Kolkata: Prime Minister Narendra Modi attending the foundation-laying ceremony (bhoomi pujan) for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya is an “instance of blatant appeasement politics”, West Bengal Cabinet Minister Firhad Hakim told ThePrint, adding that the politics over the temple will have no bearing on the state.
“What does the bhoomi pujan for Ram Mandir have to do with Bengal? We celebrate Durga Puja, Kali Puja , Eid and so on,” he said.
“What is more important? Bhoomi pujan or the lives of people?” Hakim asked. “What was the need for the Prime Minister to rush to Ayodhya in the middle of a pandemic? How many Covid-positive cases were reported since the grand event? This is appeasement politics that revolves around religion.”
In an exclusive interview with ThePrint, Hakim, the urban development minister and one of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s close aides, addressed a range of issues — the BJP accusing the chief minister of “minority appeasement”, the state’s efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and the controversy over relief distribution to those affected by Cyclone Amphan.
‘PM the biggest appeaser’
Over the past few years, the BJP has made big inroads into Bengal — it won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 elections as compared to the two it bagged in the 2014 polls.
The West Bengal BJP unit has been accusing the Mamata Banerjee government of minority appeasement ever since she altered the day for the Durga idol immersion in 2017, paving the way for Muharram.
The BJP was at it again last week, when it accused the government of being anti-Hindu for imposing a lockdown on 5 August, the day of the Ayodhya bhoomi pujan.
Hakim, however, told ThePrint that the BJP should focus on the prime minister and his policies. “Why don’t people consider this bhoomi pujan as appeasement?” he asked. “The speech the Prime Minister delivered in Ayodhya is an example of the biggest appeasement. Isn’t it appeasement when Narendra Modi, despite being the PM of a country addresses only one community?”
As for the chief minister, he said that her policies are always inclusive.
“Mamata Banerjee is not Modi. She is for all. She is a Hindu in her religious belief but she practises that at home and not in her politics,” he said. “This is the idea that the people of Bengal believe in. We go by the teachings of Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam and Thakur Ramakrishna. We do not want to know what Mohan Bhagwat (RSS chief) preaches and teaches.
“The BJP’s politics is appeasement politics,” he added. “We never say Garv se Kaho Hum Hindu Hain or Garv se kaho hum Musalman hain. Didi taught us to say Garv se Kaho hum Bharatiya hain.”
As for the lockdown, the cabinet minister said the shutdown days never coincide with the main festivals of Bengal. “Why didn’t they choose Janmashtami to organise the bhoomi pujan? That was anyway a holiday and nobody had a problem with that,” he said.
On Covid crisis & Amphan relief
The minister insisted that the state government’s efforts to tackle Covid-19 were well on track and added that all criticism of it was part of “BJP’s propaganda supported by the media” to show Mamata Banerjee in a bad light.
“There is no crisis,” he said. “Our recovery rate is higher than the national average. The infection rate in Kolkata is the lowest among all metro cities.
“About the availability of Covid beds in hospitals, I would like to mention that we have 60 per cent of beds still unoccupied,” he added. “People who have opted for free treatment in government hospitals have had no complaints. It is just the BJP’s propaganda to malign our government as they are now eyeing the 2021 assembly elections. It is unfortunate that the Opposition sees politics in a pandemic.”
On allegations that TMC workers and party leaders were misappropriating Amphan relief funds, Hakim admitted that there were instances of this having happened but added that it was the chief minister who flagged the issue and made sure it was investigated.
“Bengal has 36,000 panchayats. There were some cases of misappropriation in six panchayats and action has been taken. Six panchayat pradhans have been expelled from the party,” he said. “Mamata Banerjee was the first person to point it out in public. That is her transparency.
“I also ordered a probe into complaints in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation area,” he added. “But there have been such cases in BJP-controlled panchayats too. Have they ever come forward to own up? This is the difference between Didi and them.”
The cabinet minister also accused the BJP of attempting to poach Trinamool leaders to destabilise the government. “They will never succeed in doing what they have done in Madhya Pradesh and tried to do in Rajasthan,” he said. “We have the full support of our MLAs. The BJP cannot do anything about it.
“They are approaching some turncoats who joined the Trinamool from the CPM,” he added. “It is the CPM-Congress combine that transfers their votes to BJP. But people are with Mamata Banerjee and there is nothing to fear.”
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