Bengal slaps charges on saffron leaders for ‘armed Ram Navami’

Several police stations across Bengal slapped non-bailable charges on leaders of the saffron brigade, including Dilip Ghosh, a day after they took out armed processions on Wednesday to “celebrate Ram Navami“. The state BJP chief has been booked under Arms Act.

BJP leaders reacted with characteristic defiance and bravado but there were unmistakable signs that the party had been caught unawares by the sudden tough stance taken by the Trinamool government, which they assumed was suitably softened up by the ongoing probes into a series of alleged scams.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee led from the front, declaring that the “law will take its course” at a rally in Purulia on Thursday and taking pains to make a clear distinction between the religious and the political. “Ma Durga-r hathe ja shobha paye ta ki sabar hathe shobha paye (Not everything that looks apt in Goddess Durga’s hands looks good in the hands of lesser mortals),” the chief minister told a public rally in Purulia on Thursday.

Cops were quick to take the cue. By the end of the day, police stations in Entally, Bhowanipore and Posta in the city and Suri and Kharagpur elsewhere in Bengal slapped organizers of the Ram Navami processions with similar sections that could result in up to seven years in jail. The go-ahead to the police is believed to have come from the very top of the state administration despite a section of the Trinamool leadership advising a softer approach as “a tough stance might hurt majority sentiments”. At the Purulia rally on Thursday, Mamata Ba nerjee said: “I saw some people yesterday hitting the streets with swords in their hands. They were threatening, intimidating people. The law will take its course.”

The chief minister seemed conscious of the possible repercussions as she emphasised her “Hindu-ness”. “I am a proud of being a Hindu. And it teaches me to be proud of all religions,” she said, chanting Sanskrit shlokas. “Ram Navami is celebrated in Bengal, too, like in Howrah’s Ramrajatala and Asansol. I’ve been there in the past. It is celebrated at my home too. But why this chest-thumping and brandishing of arms? Is it only faith?” she asked.

The questions followed one after the other, all seeking to address the BJP line that the government was soft on minorities. “Why should political leaders display weapons in public?

Yes, the Sikhs can have their kirpans. But that is legal,” she said. “What if other communities do the same?” the CM asked, pinning the “irresponsible” tag on BJP and blaming it for its unlawful actions that might provoke other communities. In saying what she said on Thursday , and in directing cops to do what they did, Banerjee seemed to be taking a calculated risk. Tough action might aggravate polarisation, but on the other hand, silence and inaction might make her government more vulnerable to BJP’s antics.

The CM’s own instincts won over several of her advisers by the end of Thursday. And, despite the risk of fuelling the tension in some pockets of the state, her gamble appeared to be succeeding; her tough message and police action seemed to have put the brakes on more sword-wielding rallies.

 State BJP chief Ghosh appeared to be scaling down his aggression levels.He said: “Wednesday’s was a religious rally. I am ready to explain myself to the police. And, if need be I will move the court.” He added the Union home ministry was aware of the development.
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