The West Bengal Assembly Elections 2021 is one of the most hotly contested state elections in recent memory. Mamata Banerjee, who has been in power in the Bengal for the past 10 years faces anti-incumbency and a Hindutva wave that is unprecedented for a state like West Bengal. The elections have been marred with uncouth statements and barbs by the TMC against Prime Minister Modi, but has also seen an attack against the faith of the people after anger against the Jai Shree Ram slogan by Mamata Banerjee and her party cadre. Derek O’ Brian recently in his interview with Barkha Dutt attempted to explain why.
On the 1st of April, Derek O’Brien appeared for an interview where he attempted to explain why Mamata Banerjee gets irked when slogans of Jai Shree Ram are chanted. Barkha Dutt had asked Derek O’Brien why Mamata Banerjee gets visibly irked when Jai Shree Ram is chanted, citing the example of her conduct during Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s birth anniversary celebration. The example of how she huffed and puffed out of her car once was also given.
Does the slogan Jai Shri Ram make Mamata Banerjee angry, I ask @derekobrienMP after the PM takes a swipe in his Bengal speech. His response here. Full interview @themojostory : https://t.co/I3XUViP5tg pic.twitter.com/TwCzcT9X4U— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) April 1, 2021
Derek first says that Mamata Banerjee did not lose her temper during the Subhash Chandra Bose birth anniversary celebration. While stammering through the response, Derek says that there is nothing wrong with the slogan per se, but the problem lies with where it was used and how it was used in an intimidating way.
After this, Derek O’ Brien proceeds to make a rather strange comparison.
He says that there is nothing wrong with the song ‘Chaiya Chaiya Chaiya Chaiya’ with Malaika Arora Khan and Shahrukh Khan but he will have a problem with it if it is played at his friend’s father funeral.
Firstly, it is unclear why Derek O’Brien thought it was appropriate to compare Mamata Banerjee’s convoy to his friend’s father funeral. While her reign might be coming to an end, in all probability, one would imagine that comparing it to a funeral by her own senior party functionary would be an insult that should not be made publicly.
Further, the disdain for Hindus and their sacred chant of Jai Shree Ram is rather evident from the fact that he compares it to something as offensive as singing a Bollywood song at a funeral.
Jai Shree Ram is a slogan that is deeply religious in nature and is a chant that is held dear by Hindus. Essentially, what Derek O’Brien says is that he thinks Jai Shree Ram, the sacred slogan, being raised by Hindus at a political event, is as offensive to him as a titillating Bollywood song being played at a funeral of a dear one. While a titillating song being played at a funeral is certainly offensive, there is, and there ideally should be, no offence taken at Hindus raising their religious slogan anywhere at any given point in time.
Similes are often used to explain and simplify a complex issue, in a manner that is more relatable to people. However, in this case, the simile itself seems to expose the real reason why Mamata Banerjee seems to get irked at chants of Jai Shree Ram being raised at an event or her political rally.
It is understandable that Derek O’Brien meant that every word, phrase, chant or song has a time and place, and when chanted outside of that opportune time, it could become offensive. He is absolutely right. However, it points towards the insidious thought that Jai Shree Ram is ‘un’Bengali to begin with. What TMC and Derek O’Brien are doing is denying political agency to Hindus and dictating how they should or should express their sentiments of a political renaissance.
Further, it also shows that TMC has paltry respect for the Multiplicity of the Divine worshipped by Hindus and the fact that it is not a mere platitude but words Hindus live by every single day. Hindus are polytheists and believe in the plurality of Gods and we worship Them all. To insinuate that Lord Ram is not alien to Bengalis and that His chant should be considered offensive, and a chant that has no place in Bengal, only goes to show the shallow understanding of not just Sanatan but Hindus themselves.
To give further context to the intimate relationship that Bengalis share with Shri Rama, the Krittivasi Ramayana, a rendition of the Ramayana in Bengali, was composed by the famed Bengali poet Krittibas Ojha in the 15th century. Then there is a neighbourhood in Howrah, Ramrajatala, where the residents conduct a three months long worship dedicated to Shri Rama and Sita Mata every year at the local Ram Mandir. The tradition dates back centuries. There are numerous Ram Mandirs in Bengal as well. More significantly, Hanuman has always been immensely popular in Bengal.
Therefore, what Derek O’Brien tries to do with this simile is twist the faith of Hindus, deny Hindus their political and religious agency and whitewash the deep-seated disdain for the Hindu faith that seems to have percolated down to the last TMC man.
While trying to defend Mamata Banerjee and her ire against the slogan, Derek O’Brien seems to have unwittingly exposed Mamata Banerjee and her party’s disdain towards the fact that Hindus in Bengal have finally found their voice and are asserting themselves in this election cycle.
Mamata Banerjee and her unbridled ire towards the chants of Jai Shree Ram
In January 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar came together at Kolkata’s Victoria Memorial on Saturday to honour freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on his 124th birth anniversary.
When she was invited on to the stage to speak a few words, some people were chanting slogans of Jai Shree Ram, Bharat Mata ki Jai and Joy Bangla. Getting offended by the slogans of Jai Shree Ram, Mamata Banerjee said that as a mark of protest against this ‘disrespect’, she would not say anything. Sulking, she walked off the stage even though several other dignitaries, including the Prime Minister, were on the stage. She had later said that she got offended at ‘being teased’ in front of the Prime Minister.
In 2019, in a Facebook post, Mamata had said that it is high time action is taken ”to restrain political workers not to indulge in activities of creating unrest, chaos, violence and disruption of normal life by taking recourse to misplaced ideologies in the so called name of religion to create divide among the people.” She had further said that she will continue to oppose the ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chants to “keep the secular character of the country.”
Her ire against Jai Shree Ram is such that in 2019, West Bengal police had arrested at least 10 people from Barrackpore for chanting slogans of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ in North 24 Parganas at Mamata Banerjee’s convoy. Mamata had raised strong objections to the people who were chanting the slogan of Jai Shree Ram as she passed through the area. Visibly irked Mamata was spotted getting down of her car at least twice and losing her cool at the onlookers. She was also heard using defamatory language, calling the people chanting the slogan ‘outsiders’.
Incidentally, a video of hers had also gone viral earlier in which she was seen confronting people Jai Shree Ram in a similar way.
Only recently, as Jai Shree Ram slogans were raised during a Holi celebration, taking inspiration from Mamata, TMC had attacked BJP workers and vandalised their party office after getting irked over the slogans.
It comes as no surprise that Maulana Jarjis, who had spewed venom against Hindus and incited Muslims to take up arms against the Indian government, had lauded Mamata Banerjee for ‘fighting’ slogans of ‘Jai Shree Ram’.