Social media yesterday was awash with images of school girls in white salwar-kameez with saffron dupattas wrapped around their waists, as they clutched swords and daggers during armed Ram Navami processions in West Bengal, a sight previously unseen in a state where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not had a major presence in the last four decades but wants to get a foothold.
The RSS claimed it took out over 200 Ram Navami processions all over Bengal — filled with saffron-clad men and women raising slogans of Jai Sri Ram and waving saffron flags with the 'Om' printed on them. Placards pledging the Ram temple at Ayodhya were also seen as the processions. BJP state President Dilip Ghosh himself held aloft a sword in a procession within his constituency Kharagpur in West Midnapore district, reported IANS.
The unprecedented scale of celebrations was duly noted by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who accused the BJP of appropriating a festival that has been held in the state for many decades, albeit minus the grandeur that the RSS sought this year. However, the open display of arms has also rattled many. Surjya Kanta Mishra, Secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist), West Bengal, said "mothers and daughters never carried arms in Bengal."
The participants carried swords, tridents, and bows and arrows.
The Ram Navami celebrations were held under the banner of the Rama Navami Udjapan Samity. There were no untoward incident reported from anywhere.
In Kolkata and its adjoining areas alone, more than 22 rallies were taken out. In the state, a total 200 rallies and processions with participants varying from 2,000 to 20,000 were held, Bidyut Mukherjee, RSS organizational secretary for West Bengal and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, said.
"The response of the common people was very good. We have been able to unite the Hindus to a large extent through these rallies," he said.
The RSS-backed Ram Navami rallies were held on such a scale close on the heels of RSS' Coimbatore resolution last month in which it had expressed concern over the "growing Jehadi activities and declining Hindu population in West Bengal."
"If you have to unite a community then religious festivals are the best way to send out a message for uniting the society under one umbrella," said a VHP functionary.
Ghosh said, "We fully support such programmes to celebrate Ram Navami. It will help people unite against the anti-national forces and vote-bank politics. If a rally can be taken out on Nabi Diwas, why can't one be taken out on Ram Navami? What's the harm in it?"
Facing heat from the right wing parties, ruling TMC had asked its leaders to organize Ram Navami rallies and special prayers for Lord Hanuman in their areas.
"The BJP should not describe Ram Navami as its own. The BJP has nothing to do with it. It should stop using religion (for politics)," Mamata lashed out at the saffron outfits while addressing a rally in Bankura.
"Do not try to incite unrest. For thousands of years various religious organisations have been carrying on Ram Navami rallies. There is no connection with the BJP. Party is planting flags and placing 'Om' symbols. You can sit at home and chant 'Om'. How can they (BJP) use religious symbols in political rally? Is it your party's symbol? Who has given you the right to insult the 'Om' symbol?," Banerjee fumed.
She also lashed out at the BJP for resorting to politics of divisiveness in Bengal. "They want to divide the Hindus-Muslims... the Sikhs-Christians," she said.
In Kolkata, Ram Navmi processions were taken out from 22 points, including Bhowanipore and Garia-Jadavpur, and traversed all major arterial roads, with tableaux carrying the idols of Ram and Sita and people dressed up like the duo and Laxman grabbing attention.
The Shahi Imam of Tipu Sultan Masjid, Syed Md Nurur Rahman Barkati, was quoted as saying that the "RSS should be banned in the country. I will talk to the CM and request her to ban RSS in Bengal, because it is spreading communal tension everywhere." (With inputs from PTI and IANS)