Saffron Rally Though Peaceful Caused Concern for Andhra Town

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On the occasion of Hanuman Jayanthi a shobha yatra (victory procession) was organised by the VHP-RSS combine in Nellore.

The new-found allegiance to religious icons like Ram and Hanuman is also a surprise for many in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

Umar Ahmed | Clarion India

Nellore, probably one of the least heard of cities in the whole of southern peninsula of the country if not in the entire India, had its moment of reckoning the other day. It was on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanthi when a shobha yatra (victory procession) was organised by the VHP-RSS combine in the town on April 24.

The saffron outfits went full blast to make the event a ceremonial affair with all pomp and grandeur. Saffron flags emerged all over the town, especially at all important circular intersections on the eve of the religious rally. What’s all the more surprising is that these religious symbols made their way atop most Hindu houses as a mark of religious identity which is a unique phenomenon, a stamp of Hindutva politics unheard of in the region.

These developments might sound normal for an average north Indian but not for those who live in the town. Rabid religiosity has never been a factor in Nellore which has always been a Congress bastion with the other secular parties like TDP playing the role of the Opposition. Perhaps with the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) occupying seat of power at the Center for eight years has its impact on this Reddy-dominated district.

The worrying aspect of the event was that it followed the pattern adopted by its northern counterparts. The procession was taken out by overenthusiastic participants singing and dancing along the route of the procession to the tune of the music blaring on the DJs. The striking similarity of the event with the ones that saw communal flare-up in the northern parts of the country was that the rally was routed through Muslim dominated areas amid chants of Jai Shri Ram with a stopover at mosques.

The new-found allegiance to religious icons like Ram and Hanuman is also a surprise for many. So far, they have been passed off as deities worshipped in the north. People from south are generally known to be devotees of Shiva or Venkateswara.

At a time when temperatures are soaring in the country in the wake of violence and arson during religious festivals with revellers seen brandishing swords and guns, throwing religious slurs, and even planting saffron flags atop masjids under the watch of police leading to violence and arson, a rally of this kind is bound to send ripples in this unassuming remote town of Andhra Pradesh.

Residents in general and Muslims in particular, who have seen on television how such rallies are conducted, were apprehending its replication here.  Anticipating a similar situation in town, a group of 300 people gathered in a masjid that fell on the route of the procession towards the end of its destination, Stone House Pet. There was a police battalion with three central inspectors and two sub inspectors and 15 special force personnel stood guard at the gate to prevent any assaults from either party.

The silver lining was that the procession, unlike other processions of this kind, did not indulge in any outrageous acts and was on track with its due protocol. Whenever they felt the DJ played on high decibel, Muslims in the crowd countered it with a religious slogan of their own – Nara e Takbeer Allah o Akbar. A few of them even tried to jump over the wall and cross the barrier, but were prevented from doing so by the police, by then the DJ was stopped.

Conclusively, one can term this as a peaceful rally that ended without any disturbances. However, the question arises — is it the beginning of the rise of the BJP and its polarising polity in this southern state where the culture of saffronisation is an alien concept.

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