With the three-day Ramnavami celebrations coming to an end in Hazaribagh Thursday, the Sangh Parivar is hoping a renewed spirit of Hindu unity will help Jayant Sinha, the BJP candidate and son of sitting MP and former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha, come to power.
Jayant admits his campaign had got off to a rough start. “It took us a week to reassure workers I was selected on my own merits and not because of my father,” he said, insisting he will be successful, and the Ramnavami would not play a factor in his victory.
Not everyone agrees. “Politics and this festival have always had a relationship,” said BJP district president Tunu Gope. His proposal to have a Narendra Modi rally on April 10 was a dead giveaway the BJP intended to use the festival to unite Hindus.
But elections in Hazaribagh, which was earlier scheduled to vote on April 10, have been postponed to April 17.
“Yashwant Sinha and his son have no connect with the people. Our vote is for Modi. How can devotees who come to the procession not vote for the BJP?” asked Ganshyam Gope, Tunu’s father and former district president of the VHP. His father, Panchu Gope, took the lead in celebrating Ramnavami in a big way since 1925.
The involvement of three generations of the family with Ramnavami illustrates how the festival has become communalised. It was under Ghanshyam’s watch that riots broke out on April 16, 1989 in which 19 people were killed. There have been no further riots, but it seems to have changed the political terrain of Hazaribagh forever. The BJP has since won four of six elections and stood second twice since then.
Ganshyam blames the district administration for the incident. The riot happened over whether the procession should pass through Jama Masjid road. “The previous year, while passing through Masjid Road, someone threw a glass tumbler at goddess Durga’s idol,” recalled Ganshyam.
On Masjid Road, people remember 1989 differently. “After 1987, it was decided that the procession would take the parallel, broader Malviya Road. We also agreed to change the route of the Moharram procession,” says Ghulam Moinuddin Ahmad, secretary of the Jama Masjid.