Kolkata: In his first visit to West Bengal since he assumed office for the second time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi almost kicked off the BJP’s election campaign in the state where elections are scheduled for 2021.
The PM, who was on a two-day official trip, primarily to attend the Kolkata Port Trust’s 150th anniversary, invoked Mahatma Gandhi to defend the Citizenship Amendment Act, accused Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of non-cooperation, and championed his government’s initiatives such as Ayushman Bharat and the PM Kisan Kisan Samman Nidhi.
Modi also renamed the port trust after the Jan Sangh founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee.
PM cites Gandhi to defend CAA
The Prime Minister Sunday defended the Citizenship Amendment Act, which has sparked widespread protests across the country, saying his government was only “fulfilling the wishes of Mahatma Gandhi”.
According to Modi, Gandhi was among those who had backed granting citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from Pakistan.
“The Citizenship Act was not brought overnight. We have only brought an amendment to the Citizenship Act and have made it easier for those who have suffered persecution in Pakistan, after Partition, to get Indian citizenship,” Modi said while addressing youths at the Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission in West Bengal’s Howrah district.
The PM had spent the night at the Math and addressed students Sunday morning, the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, which is also observed as International Youth Day.
During his half an hour address, Modi said that had his government not brought in CAA, “nobody in the world would have ever known the kind of torture religious minorities face in Pakistan”.
He also accused opposition parties of “misleading the youth” on the controversial legislation.
“A section of our young generation is still living in misconception. They are misled,” he said. “Political parties are misleading a generation to satisfy their vested interests. We should not fall for such false propaganda.”
The PM also attempted to allay the fears of the North Eastern states on CAA. “We respect the North Eastern states’ culture and tradition. We will do everything to protect them,” he said. “We have made special arrangements for them.”
PM names port trust after Syama Prasad Mukherjee
The Prime Minister Sunday also announced that the Kolkata Port, the country’s oldest riverine port, will now be called the Syama Prasad Mukherjee port. Mukherjee had founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in West Bengal, which later became the BJP.
“This port will now be known by the name of Syama Prasad Mukherjee,” the prime minister said, saying that he had contributed immensely in industrialising Bengal.
“It was unfortunate for the country that after Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee and Babasaheb Ambedkar resigned from the government, their suggestions were not implemented as they should have been,” Modi said, while addressing the gathering at the port trust’s 150th anniversary.
According to BJP leaders in Bengal, this is a major step by the PM to recognise the “efforts and contribution” of Mukherjee in securing “Kolkata and several parts of West Bengal” during Partition.
They added that it is also a message to people of West Bengal that the BJP does not need to bring in “Hindi icons” as the BJP’s biggest ideologue is from Bengal. “Syama Prasad Mukerjee was pushed to oblivion in Bengal by the Congress, Left and now the Trinamool regimes. But PM is reviving our history,” said a senior BJP leader who was there at the event.
Modi’s speech exalting Mukherjee comes a day after he quoted Rabindranath Tagore to claim that the country’s history had been written in a one-sided manner, ignoring crucial issues.
“The way the Indian history has been written, it reflects how historians have completely overlooked a very important aspect of the time,” Modi had said Saturday. “Gurudev ( Tagore) in one of his pieces in 1903 wrote that the history we study for examinations is not the actual history of India.”
“The history books say invaders came to India and how they fought for power. It is a history of fratricide and patricide. This is not our culture or our tradition,” he added. “Historians completely ignored what Indians were doing then? Did they not exist?”
Cut-money, syndicates and Mamata Banerjee
Even as protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act rocked the city for the two days that Modi was here, the Prime Minister Sunday still attacked the Trinamool Congress government in the state.
Modi made a veiled attack on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, accusing her government of repeatedly stalling central government health and social welfare schemes such as the Ayushman Bharat and Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi.
“Schemes like Ayushman Bharat and Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi benefit the poor and the farmers. The schemes will be implemented here if the state government allows them. But I have no idea when the government will do so,” the PM added at the sesquicentennial celebrations of the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT).
He, however, refrained from naming the chief minister, only adding, “May God bless all, may good sense prevail on the policy makers of Bengal.”
He also said that his government’s direct money transfer schemes were disturbing some, in another indirect attack on the TMC whose leaders have been accused of demanding ‘cut-money’, a bribe for getting work done.
“Financial benefits reach beneficiaries directly. There is no need to give any cut to anybody and syndicates cannot play a role,” Modi said. “That is why many people are stalling such schemes.”