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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 16 April 2024

Mamata Banerjee keeps up heat on ‘Khalistan’, says ‘we love all religions’

'We love all religions. Just because a Punjabi is turban-clad, you will call him Khalistani?'

Meghdeep Bhattacharyya Calcutta Published 22.02.24, 05:50 AM
Mamata Banerjee in Calcutta on Wednesday.

Mamata Banerjee in Calcutta on Wednesday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday upped the ante against the saffron ecosystem over Bengal-cadre IPS officer Jaspreet Singh being allegedly called “Khalistani” by a group of BJP leaders and supporters, including Suvendu Adhikari and Agnimitra Paul.

“A Punjabi (Sikh) officer, what was his fault? He was doing his duty. Do the armed forces not have a Punjab regiment, a Gorkha regiment? Yes, there is no Bengali regiment (disbanded in the British Raj), although the most belligerent (freedom) movement was conducted by people from Bengal,” the chief minister said at a state government event to commemorate International Mother Language Day at Deshapriya Park.

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“We love all religions. Just because a Punjabi (Sikh) is turban-clad, you will call him a Khalistani? So many Muslim officers in the IAS, IPS, WBCS… will you call a Muslim officer a Pakistani?” Mamata asked.

On Tuesday, Mamata had posted on X a video clip of 36-year-old Singh — the Intelligence Branch’s special superintendent who was posted at Dhamakhali on Tuesday to prevent a BJP delegation led by Adhikari from visiting Sandeshkhali — protesting the alleged “Khalistani” comment directed at him as BJP’s Paul kept yelling back at him.

In another video clip released by the Trinamul Congress — the veracity of which could not be independently ascertained — Adhikari, the leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, is heard telling his party colleagues before the altercation: “Eta hochhey Khalistani (This one is a Khalistani).”

“They call me so many names to mock me. I don’t pay heed, personally,” said Mamata on Wednesday.

“One or two have suddenly emerged, the biggest kolonko (blemish) of Bengal, those rendering Bengal kolonkito (tarnished), kolushito (defiled), porjudosto (weakened), lanchhito (humiliated), otyacharito ( tortured)…. To them, I say, stay well in the future. You wish us ill, but we don’t,” she added, referring apparently to the likes of Adhikari. “How Bengal’s rights and dignity have to be protected, we know. We don’t know how to bow our heads. We have always proven this.”

Demonstrations by members of the Sikh community broke out in various parts of Calcutta and the state on Tuesday and continued on Wednesday. On Tuesday evening, Harjinder Singh Dhami, president of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, Amritsar, issued a statement of condemnation, and Trinamul demanded an apology from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“The specialty of Bengal is that we encourage everyone to freely speak their mind, in any language they desire… There is a trend currently on, a conspiracy — to tear apart the superlative tree of Bengal’s culture,” Mamata said.

“Besmirching that (Bengal) culture, imposing something (alien)… there is a conspiracy at work. I urge everyone to take this pledge that we won’t allow our culture to be torn apart, to be sullied,” she added.

Sources in the BJP state unit admitted to this being a faux pas that could cost the party and said it could take attention away from the core issue of Sandeshkhali amid the BJP’s attempts to keep it firmly centred. “There were calls from the national leadership to the state leadership, demanding answers on why this happened. It was not a pleasant conversation for the state leadership,” said a source.

The BJP continued to be in denial mode even on Wednesday. The BJP’s Burdwan-Durgapur MP, S.S. Ahluwalia — a representative of the Sikh community —said both Adhikari and Paul were responsible and educated leaders who would not have been that insensitive.

“At a time when the entire state is seething with anger (over Sandeshkhali), this appears to be an attempt to divert the public’s attention from the core issue,” Ahluwalia claimed.

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