Several billboards featuring Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s photographs and his recent comments on the ‘Jai Sri Ram’ slogan of the Bharatiya Janata Party have mysteriously appeared on the streets of Kolkata, but nobody seems to be in a hurry to own them up. “I have never heard the Jai Shri Ram’ slogan before. It is being used to thrash sections of people. I feel this slogan is alien to Bengal’s culture,” the billboards quote Sen’s comments made at an event in Jadavpur University recently.
The billboards also carry another of Sen’s comments where he cites his four-year-old granddaughter talking about her favourite deity. “She took a while and said Maa Durga, So, the stature that Maa Durga enjoys here cannot be compared to Ram Navami.” The billboards, put up by the ‘citizens of Kolkata’, do not give a hint to who they are. The Trinamool Congress party of state chief minister Mamata Banerjee welcomed the comments, but denied responsibility for putting up the billboards.
State urban development and municipal affairs minister Firhad Hakim said the billboards were put up by the civil society and citizens of West Bengal. Speaking to reporters, he said Amartya Sen is not only the pride of the state, but the entire country. The minister also claimed that the slogan of Jai Shri Ram was being used in the state in a divisive manner to insult the people of West Bengal. The slogan had sparked off a row during the campaign for the assembly elections in the state with the BJP activists and chief minister Mamata Banerjee trading charges on a number of occasions.
The BJP, which has been a marginal force in West Bengal for several years, made major inroads in the state politics by winning 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in the recently concluded Parliamentary elections. The central leadership of the party led by PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah are aiming at capturing power in the state in the upcoming Assembly elections scheduled for next year.