modi government to task for rolling out the new regime with “disastrous hurry” on July 1. She called the step “another epic blunder” of the Centre.
The CBI probes into the multi-billion-rupee Saradha Ponzi scam, Rose Valley Ponzi scam and Narada sting footage controversy — in which a number of Trinamool leaders were implicated — were also bones of contention between the Trinamool and the BJP.
While Banerjee accused the central agencies of acting out of “political vendetta” on the BJP’s directions, the saffron party said it was an inquiry ordered by the Supreme Court.
Going ballistic, Banerjee threatened to slap defamation cases worth crores of rupees if the CBI did not proceed impartially.
The political battles between the Trinamool regime and the Centre even stretched to observance of red letter dates like Independence Day and Teachers Day.
When the Union Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) sent a circular to the states recommending a structured format promoting Modi’s pet “Swachh Bharat Mission” during Teachers’ Day celebrations in schools, the Mamata government shot off a counter-circular to schools saying the date needed to be observed with due reverence and solemnity as in “earlier years”.
Ahead of Independence Day, the MHRD had issued a circular specifying “additional activities”. But the state government came up with a directive asking the schools to “stop all preparations” for celebrating the day in the MHRD format.
With the Congress weakening, Banerjee kept herself busy attempting to strengthen ties throughout 2017 with prominent political leaders in the anti-BJP domain, particularly those from the regional parties.
She has been following many of them on Twitter, or exchanging pleasantries through tweets with the likes of ex-Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, senior Jammu and Kashmir National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, BSP chief Mayawati and DMK leader M.K. Stalin. She even met Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, a BJP baiter despite being an ally, though her party’s views on religion and secularism were diametrically opposed to those of the Sena.
Though Banerjee has stressed on “collective leadership” to challenge Modi, she gave enough hints at a media conclave last month that she is not averse to taking the lead in bringing together opposition parties on a single platform against the BJP in 2019.
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at email@example.com)