By Matters India Reporter
New Delhi: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on July 31 criticized attempts to divide people and called for a “change” in 2019, when India holds the next parliamentary elections.
The Trinamool Congress supremo cited the restive situation in Assam arising from the national register of citizens (NRC), public lynching and atrocities against Dalits and minorities to highlight that “the country needs a change.”
She was speaking at a conclave organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India Office of Education and Culture along with the Pilar Society at the Constitution Club in New Delhi. Some 1,000 people from various religions and Christian denominations attended the two-hour event titled “Love Your Neighbor.”
Banerjee showered praise on the Christian community and defended the Missionaries of Charity in the baby-selling controversy.
She slammed the federal government for pursuing what she called was a “divide and rule policy” and warned that such policies could lead to “bloodbath” and “civil war” in the country.
Banerjee did not name the Bharatiya Janata Party that heads the federal government, but referred to it as a ruling party. “India is a secular country,” she said, adding that anyone could not act as a “megalomaniac” and “destroy everything” only because he was in power. “Why should Christians, Muslims, Dalits, tribals be isolated?” She also criticized.
“India needs a change and that change must come in 2019,” Banerjee asserted.
Sending across a larger message to Indian minorities, Banerjee said she and other secular leaders such as Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh and H D Kumaraswamy of Karnataka will not allow India to be divided as long as she’s alive.
Banerjee urged the government not to divide and rule. “If a person has committed a crime, why should all institutions be raided by a particular political party? Look at what’s happening in Assam. This ruling party is in Assam. It is in power there because of its voters, but now it says that the same voters don’t belong to this country,” she said, referring to the NRC row.
A little over 4 million of the 32.9 million people who applied to be included in the NRC were left out of the complete draft of the contentious document released on July 30.
Banerjee regretted the exclusion of the family members of former Indian President Fakhruddin Ali in the NRC list.
“I am surprised to see that the names of our former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed’s family members are not on the NRC Assam list. What else can I say? There are so many people whose names are not there.”
A day after the NRC list was released, Ziauddin Ali Ahmed, the nephew of the former president, told media persons of his name missing in the list.
Although Banerjee spoke on the topic ‘Love your neighbor,’ she clarified that she did not harbor much of that for the BJP. “I am not that liberal to love people who lynch. I am with the people. If tribals, Dalits and minorities are isolated, it may lead to civil unrest,” she said.
Earlier at the event CBCI secretary general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas praised federal ministers Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh for helping people cutting across religious and political lines.
Banerjee agreed that there were exceptions in the federal government. “But not all of them are good. Potatoes and potato chips can’t be equal,” she said.
The Trinamool Congress chief has been at the forefront of the efforts to bring together opposition parties to take on the ruling BJP in the parliamentary elections in 2019. She later told journalists that the opposition would be led by “collective leadership” to take on the ruling BJP. She said that the opposition could take a call on the issue of leadership after the BJP is voted out of power.
Referring to the cancellation of her program at St Stephen’s college in Delhi, Banerjee said she was unmoved by it as she would have a packed schedule during her visit to the national capital. She said she preferred to talk to people in the streets than in a closed auditorium.
The Trinamool Congress chief also said God would forgive “them” for this. “Let it be cancelled, I don’t mind. Let God save them. I have some other programs also,” she said when asked whether the cancellation of her program at the prestigious college was an insult to the chief minister’s chair.
The college cited procedural norms and cancelled an address by Banerjee to the students of the institute, scheduled for August 1.
Banerjee’s talk at the conclave was preceded by a panel discussion coordinated by Sunetra Choudhury of the NDTV.
The panelists were Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Caluctta, Michael Williams, dean of Mount Carmel Schools, Franklin Caesar Thomas, a Supreme Court lawyer and leader of the Dalit Christian movement, Vijesh Lal of the Evangelical Fellowship of India and A Benjamin Bara, professor of Xavier Institute of Labor Relations of Jamshedpur. The discussion began with a video of an interview with Julio Ribeiro, a retired Indian police officer and ambassador.
The panelists spoke on various isues affecting the Christian community such as attacks on minorities, allegations of religious conversion and the demand of Dalit Christians for reservation. They asserted that the community would continue their service of love whatever the difficulties.