The chant “Jai Shri Ram” has joined an intelligence hot list so far graced by phrases and tools of protest such as “Go back” and black flags.
Bengal intelligence agencies have been asked to map areas where Mamata Banerjee could run into the chant. The chief minister views the chant, rendered in a belligerent fashion, as an incendiary provocation couched in prayer while the BJP sees it as a symbol of defiance against the alleged oppressive policies of her government.
The chief minister has lost her cool in public more than once when confronted with the chant, and the BJP has lapped up the opportunity to get under her skin by turning it into a taunt.
State home department officials said the intelligence agencies had been instructed to identify the areas along the chief minister’s main and alternative routes where she could be accosted with “Jai Shri Ram” chants. “This is a bit unusual. But that’s the instruction,” a source said.
It is not clear how the information could be used on the ground but some sources said the roads could be “sanitised” accordingly.
“Sanitising” usually means keeping the routes free of trouble and also gathering intelligence on a possible show of black flags or the shouting of “Go back” slogans, usually carried out by known political activists.
But identifying potential chanters of “Jai Shri Ram”, which is not illegal, is not expected to be as easy as picking out known political activists.
In case of Z-plus protectees like the chief minister, the police deployed along the route carry out “visual inspection” of the crowd.
“We keep an eye out for people carrying flags or envelopes or placards. We try to talk and convince persons with visible intention of causing disruption not to obstruct the VIP’s route,” said an officer.
Sources said the tracking mechanism was launched after Mamata got off her car in Chandrakona, West Midnapore, last month to confront some people who had shouted “Jai Shri Ram” while her convoy was passing through the area.
The BJP immediately turned it into an election issue, with leaders, including Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, trying to portray her as anti-Hindu.
“There is nothing wrong with the chant. But the manner in which the chief minister and some other ministers have reacted to it and the way the Opposition party (BJP) has lapped up the issue to irritate her have changed the situation,” a senior police officer said.
Arjun Singh, the newly elected BJP MP from Barrackpore who had switched over to the party from Trinamul before the elections, weighed in on Saturday, saying his party would send 10 lakh postcards with “Jai Shri Ram” written on them to the chief minister’s residence.
The sources said the drive to identify pesky zones intensified after Mamata got off her car thrice to take on people crying “Jai Shri Ram” during her visit to Bhatpara and Naihati on Thursday.
“After what happened on May 30, the mapping of areas where such slogans can be raised has become more important,” a source said.