Mamata Banerjee’s rally for harmony on temple consecration day a lesson for Congress to challenge BJP’s hate campaign

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By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI – The ‘Sanhati rally’ (rally for communal harmony) taken out by West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata on the day of consecration of Ram temple in Ayodhya on January 22 has been perceived as a salutary action to challenge the BJP’s hate campaign in the run-up to this year’s Lok Sabha elections. More importantly, it has turned out to be a lesson for the Congress as an Opposition party.

Banerjee accused the BJP of indulging in politics over religion and described the party as anti-women for omitting Sita from its discourse on Ram. “They talk about Ram, but what about Sita? She was all along with Ram during his exile. They don’t speak about her as they are anti-women. We are worshippers of Goddess Durga, so they should not try to lecture us about religion,” Banerjee said.

After offering prayers at the Kalighat temple, a gurdwara, a mosque and a church during her five-km rally from Hazra to Park Circus in Kolkata, Banerjee touched upon almost every political issue, from the Centre’s alleged denial of payment of wages under the MGNREGA scheme, to the National Register of Citizens (NRC), while laying emphasis on communal harmony and religious amity.

“The people of Bengal have a great responsibility to save the country, to save religious harmony and save people of all religions,” Banerjee said at the culmination of the procession. With slogans of ‘Hindu- Muslim Bhai Bhai’ (Hindus and Muslims are brothers), she exhorted the people to fight against the BJP in the upcoming general elections.

Trinamool Congress general secretary Abhishek Banerjee also called upon the people not to vote in the name of religion but to vote in the interest of the state. Religious leaders of different faiths also addressed the gathering before the Chief Minister sounded the bugle for the upcoming Lok Sabha election.

“I do not have any objections if someone worships Ram or prays to Allah. My objection is that unemployment is the highest in the country. There are attempts to interfere with the food habits of people,” Banerjee said. In the latest development, Banerjee has declared that Trinamool Congress would not form all alliance with the Congress for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Banerjee not only targeted the BJP, while accusing the party of splitting Hindu votes, but she also accused some leaders from the Muslim community of acting as brokers and trying to split Muslim votes. She came down heavily on the Left parties and said they had done nothing for Muslims in West Bengal.

The capital city of Kolkata also witnessed several rallies celebrating the temple inauguration, including one by the Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari. There was a scuffle at Jadavpur University between the students belonging to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, who held a rally celebrating the temple inauguration, and those from the Students Federation of India (SFI), who brought out a rally for communal harmony.

The SFI supporters also got into an altercation with the police personnel and organised a rally outside the university premises raising the pitch that they will not allow communal politics. The Trinamool Congress plans to organise rallies in every block of West Bengal with the theme of ‘Sarva Dharma Samanwaya’ (Harmony of all religions).

The Trinamool Congress chairperson’s decision to skip the Ram Mandir event and organise a parallel rally in Kolkata came at a time when leaders of Congress as well as many parties in the INDIA Opposition alliance had decided to give the January 22 event a miss. However, the West Bengal unit of BJP has started an aggressive campaign in the state on the Ram temple issue.

In another development, a row erupted between Metro Railway authorities and the West Bengal government over the former proposal to dismantle a part of the skywalk at Dakshineswar temple for the smooth operation of Metro Railway services. Banerjee refused to make any alterations to the Dakshineswar temple skywalk. The skywalk was constructed in 2018 with a budget of Rs. 80 crore.

In her critical comments on the BJP’s divisive campaign for Ram temple, Banerjee said the ‘Pran Prathistha’ (consecration) of Ram was not the job of politicians. “It is the job of seers and sadhus. What will we do by going to Ayodhya? As politicians, our job is to make infrastructure, I will do that,” she said. The Park Circus Maidan, where the rally culminated, is a Muslim-dominated area.

The BJP, on the other hand, has accused the Trinamool Congress of “brazen disregard” of Hindu sentiments. BJP’s IT Cell chief Amit Malviya said Banerjee was preparing ground for communal confrontation and cited the incidents of alleged attacks on religious processions in West Bengal in the past and on some Sadhus recently. The political analysts have described Banerjee’s decision to organise the rally as a masterstroke when the BJP is vitiating the atmosphere all over the country.

Banerjee’s move should be seen as a lesson for the Congress, which has been doing flip-flops in the Babri Masjid case and has failed to take a firm stand on the secular character of Indian democracy. It is the Congress as the country’s largest Opposition party which should have taken the lead in organising peace marches and harmony rallies in all major cities across the nation to challenge the BJP on the temple consecration day.

The Congress, which played a crucial role in bringing the Ayodhya dispute to the national level and facilitated the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, has unsuccessfully questioned the BJP’s campaign to reap political benefits from the Ram temple. The party’s own leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, Kamal Nath and Ashok Gehlot, have been making a beeline to the temples in an attempt to impress the majority community, but the success of their strategy is doubtful.

In West Bengal, the BJP expects to improve on its performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections this year by harping on Hindutva. Of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal, the BJP had won 18 in 2019 and has this time set the target of winning more than 35 seats. Banerjee is preparing to keep Muslim voters in her fold, as they comprise 30% of the state’s population and play a decisive role in about 100 Assembly constituencies. The BJP will make an attempt to counter Banerjee’s strategy by accusing her of Muslim appeasement.

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