Hundreds of Ram Navami rallies, including some armed rallies, were taken out by the BJP and VHP in various parts of West Bengal on Saturday, drawing sharp criticism from Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The saffron outfits were seen waving swords and maces in some of the armed rallies.
Police said they were looking into the matter as no permission was granted for armed rallies. Apart from the BJP, right-wing Hindu outfits such as the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagaran Manch also organised hundreds of rallies as they celebrated Ram Navami on a massive scale across the state.
The rallies were taken out in West Midnapore, Purulia, Jhargram, Bankura, Howrah, Kolkata and in North and South 24 Parganas districts among others, officials said. At Kharagpur in West Midnapore, BJP state president Dilip Ghosh took out Ram Navami rallies and was seen displaying swords and maces.
"Ram Navami rallies are a part of our tradition. We are carrying arms to protect ourselves. It has nothing to do with elections. If the TMC has a problem with armed rallies, they should change their thought process," Ghosh said when asked why he took out rallies with swords and maces.
If carrying weapons means breaking the code, weapons of jawans and Goddess Kali should also be taken away. People who are not men enough speak of all these things, he claimed.
BJP's Jadavpur candidate Anupam Hazra, who had recently switched over from Trinomool Congress, also participated in a procession in his constituency.
BJP's Kolkata North constituency candidate and BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha too took out Ram Navami rally in his constituency. Banerjee while addressing a rally at Siliguri criticised the BJP for taking out armed rallies and said they were trying to "sell religion" for political advantage.
The Kolkata Police said no political, apolitical and religious organisations are allowed to carry out bike rallies in the city. The BJP was denied permission to take out bike rallies across Kolkata on the occasion of Ram Navami. However, normal rallies by the party and VHP were allowed.
The West Bengal Police too denied permission for carrying arms by the participants in the Ram Navami rallies. In some places, there was scuffle between police officials and BJP workers after they were stopped from taking out bike rallies.
The VHP, which planned as many as 700 rallies in the state on the occasion of Ram Navami, took out several rallies in South Bengal. "We have received permission for rallies. We will abide by the direction of the police and no one will carry arms during Ram Navami rallies conducted by us," VHP organisational general secretary (eastern region) Sachindranath Sinha said.
The VHP said it has plans to conduct Ram Navami rallies in various other parts of the state on Sunday too. The Trinamool Congress also took out unarmed Ram Navami rallies in various parts of the state.
TMC Lok Sabha candidates-- Diptendu Adhikari from Tamluk Lok Sabha seat and Mumtaz Sanghamitra from Bardhaman-Durgapur Lok Sabha seat-- also participated in Ram Navami rallies in their respective constituencies.
TMC MLA Smita Bakshi is scheduled to take out such a rally in North Kolkata on Sunday.
The Trinamool Congress alleged that the BJP violated the model code of conduct by taking out Ram Navami rallies.
"Model code of conduct is under effect. Taking out armed Ram Navami rallies is a violation of the model code of conduct. Why is EC silent now? Had someone else taken out such rally, the EC would have issued show cause notices. Actually Dilip Ghosh is a zero and is trying to be a hero," TMC secretary general Partha Chatterjee said.
Later while replying to a query, Vivek Dubey, special police observer appointed by the Election Commission for Bengal, said it was the duty of the state administration to look into the permission for Ram Navami rallies.
The state election commission has nothing to do with it. The district administration will look into it, he said.