With the BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) maintaining that armed rallies will be taken out on the occasion of Ram Navami on March 25, whether they are granted permission or not, police said it is making elaborate arrangements to prevent communal tension.
“We are making strong police arrangements for Ram Navami,” ADG Law and Order (West Bengal) Anuj Sharma told The Indian Express.
The police have also alerted all stations and identified sensitive pockets ahead of Sunday. Additional special forces will be deployed in areas where Ram Navami is celebrated on a large scale and in regions that have witnessed communal violence in the past — Chandannagar, Howrah-Dhulagrah, Birbhum, Hazinagar, Naihati and Basirhat-Baduria among others.
“We are working in collaboration with all stakeholders. No rally with arms will be allowed. We have identified sensitive pockets and we have conducted meetings with locals, political representatives and other influential personalities from these areas to avoid any act that can create trouble. Also, no loudspeakers will be allowed,” Commissioner Ajay Kumar said.
The VHP on Friday said while it will not take out armed rallies, it will support those who choose to do so.
Sourish Mukherjee, media-in-charge of VHP (South Bengal), said, “Nobody questions when other communities hold processions with swords. Only when Hindus assert themselves with swords and trishuls, the government and police become extra cautious. There is nothing called ‘show of strength’; it is appeasement politics that keeps them worried and extra alert.”
The BJP, meanwhile, asserted that people who want to take out armed processions will do so regardless of police permission.
Hooghly BJP president Bhaskar Bhattacharya said, “The festival is not related to a party, it’s about a religious belief. People have been celebrating it for 100 years. As far as police permission is concerned, those who want to celebrate will do so even if police don’t give them permission…”
Taking on the Trinamool Congress, state BJP president Dilip Ghosh said on Friday: “Trinamool finally has started feeling that BJP will take all votes by celebrating Ram Navami and hence, now it has started celebrating Ram Navami instead of Eid. When the situation is bad, people do a lot of things…”
However, not all groups are insistent about taking out armed rallies. The Anjani Putra Sena (Howrah), a “non-political group” that has been organising ‘sobhayatras’ for the last four years, said it would celebrate without arms this year.
“We are a non-political organisation and we do not believe in violence. Last year, we had permission in writing, but suddenly the police stopped us and snatched our bike keys. Later, however, we were allowed. Our is one of the oldest organisations that celebrates Ram Navami. It is very difficult for organisers to check who have bad intentions in a crowd of 25,000-50,000 people. Rather than arresting organisers, police should take action against individuals who are creating trouble or showcasing arms,” said Neeraj Agarwal, a member of the APS.
“We believe police are more alert when it comes to Hindus, but I also would like to say that if Dilip Ghosh wants to walk in our procession with arms, we will not allow him. It’s a celebration and has nothing to do with parties. We will celebrate without arms,” he added.
Ramnavami Udyapan Samiti, which has a presence in Asansol and Howrah and is supported by RSS, also maintained that it won’t take out armed rallies without permission.
“We are law-abiding people and without police permission, people won’t take out processions with arms,” said RSS spokesperson Bidyut Mukherjee.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had earlier announced that select organisations that have been taking out armed rallies for years will be allowed to do so as long as they take prior permission from the police.
Police, however, said it is worried about “shows of strength” despite the security arrangements. “Most incidents of violence take place when Ram Navami processions pass through Muslim areas… If both sides treat it as a celebration, half of our job will be done. Some instigators are also under our scanner…” said a senior officer. One such sensitive area is Telinipara in Hooghly, where a Ram Navami procession had clashed with a group from another community last year.
Last year, controversy had broken out after schoolchildren were seen carrying swords during Ram Navami processions. In Kolkata and its adjoining areas alone, more than 22 rallies were taken out. In the state, around 200 processions were held.