Union Minister Smriti Irani was seen negotiating the narrow lanes of suburban Kolkata on a scooter as part of a BJP motorcycle rally on Friday, just a day after Trinamool Congress boss and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was seen riding pillion to work.
On a day the Election Commission announced the dates for the Bengal elections, along with other states across the country, the BJP’s big guns Rajnath Singh and Smriti Irani campaigned on Mamata Banerjee’s turf.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will be in Balurghat along with state BJP president Dilip Ghosh while Ms Irani, the union minister for textiles, took part in the bike rally in Baruipur-Sonarpur area in the South 24 Parganas district, a Trinamool Congress stronghold.
The rally, part of the BJP’s state-wide “Poriborton Yatra“, was led by Ms Irani along with BJP MP Roopa Ganguly and Agnimitra Paul began the campaign in Gangajoara near Garia on the party’s “rath” – a bus decked up with slogans and photos of the leaders.
After covering a short distance, the minister got down from the ”rath” and took to a scooter, wearing a black helmet but had to make occasional stops as fervent supporters gathered, choking the road.
“When we began the “rath yatra” today, the administration deliberately tried to delay it. We will ride two-wheelers, walk on foot because West Bengal is on the march towards change,” Ms Irani was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
Scores of BJP workers followed Ms Irani on two-wheelers, chanting “Jai Shri Ram” and “Khela Hobey“, meaning ”game on” – a slogan first raised by the Trinamool Congress, which has now become the catchphrase of this election season.
“I want to thank everybody. We are out today to take your blessings. You have already given an opportunity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and during the elections in West Bengal, bless the BJP and the ”Lotus’,” Ms Irani said.
Bengal minister Firhad Hakim mocked the BJP leader’s ride. “She drove a petrol run vehicle. Clearly it doesn’t matter to her that fuel prices are constantly going up,” he said. Other Trinamool leaders said it was a copycat act
A day ago, Mamata Banerjee had arrived at work on an electric scooter. Known for her modest “Santro” image, the West Bengal Chief Minister took things a notch up – or, perhaps, down – to drive home the point on spiralling fuel prices.
In the run-up to the state assembly polls, her ride was an indication that the Trinamool Congress head wasn’t going to let go of any opportunity to attack the BJP which has relentlessly badgered her government over the past many months.
Ms Banerjee’s Urban Development and Municipal Affairs Minister Firhad Hakim rode the battery-powered scooter with her riding pillion. A considerable stretch of the five-kilometre trip from Kolkata’s Hazra More locality to the state secretariat in Nabanna passed over the Second Hooghly river bridge or Vidyasagar Setu. The entire ride was telecast through Facebook Live. Later the Chief Minister addressed the media, seated on the e-scooter or battery-operated scooter.
“Kerosene is not available. One crore people in Bengal use it. Petrol-diesel (prices are) up. Gas up…even last night. That’s why I decided to take the scooter to work,” she said.
Fuel prices have increased considerably across the country over the past many weeks. In Kolkata, for instance, petrol costs Rs 91.12 and a cylinder of cooking gas comes at a reported Rs 820.25, rising by Rs 100 this month.