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Bengal: Mamata Apologises After Uproar Over Bengal Minister’s Remark on President Murmu

The Opposition is demanding removal of the minister and penal provisions against him under the SC/ST Act.
WB: As Mamata Goes on Defensive, Non-BJP Opposition Taps Into Discontent

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Image Courtesy: PTI

Kolkata: Widespread outrage over deplorable remarks made by Akhil Giri, a minister in the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government, about President Droupadi Murmu, has led to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee apologising on behalf of the party.

Giri, junior minister for prisons, had made distasteful remarks about President Murmu’s appearance during a rally in Nandigram, West Bengal.

In a 17-second video clip shared by news agency ANI on Twitter, Giri is heard saying in Bengali that “We don’t judge people. We respect your President’s chair. But how does your President look?”

Various Left and progressive organisations, including the All India Women’s Association (AIDWA), and Paschim Banga Samajik Nyay Manch (PBSNM), Paschim Banga Adibasi Adhikar Manch (PBAAM) and Left Front leaders have condemned the TMC leader’s comment.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) polit bureau member Ramchandra Dom, who is also general secretary of Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, told Newsclick that there are provisions in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for such remarks and those should be applied in this case.

“In politics, there is a minimum courtesy, which is lacking here. She [President Murmu] is a woman and a citizen of the country, and the comment is disgraceful to any woman. It is a condemnable and unethical and a social crime,” he said. Dom also demanded that the government should exercise penal provisions against the minister.

Condemning Giri’s comment, Left Front chairman Biman Basu said it was an unpardonable crime.

In the Jangalmahal region, comprising portions of the districts of West Midnapore, Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia, there were numerous road blockades at the call of the Adivasi Ekta Manch. Jyotsna Mandi, a tribal-origin minister in the state government, was forced to travel in a police car and leave her car behind owing to one such blockade in Khatra, Bankura.

In a joint press release, PBSNM and PBAAM said that the minister’s comment reflected the “mindset of TMC leaders” towards the tribal society.

They pointed out that there has been a record amount of dropouts from the school education system in West Bengal, and 97% of those were from dalit, tribal and minority households. They pointed out that 50.6% of all tribals and 33.3 % dalits were living below the poverty line.

Accusing the BJP-led Central government of following ‘Manuvadi’ policies, the two organisations said in the past decade, attacks on dalits had increased, and 90% of cases pertaining to the SC/ST Act had remained unsolved. In West Bengal, both BJP and TMC only do lip service toward the tribal and dalit populations, they alleged.

AIDWA’s West Bengal committee, in a press release, said that the minister’s comment had lowered the state's dignity before the country. They also accused the TMC leadership of constantly using foul language against adversaries and the Chief Minister, too, was party to it. The BJP and TMC are indulging in such remarks to create a binary in the state at a time when the common people are increasingly coming out on the streets against both these parties, AIDWA said.

Meanwhile, sensing the trouble, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday told the media: “I condemn Akhil Giri’s comment on President Droupadi Murmu. What Akhil has done is wrong. We don’t support such a remark. I apologise on behalf of my party as he is my party colleague. The party has already cautioned Akhil Giri."

Nonetheless, Banerjee also tried to give an alibi for Giri, saying he had been referred to as belonging to the crow species by BJP leaders in the past. However, she did not say anything on the demands raised by the Opposition to remove the minister from his post and apply penal provisions against him.

After the furore over his comment, Giri apologised before the media. ANI quoted him as saying: "I respect the President. I mentioned the post and made a comparison to respond to Suvendu Adhikari, I didn’t take any name. He had said that Akhil Giri looks bad in his appearance. I’m a minister, I took oath of office. If something is said against me, it’s an insult to the Constitution."

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