Ram Navami Celebration: New Battleground For BJP, TMC Ahead Of LS Polls

With the first phase of elections scheduled on April 19 and the second on April 26, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has alleged that the BJP intends to stoke communal tensions.

Ram Navami celebrations in West Bengal, poised to become a political battleground

In the aftermath of the Ram temple inauguration at Ayodhya, the upcoming Ram Navami celebrations in West Bengal on April 17 are poised to become a political battleground, with the saffron camp organising large-scale events across the state to showcase "Hindu unity" before the Lok Sabha polls.

With the first phase of elections scheduled on April 19 and the second on April 26, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has alleged that the BJP intends to stoke communal tensions.

With the BJP-RSS making deep inroads in West Bengal over the years, the Ram Navami festival, previously celebrated in limited pockets of the state, has expanded in scale and prominence over the past decade.

Following the inauguration of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya earlier this year, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) has planned an extensive Ram Mahotsav programme from April 9 to April 23, culminating on Hanuman Jayanti.

In recent years, Ram Navami rallies in the state have escalated into major political issues due to communal riots, with the ruling TMC and opposition BJP accusing each other of inciting violence.

As the BJP aims at consolidating Hindus before the polls, the TMC, not ready to cede ground to the saffron camp, is also doing its bit as the state government declared a holiday on Ram Navami for the first time and the party planning rallies across the state.

Sachindranath Singha, VHP's national assistant secretary, stated, “This year we are observing the Ram Mahotsav festival. On the day of Ram Navami on April 17, we will organize programmes or rallies across all gram panchayats and municipal wards in the state. We have lined up more than 5,000 programmes statewide.”

He added, “The Ram Navami programme across the state will be a demonstration of Hindu might and unity. Hindu unity transcends politics; it's about faith in Lord Ram.”

Singha clarified that the rallies and programmes would not involve weapons, except those organised by traditional Akharas, where carrying weapons is a customary ritual.

To a query about BJP's participation in the rallies, Singha noted, “Anyone can participate in Ram Navami rallies in their individual capacity.”

BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar confirmed the party's involvement, stating, “Every year we participate in Ram Navami programmes. This year too, there will be no change. Party workers and leaders will participate as devotees of Lord Ram.”

A senior BJP leader, speaking anonymously, expressed hopes of political gains from Hindu consolidation through the Ram Navami events. He said, “To achieve our target of 25 seats, there is a need for Hindu consolidation, and Ram Navami celebrations will indeed help us in doing that.”

In the 2019 elections, the BJP secured 18 seats, while the TMC won 22 and the Congress two.

Until recent years, Ram Navami was not widely celebrated in Bengal which is traditionally associated more with the Durga Puja festival. However, since 2016, coinciding with the BJP's rise in the state, the festival has gained momentum.

Despite its growing popularity, Ram Navami celebrations have been marred by violence in 2017, 2018, and 2023, with communal riots erupting due to clashes between groups over processions and rallies.

The TMC accused the BJP of orchestrating the riots, a claim dismissed by the BJP, which attributed the violence to TMC's appeasement politics.

This year, Banerjee alleged that the BJP plans to instigate riots during the Ram Navami rallies. “As elections approach, the BJP plans to trigger communal riots during Ram Navami rallies. I urge all citizens not to fall into this trap,” she said at various election rallies.

The TMC also plans to organise rallies in various parts of the state. In Howrah, where communal riots occurred last year during Ram Navami, the TMC will host a major rally on April 17.

The TMC has urged the Election Commission to ensure that the religious festival doesn't become a platform for polarisation.

“We don’t believe in mixing politics with religion. The people of the state will reject the BJP's communal politics,” TMC spokesperson Shantanu Sen said.

Senior CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty warned that such celebrations would "only sharpen competitive communalism in the state, which both the TMC and the BJP desire."

Political analyst Subhamoy Maitra believes that the Ram Navami celebrations, bolstered by the Ram Temple event, will provide the BJP with significant political leverage ahead of the elections.

“It will be an advantage for the BJP in the state, as they are a seasoned player on this pitch of Hindu polarisation. The TMC might engage in competitive communalism, but the outcome remains uncertain,” he observed.