The cocktail of religion and politics can prove to be a combustious mix, given the surcharged atmosphere in the country. The Calcutta High Court’s order revoking the ban imposed by the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal on immersion of Durga idols during Muharram must serve as a lesson for all political parties. There are certain red lines that no party, whether in power or in the opposition, should be allowed to cross. The Chief Minister received a stinging rebuke from the court for imposing restrictions on idol immersion on a specious ground that it could trigger communal violence. The move was widely seen as discriminatory, partisan and a reflection of appeasement politics. When it comes to honouring religious sentiments of various communities, the governments must, at all times, remain fair and impartial. The government’s order banning immersions after 10 pm on the Vijayadasami day appears mischievous and unreasonable, particularly in view of the past experience, which shows that the Hindu and Muslim communities in the State always maintained communal harmony and peace and observed their respective traditions with fervour and dignity. There has been no precedence of communal tensions even when different festivals were on contiguous dates. Instead of regulating the procession routes and taking adequate precautionary measures to maintain law and order, the Mamata government sought to drive a wedge between the communities and invoke a non-existent conflict between the people. Prohibiting one set of religious processions to make way for another smacks of administrative inefficiency.
The court has rightly advised the State government not to create a dividing line between Hindus and Muslims and instead allow them to continue to live in harmony. Though the State has a right to regulate the activities on tangible grounds, it cannot trample on the religious rights of the people. A clear distinction must be made between regulation and prohibition. While allowing immersion of Durga idols till 12 am on all days, including Muharram, the court asked the police to designate separate routes for immersion and ‘Tazia’ processions. What is more worrying is an unrelenting Chief Minister making light of the court’s order and claiming that no one can tell her what she needs to do. It appears that the immersion row will only intensify further as the State government is planning to move the Supreme Court. While the ruling Trinamool Congress is being accused by its critics of playing minority appeasement politics, the BJP and its affiliated organisations also need to share the blame for vitiating the atmosphere. Seeking to make inroads in the State and occupy the political space vacated by the Left parties, the saffron party has been raking up issues that often have communal overtones.