THANKURNAGAR/DURGAPUR: Prime Minister Narendra Modi Saturday mounted a no-holds-barred attack on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, accusing her of "killing" the aspirations of the middle class and claiming her party TMC was known for "Triple T--Trinamool Tolabaji Tax", a reference to organised extortion.
Virtually kicking off his Lok Sabha election campaign on Banerjee's turf, Modi addressed two public events where he unleashed a bilious assault on the TMC supremo and made a pitch for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill to which the feisty West Bengal leader is strongly opposed.
"The TMC is killing people's aspirations, but the Centre will fulfil their (people's) dreams. The TMC doesn't take interest in initiating development projects where there is no share for the syndicate where there is no 'malai' (cream)," he told a rally in Durgapur. Taking a swipe at the TMC over alleged corruption, Modi said West Bengal's ruling party was known for "Triple T--Trinamool Tolabaji Tax".
In local parlance, 'tolabaji' is roughly understood as an act of organised extortion.
At another event of the Scheduled Caste Matua community at Thakurnagar in North 24 Pargana district, Modi made a strong pitch for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, insisting it would bring "justice and respectability" to those who faced religious persecution.
He also requested the TMC supremo to facilitate the passage of the Bill.
The Matuas originally hail from erstwhile East Pakistan and began migrating to West Bengal at the beginning of the 1950s, mostly due to religious persecution. However, Banerjee Saturday reaffirmed her opposition to the contentious legislation and sought its withdrawal.
After passage in the Lok Sabha, the Bill awaits clearance in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling NDA is short of a majority.
Pleased with the impressive turnout at the Durgapur rally, Modi said, "I can clearly see that Bengal will bring in change. Their (the TMC government's) departure is assured. Your love for us is making them lose their sleep."
Modi's sharp criticism of Banerjee is seen as an attempt by the BJP to expand its base in the state where the TMC boss's writ runs large.
The BJP currently has only two of the state's 42 Lok Sabha seats, and it has set an ambitious target of winning 22 this time.
Attacking Banerjee over her supporters' strong-arm tactics, the prime minister alleged the TMC leader was treading the path of the previous Communist dispensation despite being a victim of its violent brand of politics.
"Sitting in Delhi I thought that since Didi (Mamata) had suffered so much at the hands of the Left, she would never take that route. Now I am surprised as to why such things are happening in Bengal. Now I know that it is your love (for Modi) that has made her loose her sleep," Modi said, taking a dig at Banerjee.
The firebrand West Bengal leader had in 2011 ended the 34-year uninterrupted rule of the Left Front after a prolonged fight during which she was physically assaulted several times.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, while addressing separate election meetings at Coochbehar and Alipurdwar too assailed the TMC rule.
Banerjee hit right back, asking Modi and Singh to worry about winning their respective Lok Sabha seats before dreaming of a victory in West Bengal.
She branded the BJP leaders as "outsiders" who had "zero idea" about the culture and customs of the state.
Modi said BJP workers were being assaulted and threatened under Banerjee's "misrule".
During his speech in Durgapur, Modi pointed at a man who was allegedly assaulted by TMC supporters while on way to the rally venue, and said the state's ruling party will not succeed in throttling democracy by attacking BJP workers and damaging their vehicles.
There was widespread violence at Kanthi in West Midnapore district a few days ago soon after BJP president Amit Shah's rally.
Both the TMC and the BJP accused each other of indulging in violence during which several vehicles were damaged, including public buses.
"The way a party (TMC) has given a free run to its workers to indulge in violence, and the way the government officials behave, mark my words that their departure is assured people will not tolerate this for long," Modi said.
He said his government wanted to make eastern India the leader in its vision of a 'New India' and West Bengal had a very important role to play in that endeavour.
Modi said several projects were launched in West Bengal to improve connectivity. He also inaugurated some electrification projects of Indian Railway before addressing rally.
He claimed despite "huge increase" in budgetary allocations by Centre for infrastructure development, state government was not serious about executing projects.
Modi said work on nearly 2 dozen large projects had either not begun or was going on at snail's pace.
"We are totally with people of state to free them of Jagai Madhai, syndicate raj of TMC," he added.
Jagai and Madhai were two brothers who were initially against Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, famed 16th century seer, but later became his ardent followers.
Calling TMC dispensation "anti-development", he assailed it for pulling out of Ayushman Bharat scheme under which about 17 lakh people of the state would have got free medical treatment up to Rs 5 lakh.
He said government under Banerjee pulled out of scheme over political considerations as she felt people would credit him for benefit.