With 'Bengali pride' firmly pitchforked into electoral discourse, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee on Thursday accused each other's "goons" of vandalising the bust of Bengal Renaissance pioneer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar's bust at a Kolkata college.
Days after the social reformer-polymath's statue was smashed to pieces, the echo was felt in faraway Mau in Uttar Pradesh where Modi declared his government's commitment to the "vision" of Vidyasagar and promised his grand statue will be installed at the very place where it was vandalised.
He said Trinamool Congress "goons" had committed a "sin" by wrecking the statue and alleged that the Banerjee government was trying to destroy evidence to save them.
Addressing rallies in Mandir Bazaar and Diamond Harbour in West Bengal, Banerjee rejected Modi's offer for installing a new bust of Vidyasagar and said 'Bengali pride' was hurt by the incident.
"He should do squats holding his ears (as a mark of repentance) for destroying the cultural heritage of the state. Media has shown how Vidyasagar's bust was broken. Bengali pride is hurt and people will not spare the BJP. It will not get a single vote in Bengal," the West Bengal chief minister said.
The two leaders attacked each other with vengeance as they made a last gasp push to shore up the prospects of their candidates for the nine Lok Sabha seats before the truncated deadline for electioneering ends at 10 p.m. tonight.
Stakes are too high for Banerjee in the last phase of polling schedule for May 19 as the TMC had won all these nine seats.
Modi addressed two rallies on Thursday, while Banerjee also held public meetings and a roadshow with thousands of party supporters and workers, many carrying framed photographs of Bengali icons like Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Sri Aurobindo.
"Dedicated as we are to the vision of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, our government will install a panchdhatu (an alloy of five metals) statue at the very spot and give a befitting reply to TMC goondas," Modi declared in Mau.
In West Bengal, Banerjee went for Modi's jugular, saying she does not want "alms" from the BJP.
"Bengal does not seek alms from BJP. We have the money for a new bust of Vidyasagar, who was part of Bengal Renaissance. Don't you feel ashamed for saying that Bengal has been reduced to a pauper state?"
Banerjee was referring to a comment by BJP president Amit Shah at a poll rally earlier this week where he had said that under Banerjee "sonar (made of gold) Bangla has become kangal (pauper) Bangla".
Addressing a rally at Mathurapur in West Bengal later in the day, Modi said Banerjee had "lost her cool in the face of imminent defeat".
"TMC goons are spreading violence, they vandalised the statue of Vidyasagar. CCTV cameras were installed in the college. The way the state government erased evidence of Narada and Saradha scam, it is trying to remove evidence here too," he alleged and demanded the most stringent of punishments to the perpetrators "for the unpardonable sin".
Kolkata witnessed widespread violence during Shah's massive roadshow on Tuesday after his convoy was pelted with stones during which the bust of the 19th century Bengali social reformer was smashed to smithreens at a college named after him.
"Didi has lost her cool in the face of imminent defeat and has become frustrated. She is now threatening me to put behind bars," he said.
Modi also targeted Banerjee's nephew Abhishek, who is seeking re-election from the Diamond Harbour seat, claiming the 'bua-bhatija' duo was running a "Tolabaji syndicate" (extortion racket) in the state.
The BJP, he asserted, will win a majority of the state's 42 Lok Sabha seats and more than 300 in the entire country.
"Democracy has been tarnished by TMC's goondaism. The TMC has problem with people celebrating Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja and even chanting Jai Shree Ram. It is a crime in Bengal," Modi said.
He also referred to Banerjee's remark at a poll rally on Wednesday that if she wants she can capture the BJP's head office in New Delhi "in a trice".
"You and your party are known for grabbing land. Because of this habit, people have lost confidence in you and have made up their mind to defeat you," he said.
Calling Banerjee "sticker didi", the prime minister accused her of claiming credit for central schemes.