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Kolkata: In a first, the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal bent over backward to compete with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over Ram Navami celebrations. On Sunday, the two parties took out Ram Navami rallies across districts in a state where people normally do not mix politics and religion.

From one such rally in Howrah town, the Trinamool Congress’s Arup Roy, a minister in the state, said the chief minister had asked all key party functionaries to take out rallies every Sunday until the upcoming panchayat election. It was only a way to reach out to people, he claimed.

The Trinamool Congress leadership is of the view that the BJP is trying to polarise Hindu votes in West Bengal to shore up its support base. The BJP has lately celebrated Ram Navami in West Bengal with much fanfare and this time, the Trinamool Congress decided not to yield ground.

“I have heard that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad will be organising a rally in communally sensitive parts of Howrah district," said Roy, also the Trinamool Congress’s Howrah district president. “Our rally is going to be a peaceful one without any weapons," he added.

Only last week, chief minister Mamata Banerjee ordered the withdrawal of a blanket ban on show of weapons. She said certain communities have traditionally carried weapons in religious rallies, and that they should be allowed to do so. But no new ones are to be allowed, she clarified.

The BJP alleges the chief minister isn’t treating all communities equally. “If weapons are not allowed to be carried, it should be the same for everyone," said Jishnu Basu, a spokesperson for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, citing Muharram celebrations by Shia Muslims.

Referring to the chief minister’s order, Basu said such “irresponsible comments" are to blame for “law and order breaking down in the state so often".

He said the Trinamool Congress is now apprehensive that Hindus in the state would no longer take kindly to the constant “Muslim-appeasement" that is being witnesses. The fact that the party is taking Ram Navami so seriously betrays the fear and that in itself is a “big victory" for Hindu organisations, said Basu.

Dilip Ghosh, the state president of the BJP, said the Trinamool Congress is “selling a fake idea of Lord Ram" to the people of the state.

“Banerjee has skilfully challenged the BJP in its own backyard," said Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor of political science at Kolkata’s Rabindra Bharati University and an election analyst. “Lately, the chief minister has been saying that she is as much a Hindu as anyone else and that she will not take lessons in Hinduism from Hindu organisations," he added.

The BJP has over time realised that elections in West Bengal cannot be fought on the plank of corruption, said a top Trinamool Congress leader, referring to the scandals over Ponzi schemes and the Narada News sting. So, it has no choice but to polarise Hindu votes. But Banerjee has now realised that she must take the fight to the BJP, added this leader, asking not to be named.

Meanwhile, at least eight persons including a senior police officer was injured on Sunday as two communities clashed over Ram Navami celebrations in Purulia district, Anuj Sharma, additional director general of police (law and order) said. The situation is under control, he added.

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