“Jay Shree Ram.Pakistan tu kaan khol ke sun le,Doodh mangoge toh kheer denge,Kashmir mangoge toh cheer denge.”(“Jay Shree Ram.Pakistan, you better listen carefullyIf you ask for milk, we give you pudding,But ask for Kashmir, and we rip you apart.)This ubiquitous song (set to catchy EDM beats) was what Rampurhat, a dusty but bustling town in Bengal’s Birbhum district, woke up to on Ram Navami. More than a dozen Ram Navami rallies were being held in the town on the occasion of the festival. Almost all organised either by the Trinamool or the BJP. The Quint first heard this song at one of the many BJP rallies in Rampurhat, which were on their way to converge at one of the town’s largest grounds.Too busy to read? You can listen to the story instead.Trinamool, BJP battle it out over Ram Navami celebrations in BengalLater, I also heard it at a small, decorated shanty off the highway on our way from Rampurhat, to the town of Suri – around 50 kms away. A small Ram murti adorned the shanty as inebriated boys aged between 15-18, covered in orange, gyrated to the beats. They didn’t seem to know what song it was or who wrote it. It was catchy and Ram Navami-appropriate because it began with the three holy words, they said.When we stopped for dinner on our way back to Kolkata at Palsit – another 100 kms from Suri – I saw the cashier at the dhaba smiling at his phone while listening to the same song. “It’s a funny Ram Navami video someone just WhatsApped me”, said Mithun Da, the cashier, who then very helpfully forwarded it to me. He didn’t know who created the song either, but had heard it before.While we can’t speak for all of Bengal, the song had definitely captured the imagination of the people living in the 300 kms between Kolkata and Birbhum.Mamata vows 'strong action' against organisers of arms rallies on Ram NavamiWhose Ram Is It Anyway?Rampurhat, or Bengal really, has never cared for Ram Navami until 2017, when pictures of rallies organised by the BJP and right wing groups showed hundreds of people, kids included, walking the streets with swords and trishuls.“Why does the government not say anything to the Muslims during Muharram?” the BJP had asked, when criticised for making children hold weapons.In 2018, therefore, the Mamata government and Trinamool did two things – 1) Ban armed marches unless prior permission was taken. 2) Celebrate Ram Navami with as much fervour as the BJP.“We don’t need to learn about Ram from them”, many leaders of the TMC have said.The particular BJP-organised Ram Puja that I visited in Rampurhat, had an ‘astra’ (weapon) puja before about 100 people started towards the mega-congregation where dozens of rallies converged.What began as a humble puja, though, soon turned into a raucous party, with a full-time DJ and intermittent chants of “Jai Shree Ram”, followed by “Jai Hindu Dharma”.The rally – of mostly youngsters – resonated similar sentiments as those expressed by their party members. Ram Navami was an assertion of Hindu identity. Ram is an “Indian” icon.It was a starkly “Hindu” affair. So much so, that there was even a banner from a “Ayodhya Ram Mandir Committee” seen at the congregation ground.The Trinamool rally in Suri was equally loud, but the message they wanted to put out was clear – the TMC is more “cultural” than the BJP. So along with the common DJ, there were dhaaks and women dressed in laal-paar sarees dancing to their tunes.All the attendees were briefed about it being a “secular” affair. One which saw participation from Hindus, Muslims and other religions alike.“We want to show that we also celebrate Ram. It may not have happened earlier, but this year, we want to celebrate it in a big way”, conceded Kajol Kumar Dutta, one of the people attending the rally. To prove that it was indeed secular, one of the men leading the rally was a Muslim Councillor from Suri.“Ram is everybody’s. That is why even I, a minority, am here”, said Kazi Badiruddin, the Councillor. “Ram is not BJP’s. There is no question of this being political. TMC doesn’t do politics on religion”, he added.Those who saw both rallies, however, were left wondering if Ram is a Pakistan-hating, Indian mascot, or if he was a truly secular, non-brazen entity.FB Live: In Bengal, TMC & BJP Try to Best Each Other on Ram Navami“Ram Navami Was Never A Grand Affair, But We Are Glad It’s Becoming One”Those who looked on at the celebrations, however, said that they understood it was political, but this was a moment of pride for the Hindu community. The sentiment of deprivation amongst the Hindus in Birbhum was palpable. And that is probably why both parties tried so hard to best each other in their appropriation of the festival.“Last year, Modi had done this, and this year, it’s the Trinamool. Ram is an icon of devotion so we are glad this is happening,” said Avijit Dey, one of the onlookers at the Trinamool rally.The sentiment seemed to have been resonated by others – non-Hindus – too. “This is the first time that I’ve seen something like this. This is not political, and I’m glad there are no arms this time around”, said Mohd. Danish, another onlooker.The district seemed to be prepared for the grand rallies too, with all the shops shut down on Ram Navami for the first time ever, and the streets being largely empty. While the party cadre were called into action in different villages and towns, the common folk maintained a distance, enjoying a Sunday.Celebrations in all parts continued late into the night, with the DJ being held back even after most of the crowd had dispersed, as the youngsters continued to dance and get drunk.The question though, is how communally volatile is a state, where one party has to celebrate a festival in a grand scale, to off-set the communal undertones of the other? Is it okay for religious rallies to chant about communally sensitive issues like Kashmir, with permission, in broad daylight? When was the last time someone shouted “Hindu Dharma Ki Jai” on the streets of Bengal? And finally, why is there an attempt to give an essentially ‘Hindu’ festival a secular colour?Ram Navami is now apparently a festival as big (or close to) as the Durga Puja in Bengal. As the state finds a new festival to add to the other 13 in the Bengali calendar, the powers that be must have a hard look at how Bengal politics is increasingly gaining communal colour.Ram Navami: Children rally with arms in Bengal, defying state directive We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.