On Wednesday, Jharkhand urban development minister and BJP leader C.P. Singh stepped out of the Assembly and wrapped his arm around Congress MLA Irfan Ansari’s shoulders.
On a video clip, Singh is seen telling Ansari: “Main to kah reha hun, bhai, Irfan bhai, ek bar jor se ‘Jai Shri Ram’ boliye (I’m telling you, Brother Irfan, say ‘Jai Shri Ram’ aloud once).”
Prompted by a small group that kept saying “haath pakadke, haath pakadke (grab his hand)”, the minister clasps Ansari’s left hand and tries to lift it.
Ansari smiles and raises his right hand to show a red mauli (a sacred thread that Hindu priests tie on devotees’ wrists) on his wrist.
Singh throws an arm around Ansari’s shoulders, tries to get him to turn his face towards the camera and provides a demonstration by shouting “Jai Shri Ram” at the top of his voice.
The minister asks a still-smiling Ansari: “Bas, ho gaya, ho gaya kaam (See, it’s done, isn’t it)?”
Ansari: “Meri baat suniye (Please listen to me)…”
The minister repeats: “Bas ho gaya kaam, ho gaya?”
Ansari: “Ram ka matlab kya… darane ke liye? Dara nahin sakte hain aap (Are you using Ram’s name to instil fear? You won’t succeed).”
Minister: “Arre, darane ke liye nahin bhai; tere poorvaj bhi ‘Jai Shri Ram’ wale theh, bhulayo mat (Come on, I’m not trying to scare you; your ancestors too belonged to the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ clan, don’t forget that).”
Ansari: “Yeh theek nahin hai. Ram ka nam badnam mat kijiye aaplog. Ram sabke hain (This is not right. Please do not defile Ram’s name. Ram belongs to all).”
Minister: “Aapke poorvaj bhi ‘Jai Shri Ram’ ke theh, Babar nahin theh (Your ancestors too belonged to ‘Jai Shri Ram’, not Babar).”
Ansari: “Kaam chahiye, rozgar chahiye, kaam chahiye, sadak chahiye, bijli chahiye (The people need jobs, livelihood, jobs, roads, electricity)….”
Minister: “Aapke poorvaj Babar nahin theh, Taimur Lang nahin theh, Ghori nahin theh, Ghazni nahin theh (Your ancestors were not Babar, Taimur Lang, Mahmud of Ghazni, or Muhammad Ghori).”
Ansari asks the minister if he has visited Ayodhya and seen the reality there. Singh repeats that the MLA’s ancestors belonged to ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and not to Babar, Timur, Ghazni or Ghori.
The exchange appears to stem from an incident inside the Assembly on Wednesday. Singh had chanted “Jai Shri Ram” in the House after a JMM legislator said: “‘Jai Shri Ram’ nahin chalega (‘Jai Shri Ram’ won’t be allowed).”
Ansari had drawn the House’s attention to a tragedy. “I had raised the issue of the death of a four-year-old girl who fell into an open drain. I don’t know what provoked the BJP members to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ inside the House. I also heard some Opposition MLAs chant ‘Jai Sarna (a tribal way of life)’. I said ‘Jai Shri Ram’ had become a cover for the BJP to hide its incompetence,” Ansari said, recalling Wednesday’s events.
On Friday, the video clip featuring the exchange between Singh and Ansari was shared widely on social media.
The circulation coincided with a controversy over the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chant, which has assumed provocative overtones of late. Earlier this week, several academics and filmmakers had written an open letter to the Prime Minister expressing anguish at the way the chant had transformed into a war cry.
On Friday, over 60 signatories said in a statement that the July 23 letter by “self-styled guardians and conscience keepers” had expressed selective concerns and demonstrated a “clear political bias and motive”.
The 60 included actor Kangana Ranaut, lyricist Prasoon Joshi, dancer Sonal Mansingh and filmmakers Madhur Bhandarkar and Vivek Agnihotri.
They said the July 23 letter was aimed at “tarnishing India’s international standing and to negatively portray the Prime Minister’s untiring efforts to effectuate governance on the foundations of positive nationalism and humanism”.
Minister and MLA say
On Friday, after the video clip made it to national TV channels, Singh told The Telegraph he had not forced Ansari to chant “Jai Shri Ram”.
“I respect all religions, shrines and places associated with all religions. Be it Ram or Allah, God is one. How can I force someone to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’? It was blown out of proportion without understanding the context. I respect his religious freedom. They don’t know about my relationship with Ansari. We keep sharing lighter moments.”
Ansari told this newspaper: “I was baffled when I started receiving phone calls from media houses saying I had been forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’. Both of us enjoy a good relationship and we keep pulling each other’s leg. We enjoy banter and love to get photographed. C.P. Singh is like an elder brother and I have a lot of respect for him.”