The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launched a scathing attack on West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata on Sunday, laying the foundation for the 2016 assembly elections in the state where the saffron party is eyeing substantial gains.
Addressing a rally that saw a crowd of two lakh people, BJP national president Amit Shah attacked Banerjee over the Saradha case, terrorist activities as well as lack of development in the state.
"If you vote for a BJP government, we will ensure prosperity and take the state forward," Shah told the people of Bengal.
"A few days ago, Mamata Banerjee had asked: who is Amit Shah? I am Amit Shah… I have come here to start the process of uprooting Trinamool Congress," he added, calling for a 'Trinamool-free Bengal', in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's slogan of a 'Congress-free India'.
Shah pointed out that throwing out the ruling party from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) polls in 2015 can be the first step towards that “dream”.
The BJP chief's address came at a time when the ruling Trinamool Congress was reeling under graft allegations in the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam and the October 2 blasts that killed two alleged militants from Bangladesh who had taken shelter in Burdwan.
"Stop protecting Bangladeshis," Shah told Banerjee, "Don't jeopardise the security of the state and the country."
Turning the heat on the state government over the blasts, he added, "Who is Hasan Chowdhury? Mamata Banerjee, please tell the people of Bengal who he is."
Chowdhury owned the two-storey house in Burdwan where a group of alleged Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh operatives were hiding. He is known to be a Trinamool worker.
Exuding confidence about BJP's poll prospects, Shah said, "Maharastra and Haryana have already voted for a BJP government. Jharkhand and J-K will certainly vote for BJP governments."
Shah added the Trinamool had failed to usher in development in Bengal, which is not known for an industry-friendly image.
"Many big industries have shut operations in West Bengal, the youth are unemployed and the... infrastructure is poor."
Reaching out to the youth, Shah said youngsters in Bengal wanted that the Burdwan terrorists be hanged and the Saradha culprits be sent behind the bars.
"I am challenging Mamata Banerjee to declare that those arrested by CBI in the Saradha scam are innocent," the BJP president added.
Trinamool MP Sinjoy Bose and suspended party MP Kunal Ghosh have been arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with the Saradha case that has sent a shock wave across the nation.
"Mamata Banerjee staged a big demonstration against the Singur factory (of Tata's Nano) that had affected about 1,200 people… But why is she silent about the Saradha scam that has affected 17 lakh people?"
The shadow of Saradha has been hounding Banerjee and her government since it exploded in early 2013. Kunal Ghosh had recently said Banerjee was the biggest beneficiary of the scam.
"West Bengal needs a government that fights against corruption and does not protect people involved in scams," Shah said.
"The journey of Modiji's victory chariot flagged off in 2014 will come to Kolkata," he added at the rally, for which he was initially denied permission by the Trinamool government.
BJP state leaders had to move Calcutta high court thrice to obtain permission to organise it after the Kolkata Police, KMC and fire services department said no.
The BJP's rise in Bengal has sparked speculations about new equations in Bengal's political arena where the saffron brigade was a fringe player till recently.
However, banking on Modi's poll promises on development, the party bagged an impressive 16.8% vote share in the April-May Lok Sabha elections. Even though the BJP won just two of the 42 seats, it made an impact.
Frequent clashes between BJP and Trinamool supporters have been reported in Bengal since the polls.