Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee erupted in anger at Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial on Saturday evening – at an event to honour legendary freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on his 124th birth anniversary – after she was interrupted with chants of “Jai Shri Ram“.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on stage for the incident – one of the few times in the recent past that she has shared a platform with him. Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar was also present.
“Don’t insult me after calling me here. This is not a political programme. If you invite someone to a government programme, you should not insult them,” a visibly upset Ms Banerjee admonished the crowd before cutting short her speech.
Visuals showed the crowd shouting moments before Ms Banerjee spoke, forcing the organisers to repeatedly call for calm. When she finally got to speak Ms Banerjee tore into the crowd, urging them to display dignity. She then thanked Prime Minister Modi for attending the event and walked off stage.
A seemingly unperturbed Prime Minister Modi spoke shortly afterwards and began by referring to the Chief Minister as “behen (sister) Mamata”. As he spoke, chants of “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” were heard, but those of “Jai Shri Ram” seemed conspicuous by their absence.
The chanting that greeted Ms Banerjee this evening were a sobering reminder of the vicious (and often violent) election rhetoric that has dominated Bengal politics since the 2019 Lok Sabha election – when the “Jai Shri Ram” chant was unleashed.
During campaigning BJP supporters routinely taunted Trinamool leaders, including Ms Banerjee.
Faced with that heckling, she lost her temper twice in the space of a few days and, the second time, charged at the people, calling them “criminals”, “outsiders” and worse.
In June Ms Banerjee said that while respect slogans invoking Lord Ram, she had a problem with the BJP using them in a “misconceived manner by way of mixing religion with politics”.
“This is a deliberate attempt to sell hatred ideology through vandalism and violence, which we must oppose together. One can fool some people sometimes, but cannot fool all the people all the time,” a Facebook post by the Chief Minister read.
The Trinamool and the BJP who will go head-to-head again in a few months – for control of the Bengal Assembly, and the two parties have been attacking each other relentlessly.
Ms Banerjee remains confident of winning re-election, but many believe her hopes have been severely dented by the mass wave of defections from her party – the most recent of which will likely be Forest Minister Rajib Banerjee, who resigned from his post Friday and is expected to join the BJP on January 31, in the presence of Home Minister Amit Shah.
The ruling party, however, has brushed off these setbacks, comparing the Trinamool to an ocean and saying “a couple of mugs of water taken out of it make no difference”.