Rahul Gandhi may take to a restrained "love-and-hug" response to corrosive attacks from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee does not share the Congress president's style.
The fiery leader, known for oratory that proved too hot to handle even for a three-decade-old communist rule, has rarely backed out of a bare-knuckled fight; if the Prime Minister attacks her with an insult in Bengali, she will retaliate with an equally caustic comeback. On Monday, that took the form of a reference to the 2002 riots which took place during PM Modi's tenure as Gujarat Chief Minister.
First, at a campaign rally for the ongoing national elections, the Prime Minister said that West Bengal under Ms Banerjee was known for "triple T -- Trinamool, Tolabaazi, Tax". "Tolabaazi" is a near-abusive term used in Bengali to describe organised extortion.
Mamata Banerjee responded in kind.
"People who lay down their lives for the country, they should be respected. Yesterday, you called Rajiv Gandhi corrupted Prime Minister. Today you are calling me 'tolabaaz'. If I am a tolabaaz, what are you? What are you? Your entire body - from head to feet - is drenched in the blood of people. Only riots, only riots and only riots," Ms Banerjee thundered at a rally in Bishnupur, 130 km from Kolkata.
Ms Banerjee and PM Modi share an exceptionally edgy relationship, the extent of which was on display this week when the two leaders exchanged barbs over official communication following Cyclone Fani. While PM Modi has attacked Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress party over corruption and political violence in the state, the Chief Minister has accused him and the BJP of trying to polarise the state on religious lines to get votes.
The Gujarat riots were one of India's worst ever instances of communal violence. Rights groups say about 2,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims, and including scores of children. Though the riots took place during PM Modi's tenure as Chief Minister, a court-appointed investigation panel found no evidence to prosecute him.
The attacks were in retaliation for the death of at least 59 Hindus after a train carriage carrying hundreds of pilgrims was set on fire following a fight between Hindus and Muslims at a railway station in Gujarat.
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