Mamata quotes Hindu, Islamic scripts at every rally; won’t help says BJP
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wrapped up her last Lok Sabha campaign address in Diamond Harbour last Thursday by reciting select lines of the Chandi, the 700-verse Devi Mahamaya text in Sanskrit, which describes the Goddess as the supreme power and creator, along with some from the ‘shahada’, Islam’s most sacred declaration.
The constituency, where Banerjee’s nephew Abhisekh is contesting again, has both Hindu and Muslim voters in large numbers.
During her 69-day election campaign, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief outdid Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi by addressing more than 100 rallies across Bengal. But irrespective of the composition of the electorate and at every rally, Banerjee made it a point to recite a few lines from the Chandi, that are chanted during prayers to deities Durga, Jagatdhatri, Basanti and Annapurna.
Banerjee also invoked the ‘shahada’ by uttering “Iaa ilaahah illa allaah muhammadur rasool ullaah.” (None has the right to be worshipped except Allah and Prophet Mohammed is the only messenger of Allah). And in a bid to reach out to Christians, Mamata never failed to add ‘God is great, God is good’, to her campaign speeches too.
However, politicians and observers said that blending religion with electoral politics in this manner is unprecedented in Bengal and exposes the polarisation that may have emerged as the principal influencer on voters in many districts.
Political commentator and columnist Suvashis Maitra said, “Since Independence, no mainstream politician in Bengal chanted religious scripts so extensively. Banerjee did it because her opponents projected her as an appeaser of Muslims. She must have sensed that Hindu voters, who comprise the bigger chunk of the vote bank, may turn their back on her.”
“I don’t think her counter-strategy will work. Voters made up their mind long ago. Casting votes was only a formality,” Maitra said.
Defending Banerjee, senior TMC leader and minister Jyoti Priya Mallick said, “By chanting from religious scriptures she has established her secular credentials. People have faith in her because of this.”
Though they have suffered electorally ever since the BJP started rising in Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders allege that Banerjee is following the BJP’s path. “After coming to power, Banerjee introduced stipends for Imams. Later, she started inviting Hindu priests to her meetings. There was never any religious divide in our society, not even during the Bangladesh War, solely because of Bengal’s social reformers, poets and intellectuals from the 19th century,” outgoing MP from Raigunj and CPI (M) politburo member Md Salim, said.
“No matter how many times she chants from the Chandi or names Allah, nothing can help her. Banerjee has been exposed,” said Rahul Sinha, BJP’s national secretary who is contesting the crucial Kolkata North seat that goes to polls on Sunday.
“She is Bengal’s biggest anti-Hindu leader. Since 2011, there have been riots, deaths and infiltration from Bangladesh. The damage she has done in seven years cannot be rectified in decades,” said Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) south Bengal secretary, Jishnu Basu.
“No religion divides people. By reciting the Shahada, she is talking of one God,” said Pirzada Jiauddin Siddiqui of Hooghly’s Furfura Sharif mazar which Muslims consider to be one of the holiest shrines in Bengal.
“Banerjee may pronounce a few Sanskrit words incorrectly but even non-Brahmins are allowed to recite certain portions of the Chandi,” said priest and Sanskrit scholar Amitabha Chakraborty.