By Snigdhendu Bhattacharya

The police allowed the Ram Navami processions without formal permission in West Bengal’s Howrah despite letters by the organisers suggesting their refusal to comply with at least one crucial guideline. The processions eventually saw several violations, be it music, weapons, motorcycles or the rally schedule, according to video clips and documents reviewed by this reporter.

While one procession was organised by the Vishva Hindu Parishad, another was by local Hindutva outfit Anjani Putra Sena. The guidelines were sent to them by the Howrah police on March 21, days after they sought approval for the rallies – which left behind a trail of communal violence in Shibpur on March 30 and 31.

According to documents reviewed by this reporter, the VHP had informed the police on March 3 of its plan to carry out a procession, scheduling it from 4 pm to 8 pm. The Anjani Putra Sena gave a similar letter. On March 21, the Howrah police commissioner wrote to both the organisations, laying out a set of guidelines.

The rallies had to start at 2.30 pm and end by 5 pm “strictly”, no participant was to “show provocative gesture and posture or use malicious slogans aiming to people of other community”, and no member of the rally “should carry weapons, use any motorcycle, DJ in any way”.

However, on March 23, the Anjani Putra Sena again wrote to the police, saying that their rally would start at 3.30 pm, without specifying when it would end. On March 28, the police wrote to both the organisers, seeking details such as the exact timing, route, the number of participants and list of volunteers.

The VHP responded on March 29, informing the police that their rally would start at 3 pm and end at 7 pm. The Anjani Putra Sena did not submit a fresh response. The police eventually allowed the organisers to take out the rallies even though there was no formal permission or ‘no-objection letter’.

Guidelines flouted

But both the rallies – the VHP’s rally came after the Anjani Putra Sena’s procession – started behind schedule, had processionists on motorbikes, played DJ music with songs like Bharat Ka Baccha Baccha Jai Shree Ram Bolega, and featured participants with swords and firearms, according to police sources and videos reviewed by this reporter.

Asked why the rallies were allowed despite the organisers stating in advance their refusal to comply with the schedule, several police officers in Howrah refused to comment on the issue. “The matter is being heard in Calcutta high court and the state government’s standpoint regarding permission and subsequent actions will be elaborated in the court,” said an IPS officer posted at Howrah police commissionerate.

The police had made arrangements to ensure the rallies could conclude peacefully. The Howrah police commissioner and other senior officials had arrived at the starting point of the VHP’s procession before 2.30 pm. But the VHP and Anjani Putra Sena rallies started after 3 pm and 3.30 pm, respectively, and moved at a pace slower than what the police had expected.

As a result, while the administration wanted the procession to conclude by 5 pm, it reached the Muslim neighbourhoods of Priya Manna Bastee – the site of last year’s clash – after 5 pm, with another two km left for the destination.

The Anjani Putra Sena’s rally played “DJ songs” throughout their rally. The VHP’s procession featured traditional Bengali dhak and dhol and also DJ music, several people who saw the rally confirmed. As per video clips reviewed by this reporter, participants were seen carrying not only swords and sticks but also firearms (here and here). This reporter verified the authenticity of these videos with the police.

A senior police officer at the Howrah commissionerate told Newslaundry that the strict time schedule was to ensure the processions could end before iftaar time. “We know how these DJ songs have triggered riots in the past in our state as well as outside and therefore we prohibited its use in advance.”

While the exact trigger for the fresh violence is unknown, several video clips online show saffron-clad rally participants and Muslim mobs clash…

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