After an attempt to create communal tension in the name of lord Ram and lord Muruga in the first half of August, lord Ganesha has the sangh parivar’s attention this week. The reason for their desperation is simple; the ban on Ganesh idol installations and processions by the state government in accordance with the Centre’s guidelines on religious processions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On August 20, the Madras High Court refused to lift the ban on the processions. This led to the announcement of a defiance of the ban by the Hindu Munnani, backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Communalism cannot rest, even during a pandemic.
To the surprise of many, the state government has stood firm on the ban, even after the BJP and Hindu Munnani leaders called on the Chief Minister seeking a lift of the ban.
Sangh Parivar Opposes Ban on Processions
Sangh parivar outfits have been the Ganesh idol installation and procession ceremony for creating communal tension for the past three decades in the state. Slogans and chants aimed at hurting religious beliefs of minorities are an integral part of the event across the state. A younger crowd takes part in such events, fuelled by hyper-nationalism and religious fundamentalism.
This year, keeping COVID-19 in mind, the state government on August 13 banned the installation and possession of Ganesh idols in the state. Other important festivals, including the Madurai Chithirai festival, Pazhani and festivals in the Tamil month of Aadi, were low-key affairs. Sangh parivar outfits did not create a furore then.
The Hindu Munnani, which released a detailed statement on the necessity of refraining from large-scale celebrations on August 1, lashed out at the government’s announcement. The outfit announced that it will defy the order and install 1.5 lakh idols across the state.
The BJP decided to follow suit with its state president, L.Murugan, announcing that, “the decision of the BJP would be that of the Hindu Munnani”.
Attempts at Polarisation
The state has been recording just shy of 6,000 COVID-19 cases on a daily basis over the past three weeks. Historian and professor, K. Arunan, tweeted: “It seems the Sangh Parivar is okay with COVID-19 spread among the Hindus. These people are the real anti-Hindu activists”.
The sangh parivar is trying to project the government order as a ban on the festival itself. Many BJP and sangh parivar activists have drawn parallels between the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the opposition, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, both of whom, they say, hurt the sentiments of believers.
The government order has not banned the celebration of Ganesh Chathurthi, but has instructed to do away with the idol installation and procession. These ceremonies usually attract large gatherings, which is hardly welcome given the novel coronavirus.
War of Words on Twitter
The government order which banned processions led to a war of words among the allies, the BJP and the AIADMK. BJP’s national secretary, H. Raja, sarcastically lauded the “masculine” approach at play.
Kovai Satyan, the AIADMK spokesperson, countered this with a tweet recalling the failure of Raja in an election for the post of chairman of the 0Tamil Nadu Bharat Scouts and Guides. Other AIADMK spokespersons and cadres recalled the apology tendered by Raja after derogatory remarks made for the Madras High Court.
Even as the mud-slinging continues, sangh parivar outifts have seemingly resolved to stoking communal tension while using the festival.
Other states too have put guidelines in place to celebrate the festival. It is at time when a pandemic continues to infect more than 60,000 people on a daily basis across the country.
For example, in Mumbai, a Ganesh idol cannot be more than four feet tall. Idols at home are set to a maximum of two feet, and should be eco-friendly, with processions of not more than five people allowed.
The state of Telangana has reportedly urged its citizens to stay at home and celebrate the festival, while Delhi has placed a ban on large congregations, with no immersion at public places. The capital has also specifically banned processions to the Yamuna.