- "This is not a political programme": Mamata Banerjee
- She urged the crowd to display some dignity after Jai Shri Ram chants
- PM Modi and governor Jagdeep Dhankhar were also on stage with her
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee erupted in anger at Kolkata's Victoria Memorial on Saturday evening - at an event to honour legendary freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on his 124th birth anniversary - after she was interrupted with chants of "Jai Shri Ram".
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on stage for the incident - one of the few times in the recent past she has shared a platform with him. Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar was also present.
"Don't insult me after calling me here. This is not a political programme. If you invite someone to a government programme, you should not insult them," Ms Banerjee said, cutting short her speech.
Visuals showed the crowd shouting moments before Ms Banerjee spoke, forcing the organisers to repeatedly call for calm. When she finally got to speak a visibly upset Ms Banerjee urged the crowd to display some dignity and thanked the PM for attending the event.
A seemingly unperturbed Prime Minister Modi spoke shortly afterwards and began by referring to the Chief Minister as "behen (sister) Mamata". As he spoke, chants of "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" were heard, but those of "Jai Shri Ram" seemed conspicuous by their absence.
With Assembly elections now only a few months away, the scenes at the famed Victoria Memorial quickly invited retorts and counter-retorts from members of the two parties.
BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya was among the first off the block, alleging that Ms Banerjee had "insulted" the memory of Netaji and that "Bengal will not tolerate this disregard of its icons".
"Mamata Banerjee insulted the legacy of Rabindranath Tagore by refusing to attend Viswa Bharati's centenary celebrations. She has done the same by not delivering her speech on the occasion of Netaji's anniversary celebrations," he declared.
Mamata Banerjee insulted the legacy of Rabindranath Tagore by refusing to attend Viswa Bharati's centenary celebrations. She has done the same by not delivering her speech on the occasion of Netaji's anniversary celebrations.— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) January 23, 2021
Bengal will not tolerate this disregard of its icons.
Trinamool MP Derek O'Brien hit back by tweeting the dictionary definition of the word 'dignity' and saying "you can(not) teach lumpens to be dignified".
"dignity (noun) The state or quality of being worthy of honour and respect. You can't teach 'dignity'. Nor can you teach lumpens to be dignified. Here is a one-min video of what exactly happened today. Including the dignified response by Mamata Banerjee," Mr O'Brien said.
dignity (noun) The state or quality of being worthy of honour and respect.— Derek O'Brien | ডেরেক ও'ব্রায়েন (@derekobrienmp) January 23, 2021
You can't teach ‘dignity'. Nor can you teach lumpens to be dignified.
Here is a one-min video of what exactly happened today. Including the dignified response by @MamataOfficialpic.twitter.com/aEQ3jF7CYf
The chants that greeted Ms Banerjee this evening were a sobering reminder of the vicious election rhetoric that has dominated Bengal politics since the 2019 Lok Sabha election - when the "Jai Shri Ram" chant routinely used by BJP supporters to taunt Trinamool leaders, including Ms Banerjee.
Faced with that heckling, she lost her temper twice in the space of a few days and, the second time, charged at the people, calling them "criminals", "outsiders" and worse.
In June Ms Banerjee said that while respect slogans invoking Lord Ram, she had a problem with the BJP using them in a "misconceived manner by way of mixing religion with politics".
Although today was billed as a celebration of Netaji and his legacy, it rapidly devolved into a bitter squabble over who better honours the legendary figure.
Earlier, hours before the Prime Minister was due to land in Kolkata, Ms Banerjee attacked the centre for failing to declare the day a national holiday and build a memorial for Netaji. She also criticised the centre for calling today 'Parakram Diwas', instead of 'Deshnayak Diwas' as her government requested.
The Trinamool remains confident of winning re-election, but many believe the party faces an uphill struggle after a wave of leaders jumped ship to the BJP, starting with Suvendu Adhikari.
The ruling party, however, has brushed off these setbacks, comparing the Trinamool to an ocean and saying "a couple of mugs of water taken out of it make no difference".