Kasba, Santoshpur, Garia or Salimpur are mid-sized residential areas on the south-eastern fringe of Kolkata, housing a few lakh voters. Post Partition, the areas have been predominantly inhabited by middle income group Hindu Bengalis and had never witnessed any sakhas (branch) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), till a decade ago.
The only sakha that was started “and shut down,” owing to lack of people’s participation, was the one further east at a place called Patuli. The Patuli sakha, however, has been running successfully over the last “three years,” said the sanghpalak of the sakha, Pradeep Banerjee.
“We are getting very few people – may be eight or ten – but even that was impossible few years back,” said Mr. Banerjee. Sakhas are daily conventions where discussions take place within the ambit of Hindu religious and nationalist identity. Sammelans are similar meetings, held on a weekly basis. Besides one permanent sakha in Patuli, three sammelans have started in the area — in Garia, Garfa in Kasba and Rabindrapalli — over the last few months.
The rise of the RSS in an area predominantly controlled by the Communists over the last three decades (Naxals had a base here in the 1970s) has surprised many. Such a rise, naturally, raises many questions. One, whether the RSS’ rise is connected to the rise of the ruling party in Bengal, Trinamool Congress (TMC)? Secondly, will it help the BJP mobilise votes in the State?
Pradeep Singh was one of the early TMC members who was quite close to the party chief, Mamata Banerjee, as he was a good organiser. Mr. Singh left the party a few months ago to join the RSS and the BJP. Explaining his reasons for leaving the TMC, Mr. Singh said that he was “disturbed” when Muslims took out a protest rally after the hanging of Afzal Guru.
In the February rally of Narendra Modi in Kolkata, Mr. Singh organised “36 pick-up vans” full of locals — an unthinkable number for a BJP rally from the Kasba-Garia area. Perhaps such mobilisation challenged the TMC and Mr. Singh’s supporters were roughed up. Acknowledging that they are “pressured” by the TMC, the BJP candidate of Jadavpur constituency, Sarup Prasad Ghosh, said the ruling party inherited the legacy of not allowing democratic space to the Opposition. “Political culture in Bengal has adopted a nature where the space for Opposition parties is very limited and this is the Marxist heritage,” said Dr. Ghosh.
However, in today’s Bengal, the RSS and the BJP have “more space” than what they used to have during the Left Front’s rule, admit officials of the organisations. The big question is whether the proliferation of the sakhas and sammelans would translate into votes for the BJP.
“I think it will go up substantially, but that will not affect us,” said TMC candidate of Dumdum, Saugata Roy.
The BJP got about 12 per cent of votes in the 1991 Lok Sabha election riding the Ramjanmabhoomi wave. It is now widely believed it will break its 1991 record. However, analyses suggest that while the vote per cent will increase, it will not translate into seats for the BJP. But the increased share of the BJP may cut into the TMC’s votes, which may help the Left Front in the State, provided the Communists manage to retain their base and the small share of Congress stays with it.
Historically, Hindu nationalist organisations had support in Bengal. But the disadvantage of the BJP is in the nature of their politics in Darjeeling.