Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday went for each other's jugular in battleground West Bengal, with the prime minister castigating 'speedbreaker Didi' for stalling the state's development and the Trinamool Congress chief hitting back warning he will face a 'voter strike'.
Modi, who kicked off his Lok Sabha campaign in West Bengal with back to back rallies in Siliguri and Kolkata, hit out at Banerjee over a host of issues including alleged lack of development, perpetuating family rule and for seeking proof of Indian Air Force's retributive strike on terror camps in Pakistan to avenge Pulwama killing of 41 Central Reserve Police Force troopers.
Not the one who would take things lying down, the West Bengal chief minister mounted a blistering counteroffensive, mocking Modi's '56-inch chest' and claiming his government did nothing to save the lives of the CRPF jawans despite having 'information' about the impending terror attack.
"We are nationalists not fascists," she asserted. Modi launched his campaign, all guns blazing, as he targeted Banerjee, calling her the 'speedbreaker' in the path of the state's development who wanted poverty to stay so her 'politics of poverty' can flourish.
At both the rallies, Modi slammed opposition parties for seeking proof of the damage done by the Indian Air Force in Pakistan's Balakot where terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed's training camps were targeted.
"While your chest swelled with pride and you held your head high, some people began crying and shouting here," he told the rally at Siliguri.
"When the wound has been inflicted there (in Pakistan), why do you (the opposition) feel the pain. The 'didi' sitting in Kolkata felt the pain more than those in Islamabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi," Modi said, taking a swipe at Banerjee, who had demanded proof of the extent of damage inflicted during the Indian Air Force raids in Balakot.
He accused both the Congress and the TMC of 'perpetuating family rule'.
"In 55 years that a family ruled India, it stifled the talent of young people and spread the poison of casteism in society. It is being repeated in West Bengal where the aunt (Mamata Banerjee) and nephew (party MP Abhishek Banerjee) are looting people," he alleged.
The prime minister cautioned people against voting for the TMC which has 'inherited the bomb and gun culture' from the Left.
Calling Banerjee a 'speedbreaker' in the way of West Begal's development, Modi said he was waiting for that to get out of the way so the state can march forward.
"I have not been able to ensure the development of Bengal with the same speed as the rest of the country. The reason for this is that in Bengal there is a speedbreaker, and this speedbreaker is known as Didi," Modi said, attacking the West Bengal chief minister.
He alleged that Banerjee put hurdles in the way of implementation of the Centre's welfare schemes like Ayushman Bharat Yojana, PM Kisan Samman Yojana and the Real Estate Regulatory Authority Act (RERA).
"Didi wants poverty to stay so her politics of poverty may flourish. I want to eradicate. But Didi, like the Congress and the Left, think if poverty is gone how will they run their politics," he said.
Hardly had Modi concluded his speech at Brigade Parade Ground in Kolkata when Banerjee took the microphone at a rally in north Bengal's Dinhata, calling the prime minister 'expiry babu' (one whose time to go had come).
"I am not Modi, I don't tell lies," she declared, as she took on the prime minister over his 'speedbreaker Didi' jibe.
Claiming that 12,000 farmers had ended their lives under Modi's prime ministership, she listed out various social welfare schemes undertaken by her government like 'Kanyashree' for girls, 'Yuvashree' for the young people.
Banerjee said West Bengal has been awarded by the government of India for being the best state in implementing the 100-day minimum work guarantee scheme, the Centre's flagship rural employment programme.
"It's not my claim but your government has given the award for the achievement," the feisty West Bengal leader said.
"PM should not lie. You claim to have a 56-inch chest and you are telling lies," she said, and dared Modi to a public debate.
Banerjee claimed Modi had failed to keep his promise of restarting closed tea gardens. Not even a single paisa was deposited in the bank accounts of people of the Rs 15 lakh Modi had promised in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, she said.
Livid at Modi's remarks on Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot air strike by the IAF, Banerjee shot back, claiming the government did nothing to thwart the bombing of the CRPF convoy despite having 'information'.
"Please don't try to teach me nationalism. You had information (about the Pulwama attack) but took no action (to prevent it) leading to the death of our jawans," she said.
Banerjee accused Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of 'insulting' the armed forces by calling them 'Modi ji ki sena'.
"Modi's sena comprises those who indulge in rioting and assaulting people who don't conform to their ways. Calling the Indian Army Modi ji ki sena is an insult to our defence personnel who serve the country," she said.
"Chowkidar is acting like a fascist. You are talking of air strike, you will see a voter strike," she said.