January 12, 2020 4:43:32 am
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday said she had asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to repeal the new citizenship law because it was dividing the country.
After a “courtesy meeting” with Modi at Raj Bhavan, Mamata went to a dharna organised nearby by her party’s students’ wing against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), and the National Population Register (NPR).
She told the Trinamool Congress Chhatra Parishad’s ongoing protest at Rani Rashmoni Road that the CAA, which was notified by the central government on Friday, was unacceptable.
Mamata met Modi as black-flag protests were held across Kolkata on the first day of the PM’s two-day visit to the state. Modi attended a “Ghare Baire” (the world, home, and beyond) event at the Old Currency Building, and inaugurated a light-and-sound show at Millennium Park before travelling to the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission at Belur Math, where he was to stay the night.
“This was a courtesy meeting since the Prime Minister has come here (to Kolkata). Earlier, the President had come and we extended courtesy. [State Urban Development Minister] Firhad Hakim, who is the minister-in-waiting, received the Prime Minister at the airport,” Mamata told reporters outside Raj Bhavan after her 35-minute meeting with Modi.
“We have Rs 28,000 crore due from the Centre. Another Rs 7,000 crore is due which is regarding Bulbul (the rehabilitation and compensation package after losses suffered in cyclone Bulbul in November 2019). Around Rs 38,000 crore is due from the Centre. I placed the state’s demand, and he said he would look into it,” Mamata said.
“I told him that maybe this is not the appropriate time for me to say this, but we feel strongly about this issue. We are against CAA, NRC and NPR. But we have been agitating against CAA, NRC and NPR. I told him we are against dividing people. We do not want people to be driven out of the country. We do not want people to face any atrocities. I told him that the Centre should rethink on CAA. We want it to be withdrawn,” the Chief Minister said.
She added that Modi had told her that he was in Kolkata to attend some scheduled programmes, and that such matters could be discussed in Delhi later.
Mamata has opposed the CAA-NRC-NPR consistently and from the beginning, and has led nearly a dozen protest rallies, padayatras, and public meetings against the Centre on this issue. She has announced that the CAA and NPR would not be implemented in West Bengal.
“Yesterday the Centre issued a notification on CAA. I want to tell them that it is unacceptable, and it will not be implemented anywhere including Bengal. People will not allow it or accept it. The notification will only remain on paper. We consider it illegal, unconstitutional, and inhuman. We were the first to start the agitation against the CAA, NRC, and NPR, and we will agitate till the end,” Mamata said at the dharna in the evening.
Apparently mocking Modi, she said: “Tomorrow (January 12) is Swami Vivekananda’s birthday. Some people from Delhi are coming here to commemorate the day. But Swamiji gave us a message of peace and communal harmony.”
Rallies were taken out in several parts of North and South Kolkata, Howrah, and North 24-Parganas district to protest the PM’s visit to the state. Student organisations of the Congress and Left, Muslim organisations, and university students including those from Jadavpur and Presidency, hit the streets in protest.
From the afternoon, protests were organised near the airport, where the PM landed. The protesters tried to block roads, and burnt effigies of Modi at major crossings in Kolkata. Protesters carried “Go Back Modi” signs, black flags, and black balloons.
Around 8.15 pm, a scuffle began at Esplanade after police stopped attempts by students and Left activists to break barricades and march towards Raj Bhavan. The protesters were upset that Mamata had met Modi, and had been present as he inaugurated the light and sound show on the Howrah Bridge.
Mamata arrived at the spot and urged the students to stay calm. “This is not Delhi Police. This is Kolkata Police. You do not have to worry. Please maintain peace. Let us all agitate in a democratic way,” she said with her hands folded before the protesters.
She explained that as Chief Minister, she had certain duties. “I was invited to four programmes. (But) I just went to one, and did not even say anything . It was constitutional obligation. If the PM comes, it is protocol that a Minister goes, and that is why we sent Firhad Hakim, a representative of the minority community. I met him (Modi) to demand Rs 38,000 crore which is due to the state. I have already made it clear that we are against NRC, CAA, and NPR. Please maintain peace,” she pleaded.
Around 10 pm, Mamata left the Trinamool students’ dharna, which continued at Rani Rashmoni Road. Left students too, were readying to protest separately through the night.
Besides Mamata, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar was present at Modi’s event at Millennium Park. The PM unveiled a “dynamic architectural illumination” with a synchronised light and sound system of the Rabindra Setu (Howrah Bridge), as a part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Kolkata Port Trust.
At the Old Currency Building, Modi stressed the importance of the country’s heritage and culture, and called for preservation and modernisation initiatives at various museums. “We have to show our country’s heritage and culture before the world. We have to make India a hub of heritage tourism. It has been decided that five iconic museums of the country will be made of international standards. This project will start from the Indian Museum in Kolkata, one of the oldest museums in the world,” he said.
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