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Politics drives religious clashes in India's West Bengal

Three dead as Hindu festival Ram erupts into violence

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi

Published: March 29, 2018 09:15 AM GMT

Updated: March 29, 2018 09:26 AM GMT

Politics drives religious clashes in India's West Bengal

Mamata Banerjee, the 8th Chief Minister of West Bengal and leader of the All India Trinamool Congress arrives at the state parliament on March 27. Recent clashes in India's West Bengal state have left at least three people dead. (Photo from IANS)

Processions marking a Hindu festival turned violent in parts of India's West Bengal state in late March, causing injuries and three deaths in as many days.

Police said trouble began on March 25 in Raniganj neighborhood when a procession organized by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), marking the birth of the deity Ram, tried to enter a largely Muslim area.

"The violence should be seen as the result of using religion for politics," said Bishop Salvadore Lobo of Baruipur in the state.

There was also violence in Kandi of Murshidabad and Purulia district.

Some participants carried swords or wooden clubs.

Ram processions elsewhere remained largely peaceful.

The state government, run by the rival All India Trinamool Congress, had earlier imposed a ban on the carrying of weapons during the festival in an attempt to avoid strife in the communally sensitive state.

Bishop Lobo said Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP has only three seats in the 295-seat legislative house of the state, but aims to consolidate Hindu votes ahead of national elections next year.

The Ram processions were not part of the local culture, but the BJP saw political advantage in promoting them to exploit the pro-Hindu passions of poor villagers, he said.

The BJP wanted to be seen as a champion of the Hindu cause in the face of claimed threats from other religions. 

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"Clashes occur when the Trinamool is resisting the BJP's political advancement," the prelate said. 

Local BJP leader Mukul Roy said those involved in the riots enjoyed government patronage.

He accused the state government of being an "example of fascism."

A BJP delegation met West Bengal state governor K. N. Tripathi on March 27 seeking the deployment of federal forces in Raniganj to control the situation and saying local people had lost faith in the police.

The state administration issued a statement later that same day saying the situation had largely been brought under control.

Police had been deployed in sensitive areas to ensure peace, it said. 

West Bengal has some 24 million Muslims. They comprise 27 percent of the total population of 90 million, 70 percent of whom are Hindus.

Most Hindus back the Trinamool Congress Party or local communists who have ruled the state for several decades. 

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