Days Before Election, PM, Mamata Banerjee Spar Over Ram Navami Processions

Calcutta High Court allowed Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Anjani Putra Sena to take out Ram Navami processions, but under certain conditions, including limiting participants to a maximum of 200.

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and PM Modi (File).

Kolkata:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee went head-to-head today over Ram Navami celebrations to take place in Howrah on Wednesday - a year after large-scale violence in the district and across the state led to arson, stone-pelting and clashes between two groups, and sparked a slugfest between the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and ruling Trinamool.

Mr Modi, campaigning in Dakshin Dinajpur district, said the Trinamool had "always tried to stop Ram Navami processions" and vowed it would be celebrated without interruption this year.

"Trinamool Congress has always tried to stop Ram Navami... they tried many conspiracies. But we have got permission from the court and tomorrow, with devotion and faith, we will celebrate Ram Navami," the Prime Minister declared, referring to a Calcutta High Court order this morning.

Over in Jalpaiguri in northern Bengal, Ms Banerjee hit out at the BJP for spreading "fake videos" during this period and warned people to "not get trapped in any kind of provocation".

"I want to tell my minority brothers and sisters... if you see sloganeering on April 17, it is their day to start riots. (But) I want it to be a day of respect for people... a day of unity. Even if they abuse (you) keep a cool head... pray to Allah and ask for them to be packed off," the fiery Chief Minister said.

READ | On Bengal Ram Navami Violence, Mamata Banerjee Shreds BJP

"Don't fall for any instigation. We have to keep the peace. They want to create riots and send in the NIA (National Investigation Agency) so voting does not happen, and they can rig the votes," she said.

The court had allowed Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Anjani Putra Sena to take out processions, but under certain conditions, including limiting participants to a maximum of 200 and disallowing display of weapons. The court also said only one vehicle - carrying the Ram idol - could be used per rally.

Rally organisers - the VHP and Putra Sena have been told to schedule their events on different days - and participants have been warned against making provocative slogans or using disc jockeys.

Last year the BJP and Trinamool launched fierce attacks at each other over violence in Ram Navami processions. Twenty-seven people were arrested by the NIA, which was tasked by the High Court with probing clashes in Howrah's Shibpur, Rishra in Hooghly district, and Dalkhola in Uttar Dinjapur.

Similar incidents were also reported from other states, including Bihar.

READ | Centre's Advisory Over Hanuman Jayanti After Ram Navami Clashes

Bengal will vote in all seven phases of the 2024 Lok Sabha election, which begins on Friday. The results will be declared on June 4. In the 2019 election the Trinamool edged out a surprisingly strong showing by the BJP, winning 22 seats to its 18. The Congress picked up the remaining two seats.

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