Mamata refuses to speak in a programme with Modi, after being greeted by chants of Jai Shri Ram

Published : January 23, 2021 21:39 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at the event to mark the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, at Victoria Memorial in Kolkata on January 23. Photo: Ashok Bhaumik / PTI

The heightened political tensions ahead of the Assembly elections in West Bengal were reflected in the celebration of the birth anniversary of Subhas Chandra Bose at the Victoria Memorial, Kolkata, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bandopadhyay (Banerjee in common use). At an event organised by the Ministry of Culture, Mamata was angered by chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’, and refused to speak at the event, saying she felt insulted. In the changing political dynamics of West Bengal, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is loaded with connotations as it is also the rallying cry of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar against the ruling party.

Greeted by chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ when she got up to deliver her speech, Mamata said, “I believe a government programme should have some dignity. This is a government programme and not a programme of a political party. It is a programme for all political parties and the public. I am grateful to the Prime Minister and the Cultural Ministry that you organised a programme in Kolkata. But inviting someone and insulting her does not befit the organisers. In protest of that I am not going to say anything, except Jai Hind, Jai Bangla.” The Chief Minister, however, remained till the end of the programme.

The incident almost immediately triggered a fresh war of words and exchange of barbs between the ruling party and its principal opposition in the State. BJP’s national general secretary and central observer for West Bengal, Kailash Vijayvargiya posted on social media: “Mamata ji considers being welcomed by chants of Jai Shri Ram an insult. What kind of politics is this!” However, political observers feel that the chants were a deliberate attempt to bait Mamata by supporters of the BJP in the audience. In 2019, on several occasions the Chief Minister was seen to lose her temper when confronted with cries of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ by BJP supporters across Bengal.

Suggestion of rotating capitals

The celebration of Netaji’s birthday on January 23 in poll-bound Bengal had turned into a political contest between the Trinamool and the BJP. Earlier in the day, Mamata had criticised the Centre for not building a memorial for Netaji. “You have to change your outlook. One leader one nation; one ration card one nation; one political party one nation; what is the valuation? …We believe unity is the nation, unity is strength… We want a united India,” said Mamata. The State government also rejected the Centre’s naming the celebrations Parakram Diwas. “You have given a name, that is fine with us. But we choose to celebrate it as Deshanayak Diwas,” said Mamata.

Mamata also suggested that India should have four “rotating” capitals in four parts of the country. “Why shouldn’t Kolkata be the capital of the country? This I am saying because of our contribution to the freedom struggle. I again urge the Centre [to consider] that India should have four capitals…. Sudip da (Sudip Bandopadhyay, Leader of the Trinamool Party in the Lok Sabha) you should demand that Parliament sessions should be held in a rotating manner in each of the four capitals,” said Mamata.