Mumbai (WIRE): History has never been BJP’s strong domain and more so when it involves the minority community of the country. Which is why it was not surprising when the party’s member of parliament Gopal Shetty in a meeting, ironically at a gathering during the Eid-e-Milad arranged in north Mumbai, called the Christian community “angrez” (British) and claimed they did not have a role to play in India’s freedom struggle.
In a video which was shot on June 1 at a gathering during the event organised by the Shia Kabrastan Committee at Malvani in Malad, Shetty is seen addressing the public and calling the Christian community British. He further goes on to say that Muslims and Hindus played a substantial role in the pre- independence struggle and that Christians did not participate in it. While Shetty has tried to claim that his speech has been taken out of context, many from the Christian community feel such “loose” and “baseless” statements are made only to vitiate the atmosphere.
Dolphy D’Souza, a former president of the Bombay Catholic Sabha told The Wire that such baseless statements are never made in the spur of the moment. “They are well thought [out] and planned exactly to vitiate the atmosphere. This has been a common thing in the present regime,” D’Souza said.
He further pointed at the place where this statement was made. “He (Shetty) goes to a Muslim gathering and speaks of another minority community there. It is never done innocently. BJP does these things to gauge the situation and see what controversy can be raked in the name of the minorities and cause communal polarisation,” he added. D’Souza also reminded that the history of the Christian community is at least 2,000-years-old in the subcontinent.
Instead of taking his statements back, Shetty today went ahead standing by his statements and further added while he did not call the community “angrez”, he did believe that the community had barely any contribution to make in the struggle for freedom. “I have been misquoted. I have the video on me and I have not said anything about Christians being angrez. All I spoke was that since the British were Christians too, not many Christians participated in the freedom struggle,” Shetty told the media.
Shetty’s party has not supported him in the statement and BJP Bombay president and MLA from Bandra West Ashish Shelar said that Shetty was asked to withdraw the statement. However, he also defended Shetty and said that the leader did not mean what he said.
Father Nigel Barrett, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bombay, wants Shetty to take some history lessons before making such unsubstantiated statements. Speaking to The Wire, Father Barrett said that the best person to recall at the time of such irresponsible statements would be Joseph “Kaka” Baptista, an Indian politician who is believed to have written the famous phrase “Swaraj is my birth right and I shall have it”, which was later used by Bal Gangadhar Tilak at several occasions both in English and Marathi.
“Kaka Baptista was one of the crucial persons in the pre-independence struggles. If the minister were to start taking lessons in history, I would say he should start with him. There are several such leaders who actively played a role across India,” Father Barrett said.
The statement has ruffled a few feathers and several people from the community have organised protests outside Shetty’s residence in Mumbai asking him to withdraw the statement. Two residents of Orlem in Malad (which has a sizeable Christian population), Jerad Lobo and Mavis Fernandes, have submitted a complaint against Shetty at the local police station. The two have demanded that a criminal case be registered against Shetty under the Indian Penal Code sections 153(a) for promoting enmity between communities and 504 for breach of peace. The police are yet to decide on the complaint.
Meanwhile, local Congress leaders have sought Shetty’s resignation and have called his statement “irresponsible” and “abusive”. “Shetty has a history of inappropriate remarks,” said Mumbai Congress leader Bhushan Patil. Two years ago, Shetty had stirred trouble for his party by describing farmer suicides as “fashion”. He had claimed that all suicides do not happen because of unemployment or hunger. “It has become fashion these days. If the Maharashtra government is giving Rs 5 lakh as compensation, the other state gives Rs 7 lakh and the next Rs 8 lakh. There is competition in giving compensation to farmers,” he had said.
In another instance, Shetty had introduced a private member’s Bill in the Lok Sabha seeking to raise the age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 if she is marrying without her parent’s consent. His rationale was that young boys and girls fall in love at 15 and 16 and get married as soon as they turn 18. This, according to him, was a “social menace”.
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