The political kerfuffle in West Bengal over the Bharatiya Janata Party’s observance of Ram Navami and the Trinamul’s equally spirited celebration of Hanuman and Annapurna puja ~ as a counter-move ~ would not have erupted if both parties had proceeded with circumspection. Thus it was that religious fervour was reduced to a level of putridity. It is a distressing, even ominous, trend if politics per se dictates the ritualistic observance. So it has been this week in Kolkata which routinely boasts its secular and libertarian credentials. The distinction between religion and politics has been blurred fair and square, and the spin-doctors of the BJP principally and the Trinamul Congress must share the responsibility. As it turns out, one party does not “tolerate” the rituals of the other. With respect, the matter need not have gone to court if the government had approved a religious rally by the BJP in the South Dum Dum municipal area. Across the country, it is a measure of the helplessness of the executive generally that the judiciary has to intervene even on the observance of Ram Navami. Buoyed by the Calcutta High Court’s go-ahead ~ in itself a snub to the municipal administration ~ the saffronites displayed an overdose of religious fervour by flaunting lethal weapons in their procession. The BJP has without question flouted the certitudes of engagement ~ the right to carry but not to display arms. A profoundly religious occasion affords no space for posturing with weapons.
Hence the two cases filed suo motu by the police in Kolkata and Kharagpur against the saffronite show of strength, notably the wielding of swords in a religious rally. Aside from Kolkata, that show of strength was no less awesome in Burdwan, Birbhum, Nadia, East and West Midnapore, Darjeeling, and Malda. Clearly, the BJP’s focus before the panchayat elections is largely riveted to South Bengal. Altogether, the shadow-boxing has served to reinforce the murk a week before naba barsha when another cache of religious rituals are on the anvil. The involvement of the political class has made confusion among believers worse confounded. Both parties have been determined to exercise the choice theory as it were, primarily to score brownie points in the immediate aftermath of the UP assembly elections. Galling must be the competitive frenzy over a sacred occasion.
Mamata Banerjee has hit the bull’s eye with what she calls the “appropriation of religious festivals and symbols” and, one is tempted to add, by the footsoldiers of a vigorous faith. Having said that, the Chief Minister’s bluster in Purulia ~ “they (BJP) don’t represent Ram, but Ravan” ~ can only exacerbate this week’s tension which is as religious as political. She has balanced her Ram Navami greetings at a public meeting in Bankura with a sniper attack on the BJP for “trying to take ownership of the occasion”. No wonder the RSS has expressed its “overwhelming happiness”.