Jai Shri Ram is a slogan of the people of Bengal fighting against injustices and not a political or religious rallying cry crafted by the Bharatiya Janata Party, home minister Amit Shah said on Monday. In an exclusive interview with News18, the senior BJP leader tore into the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress and chief minister Mamata Banerjee for alleged high-handedness, corruption and ineptitude.
“I believe Jai Shri Ram in Bengal is a slogan to strengthen the voices against injustice. Be it the injustice done to poor farmers, to the victims of Cyclone Amphan, to the victims of Cyclone Bulbul, to poor fishermen, to those denied citizenship because of CAA not getting implemented, or to someone who has lost out on employment because of infiltrators. Jai Shri Ram is a symbolic slogan of all these issues,” Shah said. “Do not see it as a religious slogan. Someone has been hurt by Durga Puja not being held, someone has been hurt by Saraswati Puja being stopped at school. Such people together have created this slogan Jai Shri Ram. And it’s a slogan of the people and not the Bharatiya Janata Party.”
The chanting of Jai Shri Ram by BJP leaders and its supporters has become a flashpoint in Bengal since the beginning of the year, with Mamata Banerjee expressing exasperation on several occasions after being confronted by crowds shouting the slogan. Analysts say the saffron party has used the phrase to propel its Hindutva narrative in the state, where assembly elections are on, as a counter to the TMC’s alleged Muslim appeasement.
The home minister also expressed confidence that the “propaganda” by Bengal’s intelligentsia, the “Bhadralok”, to portray the BJP as a party practising politics of polarisation will not work.
“In a democracy, everyone has the right to express their views. Every party can put forward their views. I believe that this time this propaganda will be unmasked,” he said. “The Bharatiya Janata Party has governments in 17 states. There have been no riots anywhere. No polarisation, nothing happened. With development for all, we have moved forward. Narendra Modiji gave electricity to almost the entire country, in everyone’s house. There was no Hindu-Muslim then. Narendra Modiji gave the poor the Pradhan Mantri Ayushman Bharat card; there was no Hindu-Muslim. He gave the farmers Rs 6,000 each. So farmers have also been helped. No matter how much propaganda is done, no matter how loud it is, this is not the ground reality. So this will not work.”
There are three rounds left in the fiercely fought eight-phase Bengal assembly elections, with the BJP making an all-out bid to unseat Mamata Banerjee and snatch the key state. Voting here will now take place on April 22, 26 and 29, before counting on May 2. The Trinamool Congress has focused on the strategy to paint the BJP as a party of “outsiders” during campaigning. Shah, however, expressed faith in the wisdom of Bengal’s people to “see through” this narrative.
“Tell me one thing, if we accept this point of Didi (Mamata), then was Subhas (Bose) Babu an outsider for Gujarat? Was Rabindranath Tagore an outsider for Madhya Pradesh and Bihar? Was Sri Aurobindo an outsider for Pondicherry? And was Pranab Mukherjee an outsider for Delhi? The thinking of Bengalis has never been this narrow, this small,” said Shah. “A Bengali is a thinking citizen of the world, and the whole of Bengal knows that neither I, nor Narendra Modiji, or any of our leaders, who have come here to campaign, to talk to the people of Bengal, are trying to become the chief minister. Only a person from Bengal can contest elections here and become the chief minister.”