The Big Story: Process & processions
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s misguided attempts to prevent communal tension between Hindus and Muslims on the occasion of Muharram following Durga Puja were rightly called out, not just by other parties but also the Calcutta High Court. Banerjee made the confounding choice to restrict immersions on Vijay Dashami, the day Durga idols are traditionally immersed, even though the Muslim festival of Muharram only followed the next day. The decision prompted much blowback from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which accused Banerjee of “appeasing” minorities and restricting the rights of Hindus. Now the BJP’s own alliance government has given the go-ahead for similar restrictions to take place in Bihar. But there are crucial differences.
The Bihar government has itself, according to NDTV, not issued any sweeping orders restricting immersion timings. Several local authorities, including the Patna district administration, have issued directions calling on Puja committees to immerse idols on Vijay Dashami, September 30, to avoid a clash with Muharram processions on October 1. “We don’t want to create a situation where puja and Muharram processions clash,” said Patna district magistrate Sanjay Kumar Agarwal. These directives have then been backed by the local government, with Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP saying “it is a law and order issue rightly taken by the district administration. I appeal to all Hindus and Muslims to celebrate their festivals and maintain communal harmony.”
The big difference between Bihar and West Bengal, aside from the orders coming from the local administration rather than the state, is that the restrictions simply applied to the day of Muharram itself, when the chances for a clash between processions was most likely. In fact, the order encourages the immersion of Durga idols by September 30, Vijay Dashami, while restricting them the following day, Ekadashi. These two differences, leaving the directions themselves to local bureaucratic authorities and not interfering with the most common traditions, also allowed the Bihar government to blunt any similar “appeasement” criticism, while nevertheless making the case for religious restrictions aimed at maintaining “communal harmony.”
The stance did not go unchallenged. Union Minister of State for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Giriraj Singh said: “Kya Bihar ka Hindu dashwi manane Pakistan ya Bangladesh jayega?” Should Hindus in Bihar go to Pakistan or Bangladesh to celebrate Vijaya Dashami? Singh asked for the government to draw up separate routes for Puja and Muharram processions so that no community would be restricted by date. This was shot down, with Modi asserting that there would not be any change in routes, but local authorities would be free to put restrictions depending on the situation.
But beyond Singh, there was little criticism of Bihar’s approach, and certainly not the vehement, communal language used by the BJP in attacking Banerjee’s admittedly suspect policy. Rastriya Janata Dal spokesperson Manoj Jha pointed out how the BJP was clearly trying to polarise matters in West Bengal, after Banerjee gave them an opening: “The different approach is giving conflicting signals... Can we deny that there is a party that is doing everything possible to take the land of Tagore and Nazrul Islam to the polarised pre-Partition days?”
Both Banerjee and the BJP must acknowledge the utility of the Bihar model, leaving power to local authorities but also, importantly, recognising that some restrictions which don’t infringe on the main traditions might be necessary to prevent violence.
The Big Scroll
- Calcutta HC’s scrapping of Durga immersion restrictions is a wake up call for Mamata, writes Shoaib Daniyal.
- By barring Durga idol immersions on Muharram, Mamata hands BJP one more issue to capitalise on.
- Bengal Durga Pujo row: Why idol immersion curbs and Muslim appeasement allegations are both wrong.
If you have any concerns about our coverage of particular issues, please write to the Readers’ Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Department of Telecom’s circulars seeking the linking of Aadhaar with mobile phone numbers has no legal force and has not been mandated by the Supreme Court, writes Apar Gupta in the Indian Express.
- “I am worried about the impact of impulsive reactions by journalists on social media on journalism. Taking down contributions by writers for their social media opinions, however unacceptable these posts may be, is not an option,” writes AS Panneerselvan in the Hindu.
- Insisting that there is no evidence for fundamental weakness in the economy, Arvind Panagariya in the Times of India says “the government must especially resist the temptation to go on a spending spree pre-emptively. It has taken three years of determined effort to achieve fiscal consolidation. This achievement cannot be sacrificed without compelling evidence justifying it.”
- It is my hope that the Modi government’s resolve on petrol prices is a harbinger that it is getting ready to press the gas pedal on the unfinished reforms agenda,” writes Vivek Dehejia in Mint.
- “The new [Defence Minister] has started her innings by issuing incorrect orders to the armed forces. Apparently this was done at the behest of the PMO to clean up the litter left by tourists in high-altitude areas. She also issued sundry instructions regarding cleanliness in military stations, cantonments and bases,” writes Vijay Oberoi in the Tribune. “These orders are absurd, to put it mildly.”
- “Draconian state-laws and the politicisation of socio-religious identity of the tribals have festered communal and casteist divisions in Jharkhand,” writes Shahana Munazir in the Indian Express. “Playing politics with issues of conversion in the garb of protecting religious freedom harbours an imperfect agenda of tribal integration and only weakens the collective and individual agency of tribals.”
M Rajshekhar points out that the KR Rao Committee, which was set up to check illegal mining and help set up India’s new mineral policy does not have any Adivasis, ecologists or civil society representatives.
For a body set up in response to a Supreme Court judgement flagging endemic corruption, environmental damage and unequal distribution of gains from mining, the KR Rao Committee’s composition is remarkable. It has joint secretaries from the ministries for coal, finance, shipping, road transport, mining and environment but no one from tribal affairs. It has no ecologists. Nor does it have anyone from civil society.
“This has been the pattern we see in most committees set up by the central government,” said Biswajit Mohanty, a Bhubaneswar-based environmentalist. “There are no voices of the people affected by these projects.”
In the absence of rival viewpoints, he asked, “How can such a committtee suggest dramatic changes to how India manages her mineral resources.”