New Delhi: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had in its second term referred to her “dream project” to connect Ajmer and Pushkar through a rail network as “communal”, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed Monday.
She had proposed the railway line in the budget she presented for 2010-11, in her capacity as railway minister in the UPA-II government. She also sanctioned a railway terminal for Ajmer. Work on the project started in 2010-11 itself and was ultimately completed.
The Bengal CM’s remarks — which came a day before her scheduled visit to the Ajmer Sharif Dargah and Pushkar in Rajasthan Tuesday — drew sharp reactions from the Congress, which called them “inaccurate” and a piece of “imagination”.
Mamata reached Delhi Monday to attend an all-party meeting on G20 convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She spoke about the rail project and her plans while interacting with the press prior to her departure from Kolkata airport.
“It has been a long pending wish [to visit Ajmer and Pushkar]. I always wanted to connect Pushkar and Ajmer. It was my dream project,” she said, adding that she faced some resistance while implementing it.
“The erstwhile rail ministry, my own department, and the government called this project communal. I asked them why they were calling it communal, was it because I was trying to connect two shrines of two communities — Hindus and Muslims? Both are holy places, and a lot of Hindus visit Ajmer Sharif Dargah to offer prayers,” Mamata further said.
“So, I decided to continue with the project, I told them [the government] if they see this as communal, then [so] be it. But, I will do the project,” she added.
The railway ministry funded the project fully, according to the Trinamool Congress chief. “It has been my wish to travel to both places since then. People from Ajmer dargah came to meet me recently and invited me to visit their home. So, I will go tomorrow.”
Senior Congress leaders meanwhile claimed that Mamata never felt “discomfort” as far as the secular character of UPA-II was concerned, and that no such comment on the project calling it “communal” had been made.
Jairam Ramesh, party general secretary in charge of communication, said Mamata’s statement “stretches the imagination and credulity hugely”. Ramesh was environment minister during the period when she had proposed the project.
One of Mamata’s other former colleagues in the cabinet, senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid, said that the comment she made seemed “incorrect”.
“The comment she made about UPA-II does not seem accurate. I had a chance to work with her in the government and she always came across as an energetic, forthcoming and secular politician. She never mentioned or expressed any concern or discomfort about the secular nature of the government then,” the former external affairs minister told ThePrint.
He added that no one would have questioned her intention about connecting these two places, at least not in the government.
“We have no idea what she is trying to mention here, and information that she might be personally privy to. In the rail ministry, she was in command and who in her department would question the minister?” he asked.
The Bengal CM has been known to chants mantras and slokas while attending Hindu religious events and covering her head whenever she visits a mosque. While campaigning for the assembly elections in Bengal last year, she had performed the ‘Chandi Path’ and visited 19 temples and a Muslim shrine in Nandigram in 28 hours. She had fought the elections from the Nandigram seat, but lost it to former aide-turned-BJP candidate Suvendu Adhikari. She later won the Bhabanipur Assembly bypoll.
Incidentally, Banerjee’s travel to the Ajmer Sharif Dargah Wednesday falls on the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition. The West Bengal CM, however, clarified at the airport that her visit is not specific to the day.
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)