Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Left), West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (Right)
Campaigning for nine Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal going to polls in the last phase came to an end at 10 pm on Thursday, 20 hours before the scheduled time, as per orders of the Election Commission.
The last day of campaigning witnessed an all-out attack by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, accusing 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.
She also challenged the PM to prove the allegations that TMC workers vandalised the statue or else he will be “dragged to the jail”.
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 ended at 10 pm.
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.
"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 Tuesday 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.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission’s order curtailing the time period for campaigning in West Bengal drew sharp criticism from opposition parties, with the Congress accusing the poll body of losing its credibility and independence and wondering if model code has become "Modi code of misconduct".
The Congress also said time has come to review the process of the poll panel's appointment as it has "completely abdicated" its constitutional duty and has given a "parting gift" to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
With leaders of various parties openly attacking the EC over its order, Mamata Banerjee emerged as a "rallying point" for opposition, as leaders like Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav, M K Stalin and N Chandrababu Naidu stood behind her and the TMC chief thanking them.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the EC order curtailing campaigning in West Bengal by 20 hours is a "dark spot" on India's democracy and institutions like the poll panel.