|The crowd that filled Esplanade as Mamata Banerjee addressed the martyrs’ day rally. Pic:Amit Datta|
Meghdeep Bhattacharyya, TT, Calcutta, July 21: Mamata Banerjee today declared that her government would not be a mute spectator if anyone tried to interfere with personal choices such as what to eat and wear.
“If I consume goat meat, there is no problem, but if someone else has cow meat, it is a problem. I wear saris, which is not a problem, but if someone else wears salwar-kameez, it is a problem. We may like wearing dhotis but someone else may prefer lungis. Who are you to decide what people will wear and eat?” Mamata asked while addressing the annual martyrs’ day rally here.
The unequivocal articulation in the middle of a renewed national debate on atrocities committed in the name of cow meat is being seen as a message of reassurance to the minorities as well as an attempt to position herself as a national figure before her meeting with the Prime Minister next week.
The chief minister not only condemned the Gujarat incident in which a group of youths were mercilessly beaten up in public by cow vigilantes but also vowed to nip in the bud any such campaign in Bengal.
“I have recently received information that some people from a political party and from its sister organisations are visiting houses, asking ‘how many cows do you have?’ What right do these people have to ask such questions? It is none of their business….
“I am stating this clearly. We condemn the brutal assault on the Dalits in Gujarat. If some people try to conduct such cow surveys, if they try to stoke fire in our neighbourhoods, we will fight it politically. We will not sit quietly and spare them.”
Recently, the BJP-backed Gau Raksha Committee had announced a bovine census in Bengal from August 1.
Lambasting the BJP-RSS parivar for trying to dictate what people should eat and wear, Mamata said she would never let saffron polarisation succeed in Bengal.
Having won the elections decisively, Mamata confined herself to making passing references to the Left and the Congress and concentrated her firepower on the Centre.
“The Centre is poking its nose in everything. They do nothing, the states do all the work for them and they come out taking credit in huge ad campaigns. Using deceit as strategy, they are trying to destroy the federal structure guaranteed by the Constitution,” Mamata said in her 50-minute address this afternoon.
Mamata has been trying to champion federalism and trying to get on board anti-BJP forces such as Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.
“You are in power today, tomorrow you could be thrown out by the people,” she added, reminding the BJP leadership that the 2019 Lok Sabha polls were not far away.
Mamata rolled out a list of issues like the debt trap, compulsory Aadhaar cards for direct transfer of benefits and the closure of 39 central schemes to attack Delhi.
Alleging the use of central probe agencies by the BJP to torment detractors, Mamata drew loud cheers from the crowd – which police sources pegged at “less than five lakh”, though she claimed a “record-smashing” turnout with over 10 lakh people being unable to reach the venue.
“Starting from education, they are trying to bring a gairik merukaran (saffron polarisation) everywhere. We will never let basic human freedom be compromised through the success of their divisive politics in Bengal,” she added.
Later, former BJP MLA Shamik Bhattacharya said: “By bringing the issue of cows, Mamata Banerjee has again started playing the politics of polarisation…. The youths of Bengal are more interested in knowing about her stand on SEZ, land acquisition and employment opportunities. She was silent on these key issues.”
While most key speakers before her – including party leaders Subhendu Adhikari, Mukul Roy, Abhishek Banerjee and Tipu Sultan Masjid Shahi Imam S.M. Noorur Rahman Barkati – underscored the “need” to make her the Prime Minister, Mamata said she had no such aspirations.
“I don’t want anything for myself. A lot of people are saying that Mamata Banerjee wants to be Prime Minister. I don’t. I come from a small hut in Kalighat. I want to stay that way for the rest of my life,” she said.
“But I do want a strong voice of the states at the Centre. I do want strengthening of regional parties. I will do what I can to see that happen,” Mamata added.
IT promise: Mamata said her government would soon open a cell for Bengal IT professionals employed in the US, assuring them jobs in the wake of a bill on tightening H-1B visa norms.
“Many of our bright boys and girls could lose their jobs in the US. We will arrange jobs for them here. We will take care of them here if they come back,” she said.