Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was at her callow best during a ceremony to flag-off a ‘Vande Bharat’ train and some other mega-projects from Howrah station Friday (30 December) forenoon.
Soon after Banerjee reached the venue, some among the invitees started chanting Jai Shree Ram. Banerjee, who has displayed her anathema towards this chant at least twice in the past, turned towards the crowd with an irritated look and turned visibly angry.
According to those who were gathered at the event, Banerjee told senior railway officials that she would leave. She reportedly said that she was deliberately insulted at a programme she was invited to and she would not stay there. She even asked her aides to call for her vehicle.
Railway Minister Ashwin Vaishnav and Bengal Governor C.V. Ananda Bose, who were present there, walked up to her and requested her not to leave. She relented, but said she would not go up to the dais as a mark of protest.
Both Vaishnav and Bose repeatedly requested her to take her seat on the dais, but a sulking Banerjee steadfastly refused. She reportedly kept on saying that she felt insulted. She remained seated among senior officials while the Governor, Vaishnav and two Union Ministers from Bengal as well as Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikary sat on the dais when the flag-off ceremony started.
When her turn to address the gathering came before the flag-off, she expressed her condolences to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who lost his mother earlier in the day and advised him to “take rest”.
But Mamata Banerjee’s reaction to the Jai Shree Ram chants and her conduct after that was unbecoming of a chief minister.
The occasion was a sombre one because of the death of the Prime Minister’s mother. PM Modi was scheduled to be present at the flag-off, but couldn’t because of his bereavement. He attended the ceremony virtually soon after performing the last rites for his mother.
Any mature person would have, in keeping with the mood, chosen to act in a dignified manner, even if that meant swallowing a perceived insult or slight.
Expressing one’s irritation over a religious chant and then displaying stubbornness while ignoring pleas from even the Governor of the state and a senior Union Minister by refusing to take her designated seat was nothing short of irresponsible callowness on Banerjee’s part.
Also, and this needs to be emphasised, there is nothing wrong with a Jai Shree Ram chant. That she (Banerjee) has developed a hatred for this chant is no one’s problem but her own.
Jai Shree Rm is a greeting in many parts of the country and is often used as a salutation. There is nothing insulting about it.
In fact, Banerjee has been visibly happy when slogans of other religions were raised in her presence in the past.
And the Jai Shree Ram salutation has absolutely nothing to do with the BJP, a party she detests.
Banerjee, of course, is well-known for flying off the handle at the slightest provocations. She is feared by her party colleagues, including her senior-most Ministers, for her short temper and sharp tongue. She is also known to be whimsical.
But she ought to have behaved in a mature and dignified manner in the presence of the Governor, Union Minister and other dignitaries in keeping with the sombre mood at the flag-off. It wasn’t, after all, a Trinamool party programme.
Friday’s incident was the second time when she was greeted by Jai Shree Ram chants at a programme organised by the Union Government. The first was on January 23 last year at a function organised in the forecourt of Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose.
Prime Minister Modi was present at the event. When Mamata Banerjee rose to deliver her speech, a section of the invitees chanted Jai Shree Ram. She went up to the podium and said it was not right to invite a person to an event and “insult” her. And in protest, she said, she would not deliver her address.
She returned to her seat on the dais beside the Prime Minister and sulked throughout the rest of the event.
Mamata Banerjee started displaying her aversion for Jai Shree Ram chants in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. She labelled anyone mouthing these chants as ‘criminals’ and even asked the state police to take action against them.
Her antipathy towards this Hindu religious chant intensified after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. She was expecting a hung Parliament and had hoped that she would be able to bring all non-BJP and non-Congress parties together under her leadership to form the government at the federal level with outside support from the Congress. She was all prepared to become the Prime Minister, and had even told her close associates in her party that they would have to handle affairs in Bengal because she would have to spend most of her time in New Delhi.
That dream of hers crashed unceremoniously and she turned extremely bitter towards the BJP. She became more allergic to the Jai Sree Ram chant.
In end-May 2019, soon after the election results dealt a body blow to her dream of becoming the Prime Minister, she flew off the handle when crowds gathered along the road at Bhatpara in Kolkata’s outskirts that she was passing by and greeted her with Jai Shree Ram slogans.
She got down from her SUV twice and shouted at the crowds, called them ‘criminals’ and dared them to step up to her and chant the religious slogan hailing Shree Ram. She then asked the police to arrest the ‘criminals’, which they promptly did.
Since then, she has reacted angrily every time she heard this Hindu religious chant.
Be that as it may, her pique over the chant that was raised by a section of the invitees at Friday morning’s event, and her unbecoming conduct that cast a blot on the sombre mood at the event, will mark a new low even by Banerjee’s own none-too-high standards.
Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.
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