KOLKATA: After being widely criticised for seeking a UN-monitored referendum on the new citizenship law, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday made a U-turn and said she only wanted an opinion poll observed by impartial experts.
The Trinamool Congress supremo also appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to listen to the voice of the people and revoke the amended Citizenship Act and drop the plans for implementing the NRC across the nation in the interests of the country.
"Had Atalji (Atal Bihar Vajpayee) been alive, he would have asked the BJP to follow Raj Dharma. But those who are in power now (at the Centre) don't follow it," Banerjee said at a protest meeting in the minority-dominated Park Circus area of the city.
After the post-Godhra riots in 2002, the then prime minister Vajpayee had advised Modi who was the chief minister of Gujarat at that time, to follow Raj Dharma.
Wondering why Modi, despite being present when the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was put to vote at Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, did not take part in the voting, the chief minister said, "The PM is not in sync with the new Act and that is why he refrained from voting".
Reacting to the criticism over her UN referendum comments, Banerjee said she don't need a certificate of patriotism and nationalism from the BJP.
"I did not say UN referendum. I meant an opinion poll overseen by impartial experts of our country, which can be observed by impartial organisations like the National Human Rights Commission. It can also be observed by independent organisations like the UN. I have full faith in my country and its people," she said.
"I have been in politics since the 1970s and have been a people's representative since the '80s. I don't need a certificate of patriotism from the BJP," Banerjee said.
Besides Union ministers Smriti Irani and Prakash Javadekar, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar expressed his disapproval over the TMC supremo's statement.
"Whenever anyone raises a voice, the person is called anti-national. The country became independent in 1947. Their party was formed in the 1980s. They did not participate in the freedom struggle. Who are you to decide who is a citizen and who is not?" Banerjee said.
Condemning the police firing on protesters in various parts of the country, the chief minister wondered if it is a sign of healthy democracy where police is shooting protesters.
"We must protest democratically. Public life must not be hampered," she said.
The CM claimed that the BJP deliberately passed the citizenship bill to deflect attention from the poor economic condition of the country and price rise of essentials.
"If you don't take back the black law, if you don't reconsider the decision about (implementing nation-wide) NRC, you will have to go. Don't ignore people's voice," she said.
"The BJP is imposing one political agenda after another under the impression that Indians are peace-loving people. Under the impression that only it will remain in power," Banerjee said.
She held a meeting with TMC MPs and MLAs to devise the party's strategy to counter the new citizenship law and announced a series of protest programmes.
"There will be a series of mass programmes across the state from December 23. On January 1, we would organize Citizenship Day across the state," she said.
TMC sources said Banerjee asked party leaders to fan out to every nook and corner of the state and create public opinion on the new citizenship law.
"Our party supremo has also asked us to remain cautious of efforts by the BJP to flare up communal passion and ensure that peace and tranquillity are maintained," a senior TMC leader said.