Kolkata, Holding saffron flags and donning saffron head bands, playing religious songs in full thrust and chanting Lord Ram’s name, thousands of Hindu right-wing activists and supporters on Sunday took out Ram Navami rallies across West Bengal for the second consecutive day.
According to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which planned 700 rallies in Bengal to observe the occasion this year, over 500 rallies have been taken over the span of two days while the rest of the rallies are scheduled to take place on Monday.
Apart from VHP, several processions were taken out by other right-wing Hindu outfits like the Bajrang Dal and the Hindu Jagaran Manch in various parts of Kolkata and the districts, many of which saw participation by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates for the coming Lok Sabha polls at their respective constituencies.
The VHP said they took out 13 major Ram Navami rallies in Kolkata on Sunday.
“A few more will come out tomorrow as well. Many rallies have been taken out in the districts as well. We are sure to reach our aim of taking out 700 rallies in Bengal,” VHP Bengal unit spokesman Sourish Mukherjee told IANS.
He said most of the rallies could be taken out peacefully except one at north Kolkata’s Mahamilan Math, where a minor scuffle broke out between the police and rally participants after the administration denied permission for a proposed a bike rally.
Asked if active participation of BJP candidates in their rally ahead of the elections carries any political significance, he said it is wrong to politicise occasions like Ram Navami as the organisation has not invited any political outfits or leaders to take part.
“We have always maintained that VHP has not invited any political personalities in the rallies. If someone wants to come and join us as a devoted Hindu, he is welcome. We are not concerned about people’s political leanings. Ram Navami is a centuries-old tradition across the country and it should not be given a political angle,” he said, adding a few more rallies will be taken out from parts of Bengal on Monday as well.
Apart from Kolkata, several Ram Navami processions were taken out from Hooghly, Howrah, North 24 Parganas and a number of north Bengal districts.
After Saturday where a number of devotees, including BJP state President Dilip Ghosh, were seen brandishing traditional weapons like maces and swords, some armed rallies were spotted on Sunday as well.
West Bengal BJP’s women wing President Locket Chatterjee conducted a 100-strong bike rally in Hooghly, from where she has been given ticket for the 2019 elections. Later, she was seen flaunting a bow and arrow while leading a rally in the area.
In another Ram Navami rally in the Barrackpore area, which was participated by BJP Lok Sabha candidate and former Trinamool Congress MLA Arjun Singh, several youths were seen carrying swords.
“Carrying arms in Ram Navami is a tradition. There is nothing wrong it it,” Singh said.
The VHP, however, distanced itself from the armed rallies and said those rallies were not organised by them.
“No armed rallies were taken out by us. Our rallies have been religious and peaceful. However, several Hindu organisations and clubs took out rallies in their own capacity. VHP does not have any responsibility if political leaders of activists carry weapons,” a VHP leader said.
Several other saffron party leaders like Lok Sabha candidate from north Kolkata seat Rahul Sinha led a big procession with people dressed up as Lord Ram and his prime disciple Hanuman at the forefront, while party’s south Kolkata candidate Anupam Hazra, who recently defected from the Trinamool Congress, also participated in a procession donning saffron head gear.
Other BJP candidates like Debasree Chaudhury and Dudh Kumar Mondal also participated in the rallies in Raiganj and Birbhum respectively.
In a bid to counter the BJP, West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress also took out a number of Ram Navami rallies in the city and suburbs on Sunday led by senior party leaders and state ministers.
A colourful procession was taken out in Howrah district’s Liluah by the state Minister Arup Roy, with participants beating drums and shouting “Jai Sree Ram”.
State Tourism Minister Gautam Deb and Minister of State for Sports Laxmi Ratan Sukla also participated in a rally with colourful tableaux in north Bengal’s Siliguri while Trinamool Congress MP Smita Bakshi also took out a procession with drummers and decorated horse carriages in central Kolkata.
Ram Navami is a spring Hindu festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Ram, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu as per the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism.