Bengal: Weaponising Ram Navami to suit politics of right wing

Bengal: Weaponising Ram Navami to suit politics of right wing

It’s not a mere coincidence that the growth of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and upsurge in Ram Navami celebrations in Bengal has followed the same trajectory. The festival, which hardly drew any attention in the state just five years ago, has been strategically promoted to do socio-cultural engineering to suit BJP’s brand of politics.

Ever since the festival came into vogue a few years ago, it has been singularly responsible for stoking incidents of communal violence in the state akin to the ones that broke out in Howrah and Dalkhola in North Dinajpur on Thursday (March 30).

Following a pattern

All incidents since 2017 have largely followed the same pattern. Columns of weapon-wielding members of right-wing Hindu organisations veer into Muslim areas, making provocative slogans and gestures, triggering violence.

Also read: Mamata says Centre discriminating against Bengal; goes on 2-days dharna

A video clip shared by TMC general secretary Abhishek Banerjee on Friday showed a man in the procession brandishing a pistol at a Ram Navami rally. Generally, swords, tridents, bows and arrows are flaunted as weapons of Hindu assertions in these annual armed rallies.

BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh, validating use of arms at the religious event, had once argued that “astra puja”, meaning worship of weapons, was an age-old tradition on the auspicious occasion. He made the claim after a case was filed against him for wielding a sword and carrying bow and arrow at a Ram Navami rally at Kharagpur in 2018.

Even going by Ghosh’s theory, carrying a pistol at a religious programme exceeds all limits. The police should arrest the person if the pistol was indeed carried, said BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari on Friday.

Political mileage

Keeping with the pattern, immediately after the latest bout of Ram Navami clashes, BJP leaders moved in to get political mileage out of the incidents, weaving a narrative that Hindus are under attack due to the patronage of “Muslim-appeasing” state government.

“They (administration) are silent spectators. They are not doing anything. All Hindus in the Kazipara area had to flee to save their lives as their houses were vandalised,” claimed Adhikari, who has moved the court seeking a CBI inquiry into the Howrah and Dalkhola clashes.

BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar meanwhile wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah demanding an NIA probe in a clear bid to amplify the incidents. The NIA is mandated to investigate terrorism-related incidents.

His party colleague Locket Chatterjee was more vitriolic in her Islamophobic statement, claiming to the extent that even immersion of Durga idols does not take place peacefully in the state. “Not acceptable that the lives of Hindus in Bengal are under threat,” she told mediapersons.

Later, appearing at a Hindi television channel, Chatterjee said the violence was allowed to fester as Mamata Banerjee did not want to antagonise the state’s 30 per cent votes, a reference to percentage of Bengal’s Muslim population.

She alleged that the chief minister is siding with Muslims for vote-bank politics.

Video war

Social media has been awash with videos of the Howrah incident shared by BJP leaders. The clips showed Muslims pelting stones at the rally. A few people were seen in one of the videos throwing stones on the procession from a building.

It was but just one side of the story. Several other videos emerged that showed how rallyists went on a rampage torching vehicles, vandalising shops and lobbying stones at about one-kilometre stretch of a road at Howrah’s Shibpur area.

Also read: Bengal’s Raj Bhavan in Kolkata decides to open doors to public

More importantly, police said the procession, led by a lesser-known Hindu outfit Anjani Putra Sena, took an unauthorised route to enter the minority-dominated locality.

Chief Minister Banerjee, who is also the home minister, made the same allegation yesterday. “I admit there was a police lapse. Action will be taken against erring officials for not preventing the deviation by barricading the entry point,” she added.

The police lapse was more glaring as the entire incident in Howrah took place close to Nabanna, the state secretariat.

“Such incidents cannot be prevented by police action alone. There is a larger political design to create communal polarisation. It should be countered by socio-political mobilisation,” pointed out veteran journalist Md Saduddin.

Larger gameplan

The larger Hindutva gameplan involving the festival found mention even in a 174-page report by a Citizens and Lawyers Initiative that studied a countrywide spike in incidents of communal violence during Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti.

“Ram in Bengal was not seen as a war hero, but as the benevolent son of the eldest king. Celebrations were often marked with mothers fasting for their sons. However, since 2016, the festival took political centre stage and a shift was noted. The state had begun witnessing armed processions by members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and cases of incitement against minorities,” said the report titled, ‘Routes of Wrath: Weaponising Religious Processions’, released in March this year.

Communal clashes

The first communal clash in the state involving Ram Navami procession took place in pockets of Purulia districts in 2017, a year after the BJP sensed the possibility of it becoming a major political force in the state.

The militant-Hindutva politics introduced by its new firebrand state president Dilip Ghosh, a former RSS pracharak in deputation to BJP, appeared to be paying dividends as its vote share in 2016 assembly elections climbed to 29 per cent from just 6 per cent in 2011.

By then the RSS had significantly expanded its presence in the state by increasing the number of its shakhas to about 1,500, up from 580 in 2011.

It was at that point the party felt a strong Hindutva push could catapult it to power. The problem was the state’s two most popular Hindu deities, Durga and Kali, both warrior goddesses, have been moulded in Bengali conscience as benevolent mothers. They just did not fit into the aggressive Hindutva narrative.

Hence, the party repackaged Ram Navami with all the trappings of aggression.

Also read: Ram Navami procession clash in Mumbai: 21 held, 300 booked

Dilip Ghosh’s view

“I wanted to give a voice to Hindus who saw partition and division in Hindu Society. They felt insecure about the way Muslims were being appeased. They felt they would be refugees in their own land. No political party talked in favour of Hindus. If one talked in favour of Hindus, he was branded as communal. Political parties talked for the Muslims to get votes. We caught that point and needed an issue through which we could unite the Hindu voices. We used Ram Navami for that. This was not a part of the Bengali tradition. We got a huge response and it worked well for us,” Ghosh was quoted as saying in a book, ‘The Bengal Conundrum: The Rise of the BJP and the Future of the TMC’, penned by veteran journalist Sambit Pal.

The counter images, like the one of Muslim men distributing water and hugging participants of a Ram Navami rally in Howrah — not very far from the site of Thursday’s ruckus — are providing some bulwark against Ghosh and his party’s project polarisation.

But for how long? That’s the worry.

Read More
Next Story