Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday accused West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of doing 'cheap politics' over cyclone Fani, claiming she did not speak to him when he tried to contact her to talk about the calamity.
He alleged his efforts to talk to state government officials to take stock of the situation too was 'scuttled' by Banerjee.
Modi also accused Banerjee of 'religious intolerance', and said people were being arrested for chanting 'Jai Shri Ram'. He dared the chief minister to have him arrested for the chant hailing the Lord.
"Today, I am back from Odisha after reviewing the situation in the aftermath of the cyclone. I had called 'Didi' twice to discuss the issue with her. I waited for her to call back, but she did not respond.
"She is so arrogant that she did not speak to me. 'Speedbreaker' Didi is more interested in doing cheap politics instead of tackling the situation," Modi told election rallies in Tamluk and Jhargram.
Cyclone Fani left a trail of death and destruction in Odisha and also hit parts of West Bengal.
Modi said even today he wanted to speak to Banerjee and state officials to take stock of the situation but the chief minister did not allow that to happen.
Banerjee responded to the prime minister's criticism, saying she could not talk to him because she was camping in Kharagpur to monitor the situation as the cyclone advanced towards West Bengal.
Addressing an election rally in Gopiballavpur sub-division of Jhargram, Banerjee said Modi had indeed called her for a meeting at Kalaikunda, where he landed for an election meeting after touring cyclone-battered Odisha.
"Are we his servants that we have to go wherever he beckons? Now he will allege that I have not responded and not extended cooperation.
"My (poll) meeting at Jhargram today was already fixed. Election is on in West Bengal, while it is over in Odisha. Why should I share dais with an expiry prime minister during election time?" Banerjee shot back.
A huge controversy has erupted over Modi's failure to get in touch with Banerjee to discuss the situation that obtained in the wake of the cyclone. As he could not get through to the chief minister, Modi had called up Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi. He, however, spoke to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.
Banerjee's Trinamool Congress had accused the prime minister of by-passing the chief minister in disregard for the federal structure of the polity. A senior central government official had, however, rejected the allegation, claiming Modi called up Banerjee who did not return it.
Modi on Monday invoked Lord Ram at his rallies and said people in West Bengal were facing hurdles even in following their religious beliefs.
"In Bengal, people face obstacles even while performing pujas and religious rituals. Things have reached such a point that if you chant 'Jai Shri Ram', you will be put behind bars," he said.
The prime minister was obviously referring to a recent incident where three people were arrested allegedly for chanting 'Jai Shri Ram' when Banerjee's convoy was passing by.
A video of the incident has gone viral on social media.
While hailing Lord Ram with the chant at his Jhargram rally, Modi dared Banerjee to have him arrested.
"Didi has thrown people into jail for chanting 'Jai Shri Ram'. I thought of greeting her with the chant so she can throw me behind bars, too. I will then serve the innocent people who are in jail for chanting in praise of Lord Ram," he said.
"The arrogance of many a mighty gets shattered in front of the Lord. You too will lose your arrogance, Didi," Modi said.
Addressing an election rally in Bishnupur, Banerjee snapped back, insisting 'Jai Shri Ram' was a slogan of the BJP, which used it during elections.
"Does Ramchandra become BJP's election agent when polls come?" she asked, asserting the slogans of the people of Bengal were 'Vande mataram' of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and 'Jai Hind' of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Referring to the recent comments by Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Sitaram Yechury on epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, Modi said it is fashionable for communists to abuse religion.
"I can understand if communists abuse religion. Even those who have Sita and Ram in their names don't respect religion. It is fashionable for them to make derogatory references to our holy books and our religion," Modi said.
Yechury had recently said Ramayana and Mahabharata were specimens of Hindu violence.
On the UN designating terror group JeM chief Masood Azhar a 'global terrorist', the prime minister said, Banerjee did not welcome the development fearing her 'votebank' will get angry with her.
Modi claimed the TMC would win hardly 10 of the state's 42 Lok Sabha seats, and Banerjee's dream of becoming the prime minister with the help of 'Mahamilawati' alliance will be dashed.
"Your model of chomki and dhamki (threat and intimidation) will no longer work in Bengal. You cannot snatch away the right to vote freely and fairly. Your political ground is fast slipping away. People have decided to defeat her. She has lost her mental balance." he said.
Modi said West Bengal under Banerjee was known for 'triple T -- Trinamool, Tolabaazi, Tax'.
In local parlance, 'tolabaazi' roughly means organised extortion.
Maintaining that the state has already seen three political ideologies -- Naampanthi (people who rule by using the name of family--Congress), Vaampanthi (Leftist), Daam aur Damanpanthi (people who rule through corruption and oppression--TMC) -- Modi said time has come for it to adopt 'Vikaspanthi' (people wedded to the ideology of development) represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party.