‘You can silence Assam but not Bengal,’ Mamata Banerjee challenges BJP after leading rally against NRC
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee upped the ante against citizenship screening exercise in the state by alleging that NRC was a mere tactic to divert attention from the economic issues facing the country. She also challenged the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to “dare touch a single person living in Bengal.”
“Don’t play with fire. We will never allow division of people on the basis of religion, caste and ethnicity,” said Banerjee, who is also the chief of the Trinamool Congress party. She was addressing a gathering in north Kolkata after a five-km long march.
Soon after her address, the BJP state unit chief Dilip Ghosh said that his party will ensure weeding out of close to one crore “Muslim infiltrators” from the state. 2011 census put Bengal’s population at 9.13 crore.
Ghosh also vowed to get rid of another one crore people, who according to him, had entered the state illegally and settled elsewhere.
Mamata’s rally came six days after, in an unprecedented show of unity, the TMC, the Left and the Congress came together to pass a resolution ruling out NRC exercise in Bengal. TMC had been building momentum through smaller anti-NRC rallies organised in different districts.
“You can silence the people of Assam using police but it won’t work in Bengal. Try to touch a single person in Bengal and we will see. Those who live in Bengal are all citizens of Bengal,” Banerjee said.
She also claimed that of the 19 lakh people excluded from the National Register for Citizens (NRC) in Assam, 12 lakh were Hindus and one lakh Gorkhas.
“They are telling Hindus to get rid of the Muslims, they are telling Rajbongshis to get rid of the Bengalis and they are telling Hindi-speaking people to get rid of the Bengalis. We will not allow this in Bengal – the land of Ramakrishna and Shri Chaitanya that epitomises the practice of inclusiveness,” she said.
Without naming the Prime Minister, Mamata Banerjee took a dig at his remark on Wednesday that some people get alarmed (‘baal khadhe ho jaate hai’) when they hear words ‘Om’ and cow.
“We have all drank cow milk. It’s good for health. I suggest you drink cow milk a little more,” she said, adding, “Don’t lecture us on Om. I offer puja and prayers every day. Om is part of our life for years.”
Taking a dig at the Bengal Chief Minister, Dilip Ghosh said, “We will not only throw out all the Muslim infiltrators, but will also pack off the leaders who speak in their favour. Forget Mamata alone, the whole of the opposition cannot stop this (NRC) from happening,” Ghosh said.
Political analysts said that with the two major political forces in the state locking horns over NRC, the polarisation is only going to sharpen.
“Religious, ethnic and linguistic conflicts are only likely to escalate, while political polarisation will sharpen. The more bad news pours in from Assam, the greater will be the state of chaos, panic and confusion in West Bengal,” said Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhuri, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University (RBU).
Chaudhuri, who is also an expert on issues concerning migration and refugees, added that many people in Bengal did not possess documents to prove their legacy (lineage) and “it was a serious problem in the districts along river Hooghly where flood and erosion have frequently displaced people.”
Despite joining hands with the TMC and the Congress to pass the anti-NRC resolution in the state Assembly last week, the Left lambasted the TMC for “popularizing” the “theory of infiltration”.
“BJP’s demand for NRC in Bengal is based on the theory that was popularised in Bengal by none other than the TMC. Mamata Banerjee’s 1993 rally had raised this as one of the issues. In 2005, she created a ruckus in the Parliament on the same issue. How can she disown her past?” asked Sujan Chakraborty, the leader of the Left in the state Assembly.
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