Calcutta: A large crowd gathers to hear West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee speak to Shakespeare Sarani here on a balmy Saturday night, five days before the vote in the by-election for the seat of Bhabanipur.
Sikhs make up a large part of that crowd, and after taking the stage shortly after 5 p.m. Banerjee sees former Union Minister and party leader Samajwadi Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, currently MLC in Uttar Pradesh, sitting in the crowd.
Ramoowalia had been invited by the Punjabi community to the city to attend the Banerjee campaign. At the public meeting, she invites him onto the stage and asks him to sit on the platform.
It is not just a symbolic gesture. Bhabanipur is home to a significant proportion of the Punjabi population in Kolkata, a fact of which Banerjee is aware.
In her 30-minute address to Shakespeare Sarani, she is keen to mention the ongoing farmers’ protests on Delhi’s borders and also demands that the Narendra Modi government’s controversial agricultural laws be withdrawn.
Soon after she thunders the Sikh battle cry “Jo bole so nihaal” to the resounding applause of the jubilant crowd.
But Bhabanipur is not only about the Punjabis; Mamata Banerjee calls it a “mini-India” because it is a melting pot of cultures including Bengali, Gujarati, Marwari, Jain and Muslim.
So, it is not surprising that apart from Ramoowalia, representatives of the Marwari, Jain and Christian communities are also called to the scene at the meeting on Saturday.
Read also : Mamata spoke of agricultural protest, failed to observe the sanctity of gurdwara: Hardeep Puri campaign in Kolkata
Last week, Banerjee staged a rigorous election campaign in Bhabanipur, holding one, if not two, town hall meetings and around the corner every day.
While starting and ending the speeches, she greets all communities in their languages and speaks of religious tolerance and inclusiveness, but also brings specific religious references to the community depending on the locality.
For example, she greets the Punjabi-Sikh community with ‘Sat Sri Akal‘, visits the gurudwaras and refers to the protest of the farmers, Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh.
In predominantly Bengali-Hindu localities, she makes a point of quoting poems by Rabindranath Tagore, reciting hymns in Bengali and greeting voters with ‘Joy Durga‘ and ‘Joy Kali‘.
At one point on Saturday, addressing a meeting around the corner in Chakraberia, which has a large Hindu population, Banerjee explained how the BJP-led Tripura state imposed Article 144 (which prevents gatherings of four or more people) to prevent the Trinamool Congress from holding rallies. . She also mentions it in other public meetings.
“But I want to know if people will be allowed to celebrate Durga puja and Kali puja,” she says.
In localities dominated by Muslims, she consciously uses Urdu expressions like ‘Allah meherbaan (God is good)’, ‘inchallah (God willing) ‘and’kafir (non believer)’. She also used couplets in her speeches such as the famous Urdu poet Allama Iqbal sher, ‘Khudi ko kar buland itna’, as well as the poem by Bismil Azimabadi ‘Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna ‘ while addressing public meetings in places like Kidderpore.
In such localities, Banerjee’s tone and tenor are distinctly aggressive. In the Ekbalpore area in Kidderpore on September 22, the CM had said while it was there, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Citizens Register cannot be implemented in West Bengal, and that the community should trust him and vote for her if he wants her to fight the CAA-NRC.
But in Hindu-dominated localities, there is no mention of CAA and NRC.
It was at Ekbalpore that she first declared that she would not let the BJP “Talibanize” Bengal. Since then, she has repeated this statement in other public meetings.
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BJP accuses Mamata of divisive politics
BJP leaders say Mamata Banerjee is engaging in divisive politics with her shifting rhetoric. The party’s Priyanka Tibrewal is Mamata’s key opponent in Bhabanipur.
“It does divisive politics… Its aggressive tenor is an attempt to polarize the votes of a community. Its tone changes in Hindu-dominated areas, ”said Sukanto Mazumdar, newly appointed chairman of the party’s West Bengal unit, in a conversation with ThePrint.
However, Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress leaders deny the accusation.
“The CM has visited all places of worship in Bhabanipur since the start of the campaign. She went to the Shitla mandir, the Jain temple and the Sola Ana mosque. She spoke about religious inclusiveness, about how she treats all religions equally. What is wrong with greeting people in their language? », Asks West Bengal Transport Minister Firhad Hakim, also to ThePrint.
Hakim, who lives in Bhabanipur and is a trusted lieutenant of Banerjee, further notes that she also spoke about the various social protection measures implemented by her government.
“The Trinamool government has helped all segments of the population. Our welfare measures have reached everyone – the poor, women, girls… And because of this, we are confident that we will get 80 percent of the total vote in Bhabanipur, ”he says.
Read also : In the headquarters of Mamata bypoll, Gujaratis and Marwaris are “supporters of the BJP”, but TMC has history on its side
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