Kolkata: Ram Navami, a spring Hindu festival that celebrates the birthday of god Rama, was organised on an unprecedented scale across West Bengal on Sunday, with the state's ruling Trinamool Congress and opposition BJP going all out to soak in the festivites this year.
While the Trinamool leaders termed their Ram Navami celebrations a symbol of harmony among the people, the Sang Parivar spearhead Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its political arm Bharatiya Janata Party termed the ruling party's participation as a "victory of the Hindus".
Defying the Bengal government's ban on carrying weapons in public, a number of armed rallies were taken out by the Sangh affiliates in various parts of the state including Birbhum, West Midnapore, Howrah districts and certain places here, where men, women and even minors waved saffron flags and walked with sharp weapons like swords, knives and axes while chanting the name of Lord Rama.
Many heavyweight state BJP leaders were also seen participating in the procession with weapons. The party's state unit President Dilip Ghosh rallied with a sword in West Midnapore while state women wing President Locket Chatterjee carried a trident. Party's national secretary Rahul Sinha was also seen brandishing a weapon at a rally.
Police seized arms from a rally in central Kolkata's Maniktala area where the rally organisers carried swords.
However, none of the rallyists were detained or arrested so far in the city.
As many as six major Ram Navami rallies were taken out in the city and adjoining suburbs under strict police vigil. A good number of smaller rallies by the local units of rightwing organisations also hit the streets.
In a bid to counter the BJP, the Trinamool organised colourful Ram Navami processions in every district where activists were seen carrying pictures of Ram and playing devotional songs.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee conveyed her best wishes to the people on the occasion.
State ministers Jyotipriyo Mullick, Bratya Basu Laxmi Ratan Sukla, and Lok Sabha member Sougata Roy led large processions in their respective constituencies and condemned the armed rallies as "hooliganism in the name of religion".
However, in a procession organised by Trinamool lawmaker Arjun Singh near Barrackpore, some rallyists were seen brandishing weapons themselves.
Claiming that Ram Navami has become a social festival in Bengal, Rahul Sinha claimed that the magnitude of the celebration marks the victory of their Hindutva agenda.
He also welcomed the rallies taken out by the Trinamool, contending that the state's ruling party had to finally bow down to give due importance to the customs of the Hindu population in Bengal.
"This is a big victory for the BJP and its Hindutva agenda. It is important that Trinamool Congress leaders had to bow down to the Hindu population in the state. We welcome this. This is a victory for Lord Rama and Ram Navami," Sinha, who himself participated in a rally in Hoogly district's Chinsurah, told IANS.
He said though the BJP was not organising any rallies, all its senior state leaders are participating in the processions organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Hindu Jagran Manch.
RSS Bengal unit chief Jishnu Basu said their activists took part in huge numbers in those rallies.
BJP leader Mukul Roy, who defected from the Trinamool last year, was also seen leading a rally in North 24 Parganas district's Newtown area.
"Arms are nothing but symbols. No one carries arms in the rally to indulge in fights. I think the Trinamool government is trying to create an unnecessary controversy over the armed rallies on Ram Navami," he said.
The BJP, which is trying to pitchfork itself as the main challenger to the Trinamool in the state, has been using the Ram Navami celebrations since last year to appeal to the sentiments of the majority Hindu population.
Sensing the BJP's motive, the Trinamool resorted to celebrate the occasion massively on its own this year. Earlier, the party had also celebrated Hanuman Jayanti to prevent any consolidation of the Hindu vote under the BJP symbol.