Kolkata: In a gesture loaded with symbolism, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee Thursday attended an ISKON Rathyatra festival with the party’s Muslim woman MP Nusrat Jahan, trolled by radicals for wearing emblems of Hindu matrimony, and called for “togetherness and tolerance for all faiths”.
Panned by the BJP over “Muslim appeasement”, Banerjee attended the elaborate ceremony with Jahan, actor-turned-TMC lawmaker from Basirhat, where they performed Hindu rituals, including pulling the chariot of Lord Jagannath.
Days after a radical Muslim cleric of Saharanpur criticised Jahan for marrying a Hindu and wearing ‘sindoor’, a Hindu symbol of matrimony, calling it un-Islamic, Jahan defiantly attended the ceremony with her businessman husband Nikhil Jain.
Looking resplendent in a lime green saree, red bangles, ‘mangalsutra’ and vermilion, she participated in the aarti with her hudband, holding coconuts in hand.
Banerjee warmly put her arm around Jahan’s shoulder before the prayers.
“Togetherness and tolerance for all faiths is the real religion,” Banerjee said.
Urging people to embrace peace and unity, the chief minister wished well for everyone and chanted “Jai Jagannath”, “Jai Hind” and “Jai Bangla” before the chariot-pulling ceremony commenced from the Albert Road centre of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
“I am a believer of Islam and respect all religions. I don’t pay heed to radicals. I know my religion and faith,” declared Jahan, who has stood her ground despite radical clerics pouring scorn on her for marrying a Hindu and sporting symbols married women of her husband’s community wear.
“I don’t pay heed to things which are baseless. I know my religion. I have been a Muslim by birth and I am still a Muslim. It’s about faith. You have to feel it inside your heart & not in your head,” she said.
Bakhtiyar Raza Barelvi, a prominent Muslim cleric told a TV news channel that what the 29-year-old actor-politician was doing was “un-Islamic” and unacceptable to the people who follow the faith.
Zafar Sareshwala, a businessman from Ahmedabad, and chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, came out in support of Jahan.
“Nobody should have anything to do with what she does. She is an adult. I have seen Muslim women in Bangladesh wearing ‘Tika’ (vermilion mark on the forehead). You cannot say from appearance who is a Muslim and who a Hindu,” he said.
Sareshwala, considered close to the BJP, said the Rathyatra festival in Ahmedabad used to be a “tinderbox” until a few years ago and has now become an “island of peace” where a Muslim man is the first to garland the Lord.
“In West Bengal, we participate in festivals irrespective of caste, creed or religion. Bengal symbolises amity,” the Nusrat Jahan said.
Jahan was heavily trolled recently for wearing vermilion and sporting a mangalsutra at her oath-taking ceremony in Parliament.
Slamming the critics, the MP had tweeted she represented an “inclusive India… which is beyond the barriers of caste, creed and religion”.
On Thursday, the Basirhat MP conveyed her gratitude to ISKCON for inviting her to the Rathyatra celebrations and extended her best wishes to all.
“NusratPutsIndiaFirst . Thank you @nusratchirps for inaugurating the 48th Kolkata Rathayatra. ISKCON is extremely grateful for the message and positivity which has been generated by your participation in today’s festival. Let united India win,” ISKON spokesperson Radharamn Das wrote on Twitter.
Though Banerjee attended the Rathyatra festival of ISKON in the past too, her presence with Jahan at the ceremony on Thursday was seen as an attempt by her to counter the BJP’s charge of Muslim appeasement while seeking to send out the message of religious inclusivity.