Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday dismissed as a regular affair a Rs 11-lakh bounty on her head by a BJP youth wing leader and vowed to spread the Trinamool Congress’s reach to India’s heartland.
Her comments came shortly after the Centre gave her a free hand to take legal action against Yogesh Varshney, a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, who offered the bounty over what he said was the Bengal government’s bias against Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti.
“I am regularly targeted with offensive words. But, the more they say such things, the more we will progress,” Banerjee said at a public rally in Domkal of Murshidabad district.
“From Bengal to Jharkhand to Uttar Pradesh...we will spread out towards Delhi”.
The Trinamool Congress also sent out a series of tweets from Mamata’s rally.
“I participate in Durga Puja. I also participate in Eid, I go to church. Who are you to stop me?” Mamata was quoted as saying, in an apparent reference to the BJP youth leader’s allegations.
“You can abuse me as much as you want. I pray to God to forgive them, they do not know what they are saying.”
In Kolkata, a Muslim cleric known for announcing fatwas against political leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and author Salman Rushdie, made a counter-offer of Rs 22 lakh for the BJP youth wing leader’s head.
“Mamata Banerjee is our respected leader and I consider her as my sister...It is expected that fascist RSS-BJP will be speaking the language of hoodlums,” Nur-ur Rehman Barkati, imam of Kolkata’s Tipu Sultan Shahi Mosque and one of the most influential Muslim clerics in the state, told Hindustan Times.
The issue was raised in both Houses of Parliament by Trinamool Congress members and all major political parties, including the Congress, Left, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party.
Party Rajya Sabha member Sukhendu Shekhar Roy highlighted the matter on the floor of the in the Upper House, saying the BJP youth activist publicly described West Bengal CM as a “demon”.
“There were attempts on her life in the 90s. Later, she was beaten up and dragged by her hairs during various movements during the Left Front regime. These people are misfits in politics and it seems they have opened a dictionary of bad words be it Dilip Ghosh (Bengal BJP president) or this BJP leader from Aligarh,” Partha Chatterjee, secretary general of Trinamool Congress, said.
“The BJP leader should be immediately arrested. Why is he roaming free after making such a statement?”
Minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said: “I strongly condemn such type of statements. The state government is free to take appropriate legal action on this issue”.
In the Rajya Sabha, deputy chairman PJ Kurien said the state government can register an FIR and take action.
Intellectuals in Kolkata also expressed shock at the statement.
“How can one say such things? He should be immediately arrested. In which country are we living? One cannot say such things,” noted writer Nabanita Deb Sen said.
Debesh Chattopadhyay, theatre personality, said, “It is time people should get together against such religious fundamentalism. This is an attack against democracy.”
West Bengal – where Banerjee returned to power with a thumping majority last year – has seen mounting clashes between state forces and right-wing elements, who say the Trinamool Congress is biased towards Muslims and is anti-Hindu.
The state sends 42 members to the Lok Sabha and is widely considered one of the toughest bastions for the BJP – which has won a string of assembly elections – to breach.