Why Mamata and Modi are duelling fiercely

Intense verbal duels between Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, peaking in the former’s ‘slap of democracy’ remark, capture the keen contest between Trinamool Congress and BJP in the state, reports Times of India. The Modi campaign here is strikingly different, with TMC’s eight-year reign giving the PM many talking points. So even as attempts to fire up Hindutva proceed apace at the grassroots, he has focussed on the Trinamool tolabaazi tax or TTT – a popular reference to extortion syndicates that enjoy political patronage of local TMC leaders.

His references to Mamata as ‘speed breaker didi’ would also have hurt. After all, Mamata has had an unchallenged run with the Left in no position to criticise her development record. Ironically, TMC’s naked coercion of opponents during last year’s civic body polls may have fuelled BJP’s ascent. Signs of this rise were first evident in BJP’s impressive performance in that election itself in the Jangalmahal region – the state’s tribal belt headed to polls tomorrow. Even Left cadres appear to be keeping ideology aside to back BJP.

New fault lines have also emerged with BJP tapping the 23% Dalit population, especially the Namasudras, a community that migrated from East Pakistan with many still struggling for citizenship rights. The big challenge for BJP, which polled 87 lakh votes with a 17% vote share in 2014, would be to bridge the gap with TMC’s 39.8% vote share and 2.03 crore votes. Unless TMC or CPM and Congress with a respective 23% and 10% vote share suffer a massive slide, BJP may not bridge the gap this time. But the rumblings do not bode well for Mamata in the long run. If BJP succeeds in cultivating a strong local leadership, it will mount a mightier challenge in 2021.