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You can pick your metaphor: It takes iron to break iron. Diamond cuts diamond. If you so wish, you can even say, poison is the only antidote for poison. It means the same thing. But the last may be more appropriate, given that the election campaign we are talking about is our most venomously bitter yet.

The tone has been set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Nobody can deny him that proud distinction — calling opponents anti-national, in cahoots with Pakistan, families on bail/halfway to jail and so on. His party chief Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath have taken this forward, one calling Muslim immigrants termites or other kinds of vermin, and the other pitching Bajrangbali versus Ali.

In large parts of the country, especially the Hindi heartland, this is working. But there is a distinction. It is working where the BJP’s main rival is the Congress.

In Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himachal, the BJP sees this line working. Because it is mostly up against the Congress. It responds by asking how its patriotism can be questioned if Indira Gandhi broke up Pakistan, or how do you call us soft on terror when our father and grandmother were assassinated by terrorists. But it sounds defensive, and its tone isn’t right. Or not wrong enough. Because, as we know, it can’t cut poison with coconut water.

To understand how this works, come to West Bengal with me, going through the most verbally and physically violent election in the entire country. This is also where Modi and Shah have found their match, in ‘didi’ Mamata Banerjee — her loyalists prefer the old-style ‘Bandyopadhyay’ though. Not a word she says in response to the BJP is defensive, nothing is said to play the victim, and because you mocked her, she mocks you back like none else can, with the possible exception, lately, of Raj Thackeray.

The Modi-Shah BJP has been targeting Bengal for five years. If Hindu-Muslim polarisation is its ticket to power, Bengal should be even more amenable to it than Uttar Pradesh. That’s because Bengal, like Assam, has a nearly-30 per cent Muslim population. As with the Congress in Assam, there is a feeling that the rulers, first the Left and now Mamata, have been appeasing them for votes

It worked in Assam, so it must work in Bengal. That is the reason BJP leaders have been claiming a near-sweep, upwards of 22 seats out of its 42. After Uttar Pradesh (80) and Maharashtra (48), West Bengal sends the third largest contingent of MPs to the Lok Sabha.


Also read: From Soviet Union in Alimuddin Street to a watch repair shop in Singur


If this is where the BJP expected to partly make up for the losses it might suffer in Uttar Pradesh and other states it had swept in 2014, it should rethink. It is true that the prime minister’s rallies have been enthusiastic and big. But given the low base, the BJP has an electoral Kanchenjunga to climb here.

Mamata also isn’t impressed by BJP’s shock-and-awe tactic. She is probably the toughest politician in India now, tougher than Mayawati. She is also a street-fighter, which Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi, Kamal Nath and Akhilesh Yadav aren’t. But, for further clarity, Arvind Kejriwal is.

Steeled through survival in a state that was no better than a Left Front concentration camp for her, she also knows the art of turning adversity into opportunity. Or grabbing the opportunity when Narendra Modi says it’s become difficult for Bengalis to even hold Durga Pujas.

I track her through rallies on a day when the menacing advance vanguard of the coming Cyclone Fani stalks her helicopter. Durga Puja is the theme running through these rallies, in Bhatapara (Barrackpore, where former railways minister Dinesh Trivedi is contesting) and Rajarhat, on Kolkata’s outskirts, where Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar seeks her third term.

“Modi babu, you must do your homework before you shout expletives at us Bengalis,” she speaks at a pace that even that other fast-talker Gautam Gambhir can’t keep pace with, striding left to right and back on her stage with the wireless microphone, without looking anybody in the eye.

“Even kids get scolded by didimonis (teachers) when they go to school without doing their homework. What will people do when you lie? You come to Bengal and tell people that there’s no Durga Puja?

“Now, tell me mothers & sisters here do we have Durga Puja or not?

Crowd: We do.

Mamata: Does anyone stop you from celebrating Durga Puja?

Crowd: No.

Mamata: Louder, does Durga Puja take place here?

Crowd: Yes.

Mamata: Lakshmi Puja?

Crowd: Yes.

Mamata: Saraswati Puja?

Crowd: Yes.

Mamata: Boro din (Christmas)?

Crowd: Yes.

Mamata: Ramzan?

Crowd: Yes.

Mamata: Chhath Puja?

Crowd: Yes.

But there’s only one thing that doesn’t happen here Modi. Modi hoy na (Modi doesn’t happen here)… BJP hoy na, mithya (falsehood) hoy na, kutsha (character assassination) hoy na.

Mamata turns the knife and not slowly. Do your homework, and set it on your teleprompter, so you don’t make a fool of yourself here, “Modi Babu”, she says, a hundred times more mockingly than Modi calls Rahul shahzada or how Rahul may call Modi chor. She lists, in one breath, all the various pujas that take place in Bengal, taunts Modi if he even knows the Saraswati Mantra, then recites it in Sanskrit — her crowds, including hundreds of Muslims, cheering. What does Modi know about each religion?

She quickly moves to food. “Modi babu,” if we come to Gujarat, we eat dhokla, idli in Tamil Nadu, upma in Kerala, litti-chokha in Bihar, halwa in Gurudwara, lassi in Punjab. You order people, don’t eat fish, meat, eggs. Pregnant women should not eat eggs. “Hey brother, who are you to order what women can eat or not?” The country, she says, is being told to eat what Modi eats, buy the waist-coats he wears, watch him on TV all day. “I used to think he was a selfless RSS pracharak,” she says, “but now these RSS men who paraded in khaki knickers (short-pants) roam shopping malls in trousers carrying briefcases and make crores.”

She attacks him on demonetisation, never wastes a second on Rafale, and delivers the final blow: “A party that was starving not long ago and used to smoke the same beedi thrice a day, now owns billions.”

“And then they call themselves, chowkidar,” she says as crowds sets up a “chowkidar chor hai” chant that is louder and more spontaneous than any you hear from the front-rows in Rahul’s rallies. In Bengal, Rahul’s party is her rival too. But she has neatly appropriated his slogan.


Also read: Bengal stands up to ask for more


The question then: Why does this slogan look so effective in the hands of a one-state leader when the Congress invented it and spread it across the country? The short answer is, the Congress is yet to understand the Modi-Shah method. Unlike Vajpayee and Advani, these two are street fighters and they have accordingly changed their party’s DNA. To fight street-fighters, you need street-fighters. Remember, just as we said in the very beginning, iron breaks iron, diamond cuts diamond, and only poison counters poison. If Modi and Shah have made a poisonous, polarising campaign their brahmastra for 2019, Mamata Banerjee is showing them its limitations. Or why it will “hoy na” (won’t happen) in her state of 42 MPs.


Also read: From Soviet Union in Alimuddin Street to a watch repair shop in Singur


 

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32 COMMENTS

  1. You have missed the rallies of DMK in Tamil Nadu, or probably because of the language barrier. We fight the poison with the omnipotent Dravidian antidote. 😉

  2. Everywhere we observe that writers are always suggesting how to dismantle a politician from a position rather than discussing how to bring good leaders to solve the issues troubling the masses. Pray we get good leaders who bring quick progress and prosperity than suggesting always how to bring somebody down. Healthy discussions providing credible solutions should be the basic matter of elections but completely opposite matters are taking the limelight and obscuring the vital requirements.

    • Yours is the best response. Both, the incumbent and challengers have lost it; the narrative is toxic and vision completely missing. There is stench of desperation in GE 2019. Modi is the biggest disappointment because he has taken a regressive leap from Swach Bharat; Start-up…; Make in…to the worst form of corrosive campaigning. However, as they say, a nation gets the government it deserves. Only hope that there is some silver lining at the end of all this.

  3. Hate is a very strong emotion that can unite family, community, village, state, nation into one. Hindu society has always been fragmented. Savarkar effectively used minorities as boogeyman to coerce unity among Hindu society. This scare of ‘others’ eating up into the fair share of rightful hindu pie has been administered poison in Hindu psych since a long time. It didn’t start in 2014. Modi has just given social acceptance status to hate mongering. Those who are fighting him are foolishly walking into the trap laid by Hindutva narrative…

    The only one who has successfully destroyed Modi’s credibility is Raj Thackrey because he refuses fight Modi on Modi’s narrative. He
    is fighting Modi with jokes. Modi has been reduced to a carricature for his audience. To fight hate try humour. To fight fire, use water.

  4. What does this term ‘street fighter’ mean in politics? Modi-Shah are street fighters, so is Mamta and also Kejriwal. Is Kanhaiya Kumar one? Or he is the suave one? Mulayam Singh? Laloo Prasad? Mayawati? Azam Khan? Mehbooba Mufti?

    Yes, both Modi and Mamta are giant killers. Mamta could wrest power from CPM and Modi did it from Congress. Both use religious polarisation for electoral benefit as against others which use caste-bsed division.

    But for a journalist trying to write a sexy piiece, it is perfect.

  5. Mamta Banerjee’s is surely a good stretch fighter by mocking Shah and Modi but the scare of losing the election she using all under the belt tactics, sending TMC goons to stop people from voting , others Bengal tactic is throwing country made bombs to frighten voters and killing opposition party workers,using state machinery to rig the poll in her favour Last but not least like other members of gathbandhan TMC is her Pvt Ltd. Political party
    nobody of the gathbandhan or the Luten press even discussing or critising her

  6. शेखर जी एक वीडियो बना कर जरा उन राज्यों और स्थानों पर एक रिपोर्ट बनाये जहा बंगाल की तरह लोगो को वोट देने जाने से रोका जा रहा है पोलिंग ऑफीसर की हत्या की जा रही है, या इलेक्शन दूसरी पार्टी को समर्थन करने पर उसके घर पर हमला हो रहा है, बस कृपया कर घटनायें 2019 इलेक्शन की हो उस रिपोर्ट में।
    ऐसी ही सेक्यूलर हत्या और अपराधो के समर्थन के कारण लोग मीडिया पर विश्वास नही करते , आपको भी पता है अगर इसका आधा भी बीजेपी शासित राज्यों में होता तो खबर संयुकत राष्ट्र तक जाती।

  7. Yes , Shekar sir has put the point very well including Raj Thackrey’s attack and yes Congress has failed to show strong opposition rather is busy defending itself and it would be better if all regional leader become independent and strong so that we cherish the essence of federal run government.

  8. Sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind that’s what didi is going through. She had decimated CPM by the very tactics that you now frown upon BJP doing to TMC. This lady who once agitated fiercely to check Bangladeshi influx suspecting the same to be votebank of CPM, has now no qualms in unabashedly promoting it.As a fact she has now met her match in Modi and Shah and not vice versa!

  9. Modi is no street fighter either. He has always had a mentor, from Advani to Ambani. In 2002 he was a manufactured Hindutva poster boy, in 2014 propped up both Hindutva and crony capitalists. No comparison with the steel Mamata di or Arvind to a smaller extent are made of. Modi was never beaten up in any state sponsored attack. Mamata di, from head to toe!

    • Lol typical Rohingya supprting Mamatas chamcha … They don’t care even if Rohingya and bangaldeshi take over Bengal bur they need to keep barking about 2002..it not about street fight that will election it’s about people’s fight.. cpim had more street fighters but they lost and now Mamta already lost people supprt expect those vote bank .

  10. CM Mamata Banerjee is the tallest leader in the opposition space today. If the Congress falls below 136, it would forfeit the moral / constitutional right to head the alliance, even if it outnumbers the largest regional contingents by a factor of 3. The presence of senior statesman Sharad Pawar in the grouping of regional parties would ensure that they receive their due, which could also include the PM’s post. Didi will be 34 plus minus a couple of seats. CM Naveen Patnaik, with twenty years of incumbency, could lose slightly more, but he will retain his state. Neither the East nor the South will provide compensation for substantial losses in the Hindi heartland. If new territories are coveted, a lot more should be on offer than polarising rhetoric.

    • Seems outsiders of west Bengal started prediction for Bengalis. We Bengalis are already trustees with appesment politics of mamataj. And she will be kicked out. TMC will not cross 25 seats . And from North Bengal 8 seats she will not will any.no matter how much u people supprt those rohingya and Rohingya supprting leaders, they will not come to Center. West Bengal will biggest surprise to opposition in result day. If BJP crosses 20 that’s not surprising. In whole india west Bengal seeing maximum modi wave just like 2014 UP. We are waiting a change in 2021 in west Bengal

    • What a convoluted logic! Congress will loose moral right with 136 but TNC will gain moral right with just 36 easts. Politics and morality don’t go together.

  11. looks like Shekar is one of that so called “intellectual Bengali” who actually prefers west Bengal to be whit Bangladesh rather that with India just like mamta bonorjee thinks

  12. What Sekhar Gupta is forgetting is that many of the people cheering Mamata not because they like her but because they fear he thugs. EC has made sure that her goons can not threaten people to vote for her. So Hindus will vote for her. Unlike Congress she can not stop mention Ramzan and so will fail to convince people that she is more with Muslims than Hindus. Congress has learned that lesson and therefore court Hindus openly and Muslims covertly. This woman will learn her lesson in this election.

  13. Dear Shekhar
    In the NDTV program on Bengal, where you roamed with Pranoy , you guys interviewed a person who said he and his community likes Mamata because she is helping development of Urdu language. When did Bengalis started speaking in Urdu? A nation was created to protect Bengali language. Isn’t it clear what Mamata creating ?

  14. I agree with Mr. Shekar he had mentioned the facts of Bengal. Comments were raised about Bangladeshis they were before TMC came to power. Azhar Masood was released from Indian jail by BJP regime at the time of Plane hijack Khandhar after allowed to fill Airfuel at Delhi airport. GiveComments after having knowledge of incidents.

    • Where are u from? Do u have any ground reality of West Bengal? Well those coward who don’t mention any name, will always justify violence which stops people from voting. jihadi supprters strated hating modi so much they don’t care even if Bengal become kahsmiri or another bangaldesh. For them killing voters, opposition is not a problem, for them let bangaldeshi come and take over. They don’t care even if the article trying to justify the similar act.. Don’t worry Mamta will be kicked out by Bengalis soon. No one can keep powered by stopping voters or booth capture… We Bengalis are already fade up for her appesment. No lapdog written article that justifies booth capturing and opposition killing , will not help those who want to bypass indian bigger constitutional process

  15. Modi and Amit Shah are on a strong wicket as they know only too well that Congress can’t match them in any aspect of electioneering. But it is also true that the Third Umpire and the Match Referee are also part of their team. The duo have carried out such a hatred campaign against one family by doing skull duggerry of the worst kind – not even sparing those who are dead and defend themselves and making them objects of ridicule, even the so-called intelligentsia have been taken in by this that the very mention of the family’s name elicits only more derisive comments.

  16. I got cheesed off just reading the title of this article. Nothing, absolutely NOTHING in the world can match the poison spewed by Modi and Shah. Shekhar Gupta has a hidden agenda to SOMEHOW create human equivalents of these two men. I don’t quite remember offhand, but… I don’t remember if it was Shekhar or someone else from THE PRINT… but someone from this stable had tried to compare Modi’s India with Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. Then, I vaguely recall some similar attempt by their reputed journalist Jyoti Malhotra. Actually I am beginning to get convinced that, very smartly, so no one can discern it, THE PRINT actually belongs to Modi’s “godi media”.

  17. The wheeler dealer has lost his credibility and sense of proportion long back. Let him live in imaginary world.

  18. Shekhar sounds confused again. What Modi does is divisive but what Mamta was doing all along was neither appeasement nor divisive! If you ask Hindus to vote as en bloc without cast distinction, then it is divisive but you ask Muslims and dalit to vote on plea that they are being protected, then it is kosher. Mamata did exactly the same to snatch power from communists, as Modi is doing now. So let both the sides do whatever they want to do and we will wait for the results. The problem with Shekhar is that he wishes that Modi must somehow lose but knows he cannot! Don’t hurry to predict anything; India is doing all well despite all the divisiveness and appeasement.

  19. Modi has met is match, true but only in Bengal. Bring Mamta didi out of Bengal and you will see see where does she stand. A regional leader standing against a national leader is not match sir. Mamta didi will definitely win more seats than BJP in Bengal but that does not make her stature big in India. I think you should spend less time with Pranoy roy ..you are just echoing his thoughts …We don’t want print to become NDTV please. Also still nothing on Mazood Azahar?

    • You have echoed my feeling. During Election Sekhar Gupta is seen taking side and it erodes his credibility. One credibility is gone, it’s difficult to restore.

  20. How do you justify illegal bangladeshis in west bengal? This has been happening under the patronage of political parties looking to skim votes from them. The self described intellectuals and so called secularists will never raise this issue and that is the main cause of polarisation. Don’t blame BJP for that. Its a monster created by the left and TMC in Bengal.

  21. We do agree about Mamta Banerjee. But you seem to have overlooked M.K.Stalin who had criticised Mr. Modi in a fierce manner in the election rallies in Tamilnadu.

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