Chief minister Mamata Banerjee inaugurates the Christmas celebration at St. Xavier's. Also seen are mayor Sovan Chatterjee and Father Felix Raj. Picture by Amit Datta
The country should learn about tolerance and humanity from St. Xavier's College, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on the Park Street campus on Wednesday evening.
"If an institution like St. Xavier's, Calcutta, can quote from the Quran, the Gita, the Guru Granth Sahib, why can't we all follow this example?" she asked, referring to the speeches of Archbishop of Calcutta Thomas D'Souza and the principal of the college, Father Felix Raj.
The archbishop and the principal had spoken in favour of tolerance and integration while addressing the gathering at a Christmas celebration, organised by the St. Xavier's College Calcutta Alumni Association.
Lashing out at the Centre for observing Good Governance Day to mark the birthday of Atal Bihari Vajpayee on December 25, which coincides with Christmas, Mamata demanded that the day be declared a national holiday.
"We have holidays for Puja, for Id, for Guru Nanak's birthday, for every festival of every community. Then, why must we sacrifice just this one holiday, such a major holiday, citing work as an excuse?" she asked.
"Good governance does not happen on one day. It happens every day. Just because the Centre has power, it cannot discriminate against any community, caste, religion or language.... I demand the restoration of the holiday. Christmas does not belong to a particular religion or community, it belongs to all," she said.
Sources in her party said the gesture was a key endeavour to reach out to Christians, ahead of the crucial election season next summer.
In his address, Felix Raj, also the president of the alumni association, stressed the need for tolerance in minimising global conflict.
"Now, more than ever, we feel the importance of tolerance all around us.... Even after 2015 years, Jesus Christ's words ring true. He had said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God'."
Seizing the opportunity, Mamata addressed the issue at length. "Let's always remember, intolerance is temporary, tolerance is permanent. All good men, great prophets and learned souls have promoted tolerance and love for one and all.... What is happening now is divide and rule; that will not succeed or last."
Although she did not take names, it was clear whom she was targeting since she has repeatedly accused the BJP and the Centre of spreading intolerance in the country.
"Tolerance and humanity come from deeds and not just words. I am delighted to be here, in an institution like St. Xavier's that keeps showing the way for all of us," the chief minister said.