The Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has planned to take out nearly 700 rallies across South Bengal to celebrate Ram Navami on April 14, ahead of the second phase of the Lok Sabha elections. However, West Bengal Police denied permission to carry arms during the processions.
Last year, the Sangh Parivaar outfit was severely criticised after their members were seen carrying arms during Ram Navami rallies. Also, incidents of violence were reported from several pockets of the state. Taking a cue from last year’s events, the police have made elaborate arrangements to maintain law and order in the state. Besides, police will also keep a strict vigil as out of the seven phases of the Lok Sabha elections, the second phase will be held in the state’s three Lok Sabha seats on April 18, immediately after the Ram Navami celebrations.
Speaking to The Indian Express, VHP eastern regional organisational general secretary Sachindranath Sinha said they will follow the police guidelines. “We have received permission from police to hold such rallies and we will abide by the rules. This year, no one will carry arms during Ram Navami rallies. We have decided to hold around 700 small, medium and big rallies across South Bengal. As elections will kick off in North Bengal, so, only a few rallies will be held there. This time rallies will be held at booth-level areas. We are expecting that over 20 lakh people will participate,” Sinha said.
Ram Navami rallies will be taken out at several places in the state, including Kolkata, Barrackpore, Serampore, Naihati, Bolpur, Suri, Jhargram, Kultali, Howrah, Contai, Tamluk, Ranaghat, Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura, Asansol, Durgapur, Krishnanagar, Kharagpur, Raniganj and Raiganj.
In Kolkata, Shri Shri Ram Navami Utsab Samiti and Shri Shri Ram Navami Udyapan Samiti will take out four big rallies in Jadavpur, Kolkata Port, Burrabazar and Baranagar areas.
“We have received permission to take out rallies in the city, except for the Kolkata Port area. We are hoping to get the permission in due time,” said Vivek Singh, prachar pramukh of Hindu Jagran Mancha.
The BJP, on the other hand, has decided not to take out any rally. “We are not organising Ram Navami rallies here. However, our workers and leaders are free to attend such rallies, which will be taken out by other outfits. We are now focused on the elections,” said state BJP general secretary (organisation) Pratap Banerjee.
Meanwhile, police have identified several hot spots, which were in news for communal disturbance during Ram Navami celebrations in West Bengal last year. Bengal has almost 30 per cent Muslim population and several Ram Navami processions are likely to pass through the Muslim-dominated localities. Also, West Bengal Police will deploy special forces ahead of the celebrations.
“With political outfits vowing to celebrate Ram Navami in all the districts of the state on April 14, we are on our toes to curb any untoward incident. Additional force will be deployed in areas that have witnessed communal violence in the past such as Purulia, Asansol, Chandannagar, Hazinagar, Kankinara, Naihati, Chanchal, Dhulagarh, Islampur, Raniganj, Suri, Krishnanagar and Kharagpur,” a senior police officer of the West Bengal Police told The Indian Express. Police said last year most of the clashes had taken place when Ram Navami processions passed through the minority-dominated areas, during which youths from both the communities had provoked each other with hostile interest.
Despite additional arrangements, a section of police expressed their concern. “It’s been a matter of two to three years that Ram Navami is being celebrated on a large scale in Bengal,” said a senior police officer.
According to police, CCTV cameras installed at strategic locations will keep a tab on processions. Besides, police officials in plainclothes will also monitor the processions.
“There is nothing wrong in celebrating a festival, but there are instigators who willingly try to create trouble. We will request people not to pay heed to any rumour and maintain peace. Rest police will take care of. There are strict instructions that if any procession is found to be not abiding by the rules, they will be stopped then and there,” a senior police officer said.
Past incidents at a glance
Clashes broke out over a Ram Navami procession at Raniganj in West Bardhaman district. One person was killed and several police officers were injured. Asansol-Durgapur Deputy Commissioner of Police Arindam Dutta Chowdhury was attacked with a bomb, following which he had lost his hand. Several police vehicles and shops were vandalised and torched during the clash. A clash broke out when reportedly a Ram Navami procession of the VHP was passing through Rajpara, a Muslim- dominated area. Next day, tension spread to the Asansol area, when police stopped a few Ram Navami processions after one of the rallies was allegedly attacked by some miscreants. The district administration had imposed Section 144 in the Raniganj-Asansol area to maintain peace. Police also recovered the body of a youth, who was allegedly killed during the communal tension in the area. Around 60 people were arrested in the case.
March 25, 2018: Trouble started brewing at Kankinara under Bhatpara municipality in the North 24 Parganas district after a statue of freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was pulled down and a man was killed following an armed Ram Navami procession. About 10,000 people had assembled in Kankinara under the Barrackpore Lok Sabha constituency to take out a three-kilometre procession from Arya Samaj to Madrail via Ghosh Para, a minority-dominated area. TMC MLA Arjun Singh, who is now a BJP candidate from Barrackpore, was leading the rally. Violence erupted when the crowd was passing by Jama Masjid in Ghosh Para. The mob had pelted vehicles with stones and burnt a motor vehicle.