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Opinion: Mamata vs BJP: Durga Idol Immersion Row is Dangerous Cocktail of Religion and Politics

The fight over religious rights is bound to spill onto the political pitch now and the High Court judgment has come as a massive setback to the Mamata Banerjee government, which had earlier issued an order asking Durga Puja organizers to complete the immersion ceremony by 6 pm on September 30.

Subrata Nagchoudhury |

Updated:September 21, 2017, 5:47 PM IST
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Opinion: Mamata vs BJP: Durga Idol Immersion Row is Dangerous Cocktail of Religion and Politics
Coming down heavily on state government, the court instructed it not to hurt or curtail the religious rights of citizens. (Image: Reuters)
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Kolkata: The two-judge bench of the Calcutta High Court of Acting Chief Justice Rakesh Tiwari and Justice Harish Tandon has set aside the West Bengal government’s ban on Durga idol immersion on October 1 and issued an interim stay, allowing Durga puja organizers the freedom to immerse their idols till midnight on all six days starting from September 30.

The fight over religious rights is bound to spill onto the political pitch now and the High Court judgment has come as a massive setback to the Mamata Banerjee government, which had earlier issued an order asking Durga Puja organizers to complete the immersion ceremony by 6 pm on September 30. Later, it was extended to 10 pm. The government order had stated that October 1 was kept for Muharram procession. The government cited law and order as a reason for keeping the two rituals apart and not allowing Durga idol immersion on October 1.

More scathing were the remarks made by the Judges prior to pronouncement of the verdict. In the first half, the Judges remarked that the government should not try to control the annual calendar the way it was trying to do. Again, one of the judges remarked “government should try to regulate things and not prohibit things” while discussing the ban order on Durga idol immersion on October 1.

The High Court judgment came after two petitioners had challenged the government ban, alleging that it was an infringement on their religious rights. The petitioners included an advocate whose family has been organizing Durga puja for four centuries and another lawyer who is said to be a member of the legal wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

It is an interim order and the HC has not quashed the state government’s order. The hearing on the ban order will resume after the pujas. The Court directed the state government to ensure that fundamental rights of both the communities were preserved.

The court observed that the state government’s action was based on assumptions of a law and order problem. It did not furnish any evidence of it. The government also did not produce any evidence to show that it had spoken to the leaders of both the communities to sort out the apprehensions and fears. It took a decision on its own.

There was a premonition of things to come for the Mamata Banerjee government. On Wednesday, the two-Judge bench had criticized the state government. “Why the government feels that the two communities can’t observe their rituals together? The state government claimed publicly that there was communal harmony and peace in the state. Then, why this distinction was being made between the two communities?” the court observed.

The judgement would have far-reaching political impact as the BJP would certainly try to cash in on it. The BJP would be more than proactive now to address Hindu communities and present itself as a custodian of their rights. Over the past fortnight, it had already launched a campaign describing Mamata Banerjee government as one that was out to curtail the religious rights of Hindus. The social media sites associated with the Saffron Brigade were systematically circulating Mamata’s perceived anti-Hindu images and actions. Didi’s old picture clad in chhadar, like Muslim women, resurfaced on social media, portraying her alleged bias.

Mamata had anticipated the attack and took up her guards well in time. Over the past few days, a recurring image flashing on television screens across West Bengal is that of Mamata going about inaugurating community Durga pujas one after the other.

Though an annual feature, this year she used each of these puja podiums to launch a virulent attack on her perceived “Asura” in the political arena — the BJP. “They are spreading rumours and creating divisions among communities.

Evidently, she has been doing damage control and has taken the battle to people. At the end of the day her strategy paid off and even her worst enemy does not suspect Didi’s sincere patronage of the biggest Bengali festival of Durga Puja. “I have not written the almanac. It all depends on the position of stars and moons over which we have no control,” she said. And this had been a queer coincidence the past many years that Muharram and Bijaya Dashami (Dussera) in North India had fallen on the same day. And what is wrong if the Durga Puja immersion is held over for one day out of five days to allow the Muharram to be observed. This has serious law and order implications if the two are held simultaneously,” Mamata argued.

In 2016 too, the Calcutta High Court had held the time limits set by the West Bengal government for Durga idol immersion on account of Muharram as “arbitrary”.

(The author is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. Views expressed are personal )

| Edited by: Puja Menon
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