West Bengal: Saffron burst on Bengal map puts Mamata in a spot

There seems to be a new-found assertion in the Hindu community in West Bengal. An assertion that is alien to the state and which is leading to communal flare-ups across Bengal, putting chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her party in a spot.

A day after Ram Navami, around 50 motorcycle-borne youths sporting saffron bandanas and flags made their way to the Muslim-dominated alleys of Kidderpore, and reportedly chanted 'masjid todenge, mandir banayenge' in front of Ismail mosque.

What followed was an agitated group of Muslims blocking traffic, some of whom broke away to attack the nearby century-old Krishna Chandra Das Modak Sweets shop. WhatsApp messages were being forwarded by both communities about a communal flare-up.

Fortunately, good sense prevailed among both communities as elders sought to prevent the situation from spiralling out of hand.

But this is not the scenario everywhere. Communal flare-ups are rampant across Bengal of late and some lead to full scale riots, incidents that are mostly hushed up and denied by the administration.

But what's significant is the new found assertion of the Hindu community that has traditionally avoided a confrontation in the state. In some cases as a repercussion and in some as instigation, this Hindu assertion is alien to Bengal.

RSS, VHP PUSH INTO WEST BENGAL

This sense of masculinity has been visible for the last few months when the RSS, VHP and other saffron organisations such as Hindu Samhati, Hindu Jagaran Manch, etc. have been working in block-level in every district, holding discussions, conducting Hindu festivals and door-to-door campaigns that has spurred a significant Hindu consolidation.

And the ultimate manifestation of the same was seen in the week-long celebration of Ram Navami across Bengal, an event that hardly anyone was aware of even a year back in the state. And interestingly the appeal of an apolitical religious movement has attracted members from all political hues including members of the ruling Trinamool Congress, whose brazen Muslim appeasement has put off many of its own supporters.

In one instance, a TMC MLA from West Midnapore was seen on Ram Navami with his face smeared in saffron, forcing the district party secretary to rush in to take stock. The state saw an unprecedented display of enthusiasm over Ram Navami, with an ever-growing BJP parading with swords, tridents and conch shells to drum up support for 'Hindu culture and heritage'.

VHP HOLDS BIKE RALLIES

In all district headquarters, the VHP made a spectacular show of strength with bike rallies. In the interiors, it was upon 'independent' saffron organisations such as Hindu Samhati to match the scale of show. Raths were taken out, thousands including women and children took to the streets and 'Jai Shri Ram' reverberated across towns.

A 52-year-old primary school teacher from Garbeta in West Midnapore, who voted for CPI(M) even after regime change told MAIL TODAY, "I have come here to listen to them. They have come with so much bikes that I am fascinated. I never voted for BJP but I share their concern about indifference meted to us." The bike rally he was referring to saw a participation of 4,000 bikes, all bearing triangular saffron flags that defied the ban by local police.

"Mamata has made a Bangladesh of Bengal. Here, being a Hindu is seen to be an offence where Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja are not allowed to be celebrated freely. We are exercising our right to pray and making people aware," says young Sourish Mukherjee of the VHP even as he instructs someone about hashtags that needs to be promoted on Twitter.

'EXISTENTIAL CRISIS'

The BJP played the Hindu card and invited all the legislators, including 211 from the ruling party, to take part in Ram Navami celebrations. All the 211 MLAs stayed away fearing the wrath of Mamata Banerjee, only to be jolted out of slumber, and then forced to launch their own version of Ram Navami celebrations later in the day.

But it was too late by then and hardly saw any attendance - not even by Trinamool supporters - who had preferred to join the ones organised by VHP. "People are not fools. They see through it. They are realising it's an existential crisis," Sourish adds.

This sense of 'existential crisis' that is right to a certain extent by Mamata through brazen appeasements like celebration of Prophet's birthday in schools, while not allowing Saraswati Puja; stipends for imams, financial aid for Muslim students; and replacing Bengali words like 'akashi' (sky blue) with Urdu words like 'asmani'.

And it is this sense of crisis that brought 12,000 people on the streets in the small town of Uluberia and 18,000 in Chuchura for the event. In Birbhum's Suri, hundreds of bikes took out a rally with Jai Shri Ram chants, even as Kharagpur saw a congregation of 25,000 people. All in all, more than 200 rallies were taken out across the length and breadth of Didi's Bengal, with 22 in Kolkata alone.

CHAKRABERIA

In Chakraberia that comes under Mamata's constituency, VHP supporters took out a bike rally brandishing swords. Visuals of scores of women and young girls associated with Durga Vahini taking part in the celebrations carrying machettes took many by surprise.

State BJP president Dilip Ghosh made a similar show with swords in West Midnapore that got the police to register a case against him. "If tazias during Muharram can have weapons, why not Ram Navami rallies?" he told Mail Today.

And it is this communal turn that has resulted in at least five flare-ups since Ram Navami alone.

In Khardah, a procession was attacked from inside a mosque. Pandabeshwar in Durgapur has also seen flare-ups. But the counter muscle-flexing is also taking place, which is a new phenomenon. In March, a temple was vandalised in Uluberia. Some 18,000 people took to streets in this sleepy town. Interestingly, those comprised almost the half the local unit of TMC and CPI(M).

From October last year to January this year, there have been as many as 10 incidents of communal tensions in those four months alone.

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