Sunday Anchor

Testing the waters of the Hooghly

For a State that has long been a Communist stronghold but now run by the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government, to think of West Bengal as a fertile ground for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to expand its support base might come as a surprise. But if signs on the ground are anything to go by, the organisation has quietly begun to make its presence felt in the State now.

The blast in Bardhaman town on October 2, which, according to the findings of the National Investigation Agency, exposed a terror network by operatives of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen based in Bangladesh, has made Hinduvta forces in the State more vocal in opposing cross-border infiltration. Soon after coming to power in May 2011, the Trinamool government announced an honorarium for imams and muezzins, a move that was construed as appeasement of minorities by Hindutva forces.

The rise of the RSS has emerged as a challenge not only to the ruling Trinamool Congress but also to the Left parties

For a State that has a 28 per cent Muslim population as per the Census 2011, the rising vote share of the Bharatiya Janata Party from six per cent to 16 per cent in the Lok Sabha polls in May became a talking point in political circles. But the growth of volunteer enrolment in the RSS and the expansion of its Shakhas over the past year in the State have largely gone unnoticed.

The frequent visits to the State made by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat shows that West Bengal is very much on the organisation’s agenda. He is scheduled to address a public gathering at Shahid Minar in the heart of Kolkata on December 20, a venue usually reserved for large political gatherings.

“At present, the RSS organises 1,090 daily Shakhas in south West Bengal. The number has increased from 820 in March 2013,” Jishnu Basu, RSS spokesperson in the region, said.

Mr. Basu says a similar growth has been observed in north West Bengal as well.

Intervention in border areas

One of the major activities of the RSS in West Bengal is aimed at the border areas of the State. Referred as Sarhad Ko Pranam, RSS volunteers visit the border areas and establish communication with the people there. West Bengal shares a 2,200-km-long border with Bangladesh, of which 500 km is riverine, making it vulnerable to smuggling and influx of economic migrants.

“We are focussing on infiltration and cattle smuggling,” Mr. Basu said trying to argue that at various places along the border in West Bengal there are corridors through which cattle is smuggled into the neighbouring country.

Political commentator and academic Biswanath Chakraborty said the rise of the RSS had to be associated with the rise of the BJP in West Bengal.

“The increase in the support base of the BJP has created an aspiration level among its cadres and sympathisers who are turning to the RSS and other pro-Hindutva organisations,” Mr. Chakraborty said.

The RSS is focussing on Sangha Prachiti Varga, where people are introduced to its activities.

“Earlier this month, 150 teachers from colleges, universities and schools participated in a residential workshop in Kolkata to make them aware of the RSS and its activities,” said Atul Kumar Biswas, the South West Bengal zone in-charge of the RSS. He admitted that conducting such a workshop could not have been possible here a few years ago.

The rise of the RSS has emerged as a challenge not only to the ruling Trinamool Congress but also to the Left parties. Earlier this month, the West Bengal Assembly passed a motion for maintaining communal harmony and peace in the State through a voice vote. During a discussion on the motion, members of the ruling party and the Opposition made references to the RSS and accused the organisation of providing arms training in the State. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had gone on record accusing the RSS of giving arms training in the State, and urged the people to be wary of its activities and inform the police if they found anything unusual.

RSS activists are alleging persecution by the Trinamool and the State administration. Mr. Biswas said they were being denied permission to hold Shakhas on certain grounds in the city and adjoining areas.

But whatever charges the two sides may trade against each other, it is evident, given its expansion, that in the changing political scenario of West Bengal, the RSS is all set for an enhanced role in the near future.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 8:33:31 AM |

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