Even as Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was staging a show of 'communal harmony' in Kolkata on Monday, Bengal was reverberating to the sounds of blowing of conch shells, temple bells, firecrackers, full-throated ‘Jai Shri Ram’ slogans, and the melodious renditions of Ram bhajans.
Banerjee’s show — she marched a few kilometres as the head of a procession that comprised people of all faiths before addressing a meeting where she talked politics — was just a footnote in the page of colourful festivities across Bengal to celebrate the pran pratishtha ceremony at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
As saffron flags bearing Shri Ram’s images fluttered from dwellings and commercial establishments across the state, people watched the live telecast of the proceedings at Ayodhya in not only their homes, but also in offices.
Employees in the state government offices, braving the risk of incurring the displeasure of Trinamool loyalists in senior positions, watched the telecast on TVs in their offices.
Screenings of the Pran Pratishtha ceremony organised by traders’ associations, housing societies, local clubs and NGOs were well attended. After the screenings, prasad was distributed.
Processions were taken out not only in Kolkata, but across Bengal, to celebrate the momentous event. Enthusiastic participants in these processions shouted slogans, sang bhajans and marched with images of Shri Ram.
Devotees went to hundreds of temples across the state to offer special pujas. Many parts of Bengal, including state capital Kolkata, were swathed in saffron.
Saffron flags fluttered from many buildings and numerous apartment blocks were adorned with saffron buntings. Many shops, business establishments and houses were decorated with saffron marigold garlands.
While central government offices remained closed for the first half of the day, many markets and business establishments also remained closed till afternoon.
Celebrations organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliate organisations all over the state witnessed enthusiastic participation by a large number of people from all walks of life.
The day was also marked by bursting of crackers. And in the evening, responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to light lamps, houses, apartments, shops and business establishments were lit up with diyas.
All these festivities were significant because they were acts of brave defiance of Mamata Banerjee’s, and the ruling dispensation’s, unofficial diktat against celebrating the pran pratishtha ceremony and the opening of the grand Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
It was as if people of Bengal had collectively cocked a snook at Mamata Banerjee and her unofficial but tughlaqi farman that people of the state treat the day as any normal one.
Banerjee herself visited a Kali temple, and then a gurdwara, church and masjid while leading a multi-faith sampriti (harmony) rally that snaked through south Kolkata to culminate at the Muslim-dominated Park Circus area.
Muslim clerics, Sikh priests and a few unknown priests in saffron joined the rally. They marched behind the Chief Minister.
Addressing the rally at the Park Circus maidan, Banerjee, in her signature style, asked why Sita was not being celebrated on the day of pran pratishtha of the Ramlalla murti at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
“I am not against Ram. I worship both Ram and Sita, and there is no Ram without Sita. But why don’t you (the BJP) take the name of Sita? Are you anti-women?” she asked.
She went on to highlight the need to co-exist peacefully before talking politics. She lambasted the Congress for allowing the Left parties to hijack the agenda of the anti-BJP INDI Alliance.
And thus, unwittingly perhaps, she revealed the whole purpose of the rally: to position herself as the primary opponent of the BJP and a champion of Muslims.
In her speech, she accused the BJP of playing communal politics and targeting Muslims. She said that none other than her can take on the BJP and, hence, she was the only one who is capable of protecting Muslims.
On a day the nation, including Bengal, celebrated Ram, Mamata Banerjee was at her divisive best attempting to play narrow politics.
But her sectarian rhetoric was, at least metaphorically, drowned out by the Jai Shri Ram chants, the blowing of conch shells, the ringing of bells and the loud burst of thousands of crackers.
People of Bengal, thus, joined ranks with the rest of the country to celebrate Ram. Notwithstanding what Mamata Banerjee said, felt or did. Or even, maybe, in spite of that.
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