From sending bouquets to name calling, Modi and Mamata’s political relationship has been through some tumultuous times. (Photo: Altered by The Quint)
| 5 min read

Monkeys, Donkeys and Shehenshah: Retracing Mamata-Modi Ties

1. The Beginning

Modi may have won his first election, but he was still a political pariah in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots. Mamata Banerjee was among a handful of leaders who congratulated the Gujarat Chief Minister, even sending him a bouquet of flowers. She was still trying to emerge as the principal opposition in Bengal at the time.

2. Bengal’s Durga Meets RSS Patriots

In September 2002, Mamata attended a book launch organised by the RSS. At the event, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief shared the stage with the likes of Mohan Bhagwat, HV Sheshadri, and Madandas Debi. Introduced on stage as “Bengal’s Durga”, she implored the RSS to help her fight red terror in Bengal.

If you (the RSS) give us just 1 percent support, we will be able to fight red terror... I have never got to meet so many RSS leaders, though I have met some individually. You people are true patriots. I know you love the country, you care for even small remote areas of the country.

Later that year, Mamata was rewarded with a Cabinet position in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government. She was assigned the Coal and Mining Ministry, despite having dumped the NDA in the aftermath of Operation West End in 2001.

(Photo: The Quint)
(Photo: The Quint)

3. ‘Mr Riot’

2014. The break-up. In the run-up to the general election, Mamata refused to back ‘Modi for PM’. Bengal’s 25 percent Muslim population, crucial to Mamata’s assembly election victory, prompted her to not just distance herself from Modi but launch a relentless tirade against him.

People of all faiths, caste, creed live together in peace in Bengal. This makes ‘Danga Babu’ (Mr Riot) very jealous and angry. He has put on a tail, he’s flying around burning Lankas everywhere.
Mamata Banerjee

Not one to take a slur lying down, Modi responded,

Didi gets angry with me as your love for me increases. She remembers me 200 times a day. I don’t know what she says of me. But Didi, your every word is a blessing for me.
Narendra Modi
(Photo: The Quint)
(Photo: The Quint)

4. ‘Is Modi a Donkey?’

Modi maintained his cool even when Mamata insulted him on the issue of illegal migrants.

Modi dubs all who came from Bangladesh as infiltrators. Who is he? From where did he get that audacity? Now he talks about Matua community. He said they are not citizens of India. Is he a donkey? They are Indian citizens. I will not tolerate it if he insults Bengal.
Mamata Banerjee
You have raised the issue of Bangladeshi infiltrators in Parliament in 2005. What you have raised in 2005, your brother is saying today. But you are talking about sending me to jail. This is not justice. We did not expect this change. To save your chair, will you put Bengal’s future in the dark? We used to respect you. You fought the Leftists alone. We were proud of you, but in three years you have changed.
Narendra Modi

5. ‘Sister Mamata’

Modi’s deference was understandably aimed at soliciting support from the TMC in Parliament.

In his very first speech inside the Central Hall after becoming Prime Minister, Modi applauded the TMC chief. He said, “My sister Mamata Banerjee is working really hard to undo the damage done in the past 35 years in West Bengal.”

(Photo: The Quint)
(Photo: The Quint)

6. Working Relationship

As the Chief Minister of a severely cash-strapped state, Mamata Banerjee was quick to adapt to the change of guard at the Centre. Even as the Modi government tried to get her on board for negotiations with Bangladesh, Mamata made her expectations in return for her cooperation on the Teesta Water Sharing and Land Boundary Agreement, very clear.

For the sake of growth, development and empowerment of the common people of the state, I again urge you (Modi) to kindly give the state a complete debt waiver for it to escape from the veritable debt-trap.

7. Friends with Benefits

By June 2015, Modi had scored diplomatic points by convincing Mamata to visit Dhaka. This was a significant step towards resolving the Teesta Water Sharing and Land Boundary dispute, considering the 2011 debacle when Mamata embarrassed the UPA government by refusing to accompany the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Dhaka.

I am confident that with the support of state governments in India, we can reach a fair solution on the Teesta and Feni rivers. We should also work together to renew and clean our rivers.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi

8. Give and Take

Shortly after, Mamata met Modi in Delhi seeking a loan waiver for West Bengal. The Prime Minister is reported to have abruptly left the meeting without giving concrete assurances. Not surprisingly, the Bengal Chief Minster was more confrontational in her demand this time around.

The Central government thinks it is doing us a favour by giving us funds. But the truth is, we are not getting funds for various central schemes; rather, the Centre is taking away all our revenue towards servicing state debts.
Mamata Banerjee
(Photo: The Quint)
(Photo: The Quint)

9. ‘Sister’ to ‘Shahenshah’

In his first election rally in West Midnapore, PM Modi abandoned statesmanship and easily slipped into campaign mode while talking about the Bengal Chief Minister.

Five years back, I had been hearing of ‘poriborton’ (change). I also thought change will come (in West Bengal). Change did come, but it came in didi’s nature, her motives, her manner of work. But there was no change in Bengal. The opposition leader who used to fight on the streets, that Mamata didi changed so much that she does not care for anybody, she has become a shahenshah.

10. Mamata on Silent Mode

Mamata Banerjee is yet to respond to Modi’s charge. The ongoing investigation into the Saradha chit fund scam and the Narada News sting operation could have something to do with her uncharacteristic reticence.