Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on Wednesday slammed the Left parties at a rally in Kolkata, but stopped a step short of criticising West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Addressing a huge gathering at Brigade Parade Ground, he criticised the idea of the Third Front on a day when 11 non-Congress and non-BJP parties, including the four Left parties, decided to work on a "common agenda" in Parliament ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Modi, however, chose his words carefully while referring to Banerjee, who has stressed maintaining an equal distance with the big two of Indian politics but is unlikely to join the new front owing to her animosity towards the Left.
Modi borrowed Banerjee's slogan of "poriborton (change)" and congratulated the people of Bengal for ousting the Left parties in the 2011 assembly elections.
The Gujarat chief minister also requested the Bengal electorate to "experiment" by voting to power BJP candidates from all 42 seats in Bengal, where the saffron party is not a force to reckon with.
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In the 2009 elections, the BJP had won just one seat (Darjeeling), where the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha's support was key to Jaswant Singh's victory.
Modi was critical of Banerjee in the beginning, asking people if the promised "poribartan (change)" had come and do they feel whether things have changed. "People are still waiting for it," he said.
But soon after, Modi softened his stand. "The Trinamool government will do its job here. You hold them accountable for the work in the state and me for the work in the country. It will be a win-win situation for you with me at the Centre, Mamata Banerjee in the state and Pranabda (President Pranab Mukherjee) to supervise us."
One of the fiercely debated questions in Bengal in the run-up to polls is whether Banerjee will enter into a tie-up with the saffron party. The Trinamool Congress chief, however, had described the BJP as a 'party of rioters' in her address at the same venue on January 30, harping on forming a Federal Front, which is under cloud with the Left parties joining hands with the AIADMK, JD(S) and the SP, among others.
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Modi took a dig at the "secular parties" (read the Left parties), blaming them for neglecting the poor and using the Muslims for political gains. Known to be bitter critics of Modi, Left leaders have often turn the heat on the Gujarat chief minister by raking up the 2002 riots.
"Third Front leaders should come and see what is happening in Kolkata," Modi said, buoyed by the huge crowd. He began his 50-minute speech in Bengali and vowed to bring a new wave of development in the state.
After praising former prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, a Jat leader from Uttar Pradesh, at a recent rally in Meerut, he asked the people of Bengal to vote in favour of the BJP for the sake of Jan Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee.
He reminded the people of Bengal of the state's glorious past when it was the Capital of India in the British rule, saying the country will not be able to proceed if the state did not take the lead.
(With PTI inputs)