West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee offer prayers during the inauguration of Rath Yatra event organised by ISKON, in Kolkata
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee offer prayers during the inauguration of Rath Yatra event organised by ISKON, in Kolkata
PTI Photo/Ashok Bhaumik

Serampore: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was greeted with 'Jai Shri Ram' slogans by BJP supporters yet again when she visited Mahesh area in Hooghly district to inaugurate the 623-year-old Ratha Yatra festival on Thursday.

The slogan was heard from a section of the gathering as Banerjee was alighting from the dais amidst chants of 'Jai Jagannath' over the public address system.

Mahesh, which is about 24km from Kolkata, falls under Serampore Lok Sabha constituency which was won by Trinamool Congress MP Kalyan Banerjee.

The BJP supporters, who had been cordoned off by police before the programme started, raised the slogan 'Jai Shri Ram as police escorted Banerjee to the vehicle waiting for her; she was whisked away.

The Trinamool Congress supremo had been trolled by the BJP for her angry reaction to 'Jai Shri Ram' slogans at Bhatpara in North 24 Parganas district in May. Similar incident had taken place Chandrakona in West Midnapore district.

At the programme, Banerjee announced a Rs 15-crore package for popularising the Mahesh Ratha Yatra and construction of an eco-tourism park in the town. The chief minister said her government was focussing on the development of pilgrimage centres across the state.

"We have developed civic and religious amenities in pilgrim centres such as Tarakeswar, Tarapith, Furfura Sharif and Dakshineswar. We will do the same at Mahesh," she said. Meanwhile, a war of words broke out between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition BJP over Rath Yatra festival in the state.

"The TMC till last year was only interested in appeasing a particular community. Till last year, you would hardly find any top TMC leader participating in the Rath Yatra. But now they are doing it. This is good," senior BJP leader Mukul Roy said. TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee termed Roy's allegation as baseless.

"Where was the BJP for so many years in Bengal? By participating in a few Rath Yatra programmes, they are lecturing us on religion and secularism. We don't need their lecture. In Bengal we have been celebrating all the festivals with the same vigour," Chatterjee, also a senior state minister, said.

Roy's comments came in the backdrop of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee attending the ISKCON Rath Yatra festival with the party's Muslim woman MP Nusrat Jahan, who was trolled for wearing emblems of Hindu matrimony.

Banerjee attended the ceremony with Jahan, actor- turned-TMC lawmaker from Basirhat, where they performed Hindu rituals including pulling the chariot of Lord Jagannath.

Though Banerjee attended the Rath Yatra festival of the ISKCON in the past too, her presence with Jahan at the festival 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. Roy and other senior BJP leaders also participated in various Rath Yatra programmess across the state.

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