Mamata Banerjee tries to control damage as ‘Sanatan Dharma’ row rattles anti-Modi alliance
The controversy erupted after Udhayanidhi Stalin, a leader of the southern state of Tamil Nadu remarked that “Sanatan Dharma” must be eradicated.
Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of eastern Indian state of West Bengal (ANI Photo)
THE INDIA alliance which a number of opposition parties in India have formed to take on prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of a string of elections, including the national one next year, has faced a major obstacle after a minister from the southern state of Tamil Nadu made a controversial remark about “Sanatan Dharma” (eternal religion) seeking its eradication.
That the parties of the INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) bloc were left uncomfortable by the remark by Udhayanidhi Stalin, Tamil Nadu’s minister for youth welfare and sports development and son of the state’s chief minister MK Stalin, was evident when Mamata Banerjee, one of its major faces expressed her disapproval at the remarks.
Stalin belongs to Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which has its roots in the Self-Respect Movement started by noted social activist and politician EV Ramasamy ‘Periyar’. The 20th movement opposed caste and religion and positioned itself as a rationalist movement resisting social evils.
Banerjee, one of India’s major anti-Modi faces and chief minister of the eastern state of West Bengal, broke her silence on Monday (4) said they should not be involved in any matter which might hurt a section of people.
“As far as the remarks (of Udhayanidhi Stalin) are concerned, he is a junior. From my side, I am not clear about why and on what grounds he has made the comment. I feel that each and every religion should be equally respected,” the firebrand leader said on Monday evening, hours after the spokesperson of her Trinamool Congress called the comments “unfortunate”, NDTV reported.
“I respect the people of Tamil Nadu and South India. But my humble request to them is to respect all as every religion has separate sentiments,” she added.
The veteran leader also said that she respects “Sanatan Dharma” and that the people of India derive learnings from the Vedas. Citing her own administration in Bengal, she said it has many ‘purohits’ (priests) and her government gave them pension. She said there are several temples across India and people visit them as well as mosques and churches.
Banerjee herself has been accused by the Hindu nationalist BJP and its supporters of appeasing Muslim minorities in Bengal.
Stalin, 45, said “Sanatan Dharma” is like malaria and dengue and must be eradicated, putting many of the INDIA bloc members in a dilemma, particularly when they are preparing to challenge the saffron party in upcoming elections and trying to prevent it from coming to power for the third consecutive time next year.
According to Stalin, “Sanatan Dharma” divided people on the basis of caste.
The BJP lashed out at Stalin saying his comment was a “call for genocide” and also accused Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Indian National Congress of being “anti-Hindu” since he did not speak on the matter.
The Congress, which takes pride in its secular politics, said all religions should be respected and people have the right to express opinions. Some young leaders, particularly from the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, backed Stalin over his remark.
Communist Party of India’s D Raja also echoed Stalin’s viewpoints.
Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh also slammed the opposition alliance over the Tamil Nadu leader’s comments saying the country will not forgive them unless they apologised.
He also asked why senior Congress leaders such as Sonia Gandhi and Ashok Gehlot besides Rahul Gandhi were tight-lipped on the matter.