|Mamata in Purulia on Thursday. Picture by Mita Roy|
TT, April 6: Mamata Banerjee today tore into the BJP for allegedly politicising religious festivals and threatened legal action against leaders who conducted Ram Navami rallies with weapons yesterday, hours after which police started a case against Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh who had brandished a sword in Kharagpur.
A day after more than 200 rallies backed by the BJP-RSS parivar - many of them with people of all ages brandishing swords, daggers, spears, maces, bows and arrows - were held across the state, the chief minister alleged that those who had conducted them were not aware of Bengal's culture or Hindu practices.
"Those trying to shock and scare with armed rallies do not know the culture of Bengal. Most of the leaders of the BJP and their associates who are trying to incite the people are not even Bengalis," she told a public meeting in Purulia this afternoon.
"The law will, of course, take its own course. Every one is equal before the law.... But however much they try to combine the forces to create unrest in Bengal, nothing will happen," she added.
A few hours later, West Midnapore police started a case under the Arms Act, 1959, against BJP legislator Dilip Ghosh, who was seen with a sword in Kharagpur town yesterday.
"We have started a case under the Arms Act against Dilip Ghosh following a complaint from the public. We have the footage of Ghosh with the weapon. An investigation has been started," said district police chief Bharati Ghosh, who is perceived to have close ties with Mamata.
Asked about the case, Ghosh said: "Let there be an investigation, I don't mind it at all. The procession I had taken part in also had Trinamul's civic chairman in Kharagpur, Pradip Sarkar."
Sources said Sarkar had reached the venue after the procession was over and was not seen carrying a weapon. His cellphone was switched off this evening.
Bidyut Mukherjee, the RSS prant pracharak (regional in-charge), for south Bengal and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, said Mamata was paying "unnecessary attention" to the rallies.
"It is true that it is not part of tradition, but where is the harm in starting a new traditions? If necessary, the outfits that had organised the rallies will go to court to seek justice," Mukherjee said.
Ghosh said he was not going to take "theology lessons" from Mamata. "Carrying weapons as part of worship cannot be illegal."
Lawyers this paper spoke to said the administration was well within its rights to start a case.
Senior high court lawyer Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya said people accused of carrying out a procession with weapons can be charged, in addition to the Arms Act, under Sections 143 (unlawful assembly), 144 (unlawful assembly armed with deadly weapon) and 145 (continuing in unlawful assembly, knowing that it has been commanded to disperse) of the IPC.
Sections 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.) and 506 (criminal intimidation) could also be invoked, he said.
The maximum punishment, if proved guilty, would be imprisonment of 10 years.
"In the Arms Act, there is a provision of carrying weapons in religious processions. But in that case, the size of the weapon will not be more than nine inches in length," Bhattacharyya said.
At the Purulia meeting, Mamata said she would not allow "swordfight in the streets".
"We worship all gods here. Only because the BJP does not understand Bengal have they brandished swords in a show of aggression.... Are we supposed to witness swordfights in the streets? I am not going to let that happen. Ram worshipped Durga with flowers, not swords," she added.#
Police in Birbhum are also starting a case against the organisers of an armed rally in a Suri village yesterday. Police sources said permission was given to only hold a procession.
Additional director-general (law and order) Anuj Sharma said taking out a processions with deadly weapons was illegal. "We are taking appropriate legal action on the complaints. The law will take its own course," he said.
Calcutta Police additional commissioner (headquarters) Supratim Sarkar said three cases (in Posta, Bhowanipore and Entally areas) had been started till this evening for conducting processions with weapons.