It is a hot afternoon. At Barrackpore’s Amdanga Math, a teeming crowd waits for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to arrive. As she gets off her chopper, she says, referring to the Barrackpore Lok Sabha constituency (that voted on May 6), “There are all kinds of people in this area — Hindu-Muslim, Bihari-Bengali… It’s very cosmopolitan.”
Among the people gathered to hear the Chief Minister are several Muslims, but in her speech today, delivered passionately and without a pause, Banerjee doesn’t mention them. The BJP has been accusing the TMC government in the state of appeasing the community.
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“Do you know that (BJP president Amit) Shah came here and worshiped Ma Kali thinking she was Ma Durga? If he does not know the difference between Ma Durga and Ma Kali, how much will such a person know about the Hindu religion?” she says, going on to urge the women in the crowd to make the auspicious ‘ulu dhwani’ for TMC’s Barrackpore MP and candidate in these elections Dinesh Trivedi.
Such rituals have become common at Banerjee’s rallies in these elections, where she has also been seen reciting the ‘Chandi Paath’, a Sanskrit prayer for goddess Chandi.
The next day, the TMC had planned a long padyatra in Howrah. Apart from Bengalis, Howrah, Kolkata’s twin city, also has a large Hindi-speaking population and Banerjee has planned her rallies carefully here. In her speeches she has been pointing out how the BJP has been trying create a divide between Hindi and Bengali speaking people. “We will not tolerate such politics,” she says.
Later, the CM’s chopper heads to Kharagpur in Medinipur district (voted on May 12), once a Communist stronghold. This time sitting Rajya Sabha TMC MP Manas Bhunia is contesting against BJP state party president Dilip Ghosh, the CPI(M)’s Biplab Bhatt and the Congress’s Sambunath Chatterjee. Here too, perhaps to counter the BJP’s allegation of the TMC going soft on illegal immigrants and Rohingyas from Myanmar, Banerjee goes to great lengths to explain the difference between Hinduism and Hindutva.
Back at the Barrackpore rally, Banerjee turns her attention to the men, “Listen boys, you are Dinesh’s brothers. Why don’t you clap?”
Soon, the high-pitched sound of ulu dhwani, conches and applause reverberates across the Barrackpore venue. Mamata Banerjee begins to recite the Chandi Paath.