Bengal bloodied in name of Ram; Mamata fumbles response

A rally on the eve of Ram Navami on Sunday, March 25, in Kolkata

Bengal is witnessing a surge in politics of communal polarisation after the BJP came to power at the Centre. Mamata Banerjee’s response has only allowed the Sangh to set the agenda for Bengal politics

Bengal has been bloodied by the Sangh Parivar in the name of Ram since the night of Ram Navami on Sunday. At least three persons have lost their lives; one each in the industrial areas of Raniganj in Paschim Bardhaman and Kakinara in North 24 Parganas closer to Kolkata, and one in Purulia in the south-western part of the state.

Two other bodies were reportedly found on the railway tracks in between Raniganj and Asansol. It is still not clear whether these two killings were part of the communal frenzy that had begun with the Sangh-sponsored Ram Navami processions armed with sharp weapons and counter-processions by the ruling Trinamool Congress in mixed population areas.

Three senior police officers were injured severely, including a DCP of Asansol, who may lose his right hand due to bomb injuries. Hindutva mobs ransacked police stations in Raniganj and Murshidabad’s Kandi, while sporadic violence was reported from elsewhere. Some properties were vandalised in affected areas while a statue of freedom fighter and India’s first education minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was damaged by the saffron brigade in Kakinara.

As the BJP and other Sangh outfits are in no mood to call off their marches, ostensibly to mark the ‘Hindu awakening in Bengal’ and assert the majority community’s ‘religious freedom’ till Hanuman Jayanti on March 31, Bengal is bracing for further violence in the next few days.

Unlike Tripura, where the BJP has dislodged the Left front by playing up ethnic divide, anti-incumbency and youth aspirations, Bengal is witnessing a surge in politics of communal polarisation under the aegis of ruling party at the Centre.

As the BJP and other Sangh outfits are in no mood to call off their marches, ostensibly to mark the ‘Hindu awakening in Bengal’ and assert the majority community’s ‘religious freedom’ till Hanuman Jayanti on March 31, Bengal is bracing for further violence in the next few days

Durga Puja, the biggest festival of Bengali Hindus, is associated with Ram’s invocation of the divine mother. But the celebration of Ram Navami and Dussehra were limited to private worship at homes and temples, except some low-key public events in industrial suburbs.

Nevertheless, the Sangh affiliates have made big inroads in these former strongholds of Left labour unions, now dotted with sunset factories, their land being grabbed by political mafias. Mainly Hindi-speaking youth are being radicalised on a daily diet of hate-filled Hindu nationalism, capsuled in the war cries for ‘Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan’.

The week of Ram Navami-Shastra Puja and Hanuman Jayanti now offers the Sangh a major opportunity to display their muscle power and incite clashes by rallying through Muslim pockets, hoping to harvest a political dividend by creating Hindu consolidation through communal polarisation .

The spate of riots in industrial areas of Bengal since 2015 underlines this method in the Sangh’s madness. It takes a different turn in rural areas bordering Bangladesh, where persecuted Hindu Dalit refugees, mainly Namashudras and Poundrokhatriyos, have become the spearheads of Hindutva fervor and anti-Muslim mobilisation.

Mamata’s response plays into the hands of the Sangh

Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister and her party the Trinamool Congress has been playing into the hands of the Sangh by asking her men to organise parallel celebrations of Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti since last year. In a move to checkmate her friend-turned foe BJP, that is fast occupying the ground as the main Opposition in Bengal, as successive bypolls have been showing, she is now trying to offset the Sangh campaign against her ‘Muslim appeasement’ by stressing on her liberal Hindu credentials.

With the West Bengal panchayat polls round the corner, to be followed by general election in 2019 and assembly polls in 2021, Mamata’s zeal for reclaiming Ram and Hanuman from saffron bigots has only allowed the Sangh to set the agenda for Bengal politics.

Further, Mamata buckled under BJP threats after the party’s state party chief Dilip Ghosh, a foul-mouthed RSS pracharak turned MLA from the railway town of Kharagpur, refused to accept her decision not to allow armed and unpermitted processions. The official climb-down came in the form of allowing display of ‘traditional arms’ in the processions, which had been organised since a decade or so.

Her minions who had led the parallel Ram Navami processions too carried weapons in Kakinara and some other places. Already divided along communal lines in some troubled areas, as the riot-hit areas have shown earlier, Bengal’s faction-ridden ruling party has become a good hunting place for the Sangh for those converts who are ready to stand for ‘Hindu cause’.

Mamata buckled under BJP threats after the party’s state party chief Dilip Ghosh, a foul-mouthed RSS pracharak turned MLA from the railway town of Kharagpur, refused to accept her decision not to allow armed and unpermitted processions. The official climb-down came in the form of allowing display of ‘traditional arms’ in the processions, which had been organised since a decade or so.

The police brass, apparently confused over the signal from the top, did not try to seize weapons from the Sangh men or stop their marches in sensitive areas on Sunday. But trouble broke out after they tried to do so the next day. Now that her move to outsmart Sangh in its own game has apparently backfired, Mamata has ordered a crackdown on Hindutva zealots. Police has started cases against Ghosh and his women’s wing chief for brandishing weapons at their rallies. But the damage is already done.

In the meantime, the secular opposition parties in the state, the Left and the Congress, steadily weakened by the BJP gains and Trinamool poaching, have blamed BJP and Mamata for their ‘competitive communalism’. But they have failed to rise to the occasion as Bengal continues to bleed.

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