Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sounded a defiant note on Thursday, faced with accusations of "minority appeasement" from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), amidst a brewing controversy over her orders regarding the immersion of Durga Puja idols after this year's annual festivities are over.
"If this is appeasement, I shall continue to do so as long as I am alive. I will do it even if a gun is held to my head. I don't discriminate. That's the culture of Bengal, that's my culture," she said, the Hindustan Times reported, at a Puja pandal in South Kolkata.
Banerjee was referring to the charges levelled against her by political rivals — of being partisan to the Muslim community in the state, allegedly to pander to a vote-bank, while taking the sentiments of the Hindu electorate for granted.
She lashed back at her critics with well-chosen words, saying that such allegations are never made at her when she visits Hindu pujas, but are hurled the moment she participates in an Islamic festival.
Banerjee's government has run into trouble over the rules it has stipulated ahead of this year's Durga Puja.
Recently, it barred the immersion of Durga idols from being carried out on 1 October, the day Muslims take out processions of their own to observe Muharram. The official reason behind such a prohibition is to avoid any law-and-order disruption in the state. To ensure that the two communities can observe their practices in peace, the government has put a hold on the immersion of Durga idols after 10 PM on 30 September until the end of 1 October.
Ironically, the same strategy seems to be followed by the BJP-led government in Uttar Pradesh under the watch of the chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
Bengali daily Sangbad Pratidin recently reported that the UP administration has also imposed several Dos and Don'ts ahead of the Dashami and Muharram celebrations. These regulations pertain to the presence of DJs, the height of the Tajia, using loudspeakers during the processions, and so on. Separate routes for the two communities have been charted to carry out their festivities.
The Calcutta High Court saw in the Bengal government's move a possibility of creating a communal rift.
"Let them (Hindus and Muslims) live in harmony, do not create a line between them," acting Chief Justice Rakesh Tiwary said, while asking the government to precisely clarify why it was imposing a curb on Vijaya Dashami celebrations.
"People have the right to practise their religious activities, whichever community they may be of, and the State cannot put restrictions unless it has a concrete ground to believe that two communities cannot live together," Tiwary added.
When the state advocate general (AG) argued that the precautions were being taken to pre-empt any possible unrest, the court saw an "element of arbitrariness" in such a submission and asked for further "concrete" clarifications.
"You are exercising extreme power without any basis... Just because you are the state, can you pass arbitrary order?" the court said to the AG today.
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