The West Bengal provincial Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership launched a scathing attack on Chief Minister Mamata Bandopadhyay for staging a demonstration against the Union government led by the former. The BJP questioned her “Hindu” credentials for staging the demonstration on the occasion of Ram Navami, a North Indian Hindu festival imported to West Bengal by the Hindutva-driven party and its parent organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
While BJP leader Rahul Sinha had warned Bandopadhyay that the Hindutva organisations will organise armed rallies across the state—that often turn violent and resulted in massive anti-Muslim pogroms since 2018—the chief minister warned that while each organisation has a right to rally if a single incident of violence against the minorities happens then her government will take strict actions.
However, despite her warning incidents of anti-minority violence were reported from Kolkata’s adjacent Howrah district. It has been reported that a Ram Navami procession sparked anti-Muslim violence while passing through the Kazipara locality, where several members of the minority community live. It’s alleged that the provocations from the procession stirred tension in the locality and verbal spats turned into violent attacks against the minority community members.
As a result of the rampage several vehicles were set ablaze and despite heavy police presence, the carnage went on unhindered. Finally, the police managed to control the situation by resorting to baton charges and by lobbing teargas shells, but it’s alleged that Hindi-speaking “outsiders” relaunched attacks on the minority community after the peace march by the security forces was over.
The overall situation remains tense in the Howrah district, which also suffered similar orchestrated violence in the previous years during similar occasions. The West Bengal government, which has allegedly taken a soft stand on communal violence perpetrated during Ram Navami and other north Indian Hindu festivals, after Bandopadhyay’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) replicated the RSS’s model to wean away Hindu voters, especially the Hindi speakers, from the saffron camp, remains a mute spectator as anti-Muslim violence during Ram Navami became a quintessential affair.
Suvendu Adhikari, a former confidante of Bandopadhyay who switched to the BJP in late 2020, didn’t ration words while harshly criticising his former mentor, accusing her of not respecting Hindu sentiment by not declaring Ram Navami as a holiday in the state. Incidentally, West Bengal’s Bengali-speaking Hindu community didn’t celebrate Ram Navami with extreme zeal, unlike their northern counterparts before 2017. It was since 2017, the occasion has been used as a political weapon to intimidate the Muslim community and to exhibit the “Hindu power” by the RSS-led rabid Hindutva organisations.
A large-scale pogrom targeting the minority community in West Bengal during the Ram Navami celebration killed and wounded many, including policemen, in March 2018. One of the victims of the violence was a Muslim teenager of Asansol, whose cleric father became a notable peace advocate and promoter of communal harmony. It’s noteworthy that Babul Supriyo, a former BJP parliamentarian and Union minister, accused of the 2018 Asansol violence, later joined the TMC.
As the violence over the Ram Navami procession took place in neighbouring Howrah, the chief minister, who was staging her protest under the statue of BR Ambedkar at Kolkata’s Red Road, promised tough action against the perpetrators and promised that none of them would be spared. However, her government’s record in prosecuting the perpetrators—mostly associated with far-right Hindutva-incensed organisations—and providing the victims with justice, doesn’t look quite promising.
Rather than combating the BJP and the RSS at the ideological level, Bandopadhyay’s TMC has embraced the Hindutva ideology from the duo. It has maintained a soft attitude towards the RSS-led Hindutva camp to ensure it doesn’t irk its Hindu voter base. Moreover, as the BJP lost the intensely fought 2021 West Bengal Assembly polls to the TMC, despite its frantic efforts, the saffron camp is now in dire need to regain its lost soil in the state, especially in the southern part, where it’s rendered weak.
As Bandopadhyay’s TMC is all set to fight the BJP in the forthcoming Panchayat elections in the state, and eyes the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, it’s yet to be seen whether her government can walk the talk and act against the perpetrators of violence, stirred by the Ram Navami rally, who didn’t try to conceal their political allegiance to the saffron camp, or she retains the status quo that helps the BJP and the RSS to gain strength.
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