The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has planned to take out 700 rallies across South Bengal on April 14 to celebrate Ram Navami and twenty lakh people are expected to participate in it. The rallies will be carried out at several places in the state, including Kolkata, Barrackpore, Serampore, Naihati, Bolpur, Suri, Jhargram, Kultali, Howrah, Contai, Tamluk, Ranaghat, Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura, Asansol, Durgapur, Krishnanagar, Kharagpur, Raniganj and Raiganj which has a significant minority population as well. It should be noted that the processions are happening just four days before the second phase of the general elections begin.
Image Courtesy: Partha Paul/Indian Express
In the past few years, these Ram Navami rallies have been used by Hindutva forces to create polarisation and expand their base in these areas. Last year, violence had broken out in many parts of the state after such rallies were taken out and two people, including a sixteen year old boy had died in the Raniganj-Asansol area and a deputy chief of Police had lost his hand in a bomb attack. In Kakinada town, under the Barrackpore Parliamentary constituency, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad’s statue was pulled down during the Ram Navami procession in 2018. The leader of the mob back then – Arjun Singh (formerly TMC) is the BJP candidate from this area. Hence the fact that such rallies are being allowed be taken out in the middle of a general elections is baffling. Perhaps fearing the model code of conduct, the BJP in Bengal is denying any association with these rallies. But the Sangh Parivar’s machinations, that too in poll season is hard to miss. The VHP general secretary for the eastern region, Sachindranath Sinha, has assured that it will be a peaceful procession and carrying arms is forbidden by the police. But other weapons remain at their disposal. Multiple reports point to how provocative songs are relayed from large speakers in these rallies and incendiary slogans raised, especially when passing through muslim areas. It is therefore not surprising that such processions often create tension in the areas that they pass through.
Thus, it is disingenuous to say that the marches do not have a political angle and are not an exercise in domination. These are not religious celebrations by any stretch of imagination. These are simply time tested tactics of political mobilisation cynically aimed at fomenting communal trouble ahead of elections.