Amid an ongoing controversy over the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool regime's 'outsider' rhetoric, Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh has triggered a fresh row over his statement on the "contribution" of non-Bengalis in the development of West Bengal.
According to the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s West Bengal unit, non-Bengalis have contributed more than Bengalis for the development of the state. The controversial statement has predictably triggered a row in the tumultuous political discourse of West Bengal, ahead of the assembly polls next year.
What exactly did Dilip Ghosh say?
Ghosh was speaking at an event in Kolkata's Canning Street, where he refuted Trinamool's rhetoric of dubbing BJP as a party of 'outsiders'.
He said, "Since the pre-Independence era, people who had come from other states played a crucial role in Bengal's development. Most of those who worked at mills and factories here were from other states. So those from outside played a bigger role than the Bengalis in developing the state."
The ruling party is now tagging people who worked for the welfare of Bengal as "outsiders", the saffron party leader alleged.
"Shah Rukh Khan (state's ambassador) and Prashant Kishor (TMC's poll strategist) have become insiders now. This is the irony," he said.
“Who rode the tangas? Who pulled the rickshaws? Today they are outsiders here and Shah Rukh Khan is one of our own! All the workers from Bihar are outsiders but Prashant Kishor is one of our own!” a report by The Statesman quoted Ghosh as saying.
Speech triggers a controversy
Quite predictably, however, Ghosh's remarks drew sharp reactions from the ruling TMC, which accused the Bengal BJP chief of playing "divisive" politics without knowing anything about the state's history and culture.
Reacting to his comments, TMC secretary-general Partha Chatterjee said the BJP's intent to "humiliate and undermine" Bengalis now stands exposed.
"I think Dilip Ghosh is not aware of the role Bengalis had played in the nation's overall development and freedom struggle," he said.
Trinamool MP Kalyan Banerjee said, "The ones who live in Bengal are Bengalis." But the ones who arrive from elsewhere for campaigning against the interest of the community are 'outsiders', according to the Serampore MP.
The CPI(M) has also criticised Ghosh for his statement. According to veteran leader and former MP Samik Lahiri, "He (Dilip Ghosh) knows neither the history nor the geography of West Bengal. He wasn't even known until five years ago."
However, Congress has critiqued both the parties. West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, "These types of comments are insulting to the people of West Bengal. In this state, people never discriminated between Bengalis and non-Bengalis. Now that division is being created."
Trinamool's 'outsider' rhetoric
The controversy comes at a time when the TMC leadership has been accusing the BJP of engaging "non-Bengali outsiders to dictate terms" to the people of the state, an allegation refuted by the saffron party as "baseless and politically motivated".
Senior TMC leader and minister Bratya Basu, while addressing a press conference in Kolkata last month, had said the BJP was "anti- Bengali" and that was the reason the party, which is in power at the Centre since 2014, has not appointed any Bengali as its Union Cabinet minister.
"Outsiders who do not know Rabindranath Tagore are dictating terms to the people of the state. We had seen how violence perpetrated by them led to desecration of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar''s bust (during May 2019 Lok Sabha polls campaign)," Basu stated.
Noting that the people of the state would never accept the dominion of "non-Bengali outsiders", Basu said, "History has shown any such attempt has never succeeded. This time, too, there will be no exception."
Emphasising that the TMC believes in taking "everybody along, unlike the BJP", Basu had cited the example of retired IPS officer Rajpal Singh who was sworn in as a minister after the party came to power in 2011.
"But you will not see Bengalis being given a ministry in any other state. You have an Arjun Singh as an MP here, then why not Arjun Roy from Uttar Pradesh or an Arjun Banerjee as MP from Gujarat?" he had said.
Elections to the 294-member West Bengal Assembly are likely to be held in April-May next year.