Union home minister Amit Shah said on Thursday while addressing a public rally in poll-bound West Bengal that Jai Shri Ram, a slogan to which chief minister Mamata Banerjee has repeatedly expressed her objection, signifies protest against the politics of appeasement.
“The Jai Shri Ram slogan is a symbol of protest against the politics of appeasement. It is also the slogan of our Poriborton Jatra (rally for change). Now, these Poriborton Jatras are being taken out with we will reach every door with the Jai Shri Ram slogan,” Shah said.
He was addressing a public gathering in South 24-Parganas district before inaugurating the last of the BJP’s five Poriborton Jatras taken out from various corners of the state.
Earlier, BJP national president had inaugurated three such Jatras and Shah had inaugurated one.
These five Jatras – special buses carrying senior BJP leaders – are to travel across the state, covering all of the state’s 294 Assembly constituencies.
Before elaborating what the slogan Jai Shri Ram signified, Shah alleged that in Mamata Banerjee’s rule, Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja were facing obstacles because the government wanted to appease the minority community.
“People need to take permission from the court to organise Durga Puja. It’s after coming under pressure from the BJP that Mamata Banerjee was finally seen worshipping goddess Saraswati,” Shah said.
The slogan Jai Shri Ram, which first emerged prominently in Bengal in 2017 during the celebration of Ram Navami by organisations affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s parent organisation, has triggered many a controversy, with the state’s ruling party, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, repeatedly alleging that it was a slogan alien to Bengal.
Shah’s Thursday speech also spoke about what a new BJP government for the state wanted to do for the local population – raising the Gangasagar fair to the stature of an international fair, granting Rs 6,000 per year to 4 lakh fishermen in the style of PM Kisan Samman, setting up seafood processing unit and a comprehensive plan for handling cyclones in the Sunderbans region.
He also alleged that whatever financial assistance the Narendra Modi government sent after the cyclone Amphan of May 2020 was eaten up by “TMC goons”.
Modi had announced Rs 1,000-crore assistance soon after the cyclone left large parts of south Bengal devastated. The TMC always said the figure was too insignificant because the damages amounted to Rs 1 lakh crore.
Shah also promised that those behind the siphoning of Amphan relief funds will be penalised once a BJP government was formed in the state.
The coastal district of South 24-Parganas, neighbouring Kolkata, is one of the TMC’s strongest bastions where the party won all four Lok Sabha seats with commendable margins in the 2019 elections.
According to political analyst Biswanath Chakraborty, Shah tried to penetrate the TMC bastion with two weapons – polarisation of Hindu votes and promise of development.
“Highlighting Jai Shri Ram came as part of the party’s plan to polarise Hindus, as in this district it is difficult for the BJP to do well in the elections without polarising Hindu votes,” said Chakraborty, a professor of political science at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata.
Responding to Shah’s speech, TMC Rajya Sabha MP and national spokesperson Sukhendu Sekhar Roy said, “Let him visit every house with Jai Shri Ram. We are going to every household with the development projects already implemented and those being planned for future. We will reach out to people with our development agenda. Let them go with their religious agenda. Let people decide if Jai Shri Ram will feed the hungry mouths. We won’t mix religion with politics.”
In the context of Shah’s charges of misappropriating Amphan relief funds, Roy said, “What he said on Amphan is a complete lie. This person is a habitual liar. The local people know it by their own experience how every Amphan victim received rehabilitation and compensation.”