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India: RSS’s grip on West Bengal

Thursday 13 April 2017, by siawi3


And now, RSS has West Bengal in its cross-hairs


Updated: Apr 12, 2017, 12.44 PM IST

KOLKATA: In its bid to expand its sphere of influence, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that rules at the Centre — has zeroed in on West Bengal as its next big target, contending the situation in the state is “unprecedented”.

The RSS is focussing on increasing its strength and presence in West Bengal in a bid to “combat rising radicalism and fundamentalism” in the eastern state that, according to a top functionary of the local unit or the organisation, poses “a major threat to the nation’s security”.

“The RSS generally focuses on places that pose a major threat to the nation. The situation in Bengal is very much similar. The radical forces, Maoists and other separatist powers have combined with the state’s ruling (Trinamool Congress) party to work together.”The situation is unprecedented. This nexus of jihadis and radicals in Bengal is a major threat to the nation’s security," the RSS’ South Bengal General Secretary Jishnu Basu told IANS.

The RSS, in fact, adopted a resolution at its National Council meet in Coimbatore last month over the “alarming” situation in West Bengal, and blamed the Mamata Banerjee government for the rise of jihadi elements and the “decline” of the Hindu population.

The BJP, the political arm of the Sangh Parivar, is led in the state by a veteran RSS hand, Dilip Ghosh.

“Over the past one year, the Muslim fundamentalists and the so-called ultra-left organisations have held several collaborative programmes. RSS vows to fight against those threats and make people aware of the impending risks,” Basu said.

He claimed the organisation’s efforts to reach out to the masses has helped erase the “wrong image” about the RSS in West Bengal that was ruled for 34 years by a communist-led government, adding that the RSS’ active members in the state had doubled over the last four years.

“The RSS gained in significance in West Bengal in 2013 during the celebration of Swami Vivekanada’s 150th birth anniversary. Since then the organisation has grown more than two times in the state. We now have more than 1,800 shakhas (the smallest RSS unit where daily activities are held) in Bengal.”

“We reached out to people from all sections of society, starting from villagers to urban intellectuals, and helped them realise what RSS stands for. There has been years of false propaganda against the organisation,” he said.

Accusing the state government of favouring a “certain community” to get their votes, Basu claimed the state’s ruling party is responsible for the rise of Muslim fundamentalism and an “attack” on the Hindus in the state “that threatens to change the demography of some border districts”.

“The state government is also fuelling these issues to satisfy a certain community. Looking at the vote bank, the government is supporting the most popular fundamentalists. The ruling party is constantly trying to appease a certain section of society while the troubles of the other half is unattended.”As a result, the demography of certain border districts of West Bengal like North Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad is changing," he contended.

Basu said the RSS considers Hinduism as a “way of life” and would primarily focus on saving common people from the increasing attack of radical Islamic forces.

“For the RSS, Hinduism is not just a religion, it is a way of life. We consider Hinduism as synonymous with nationalism. In our view people like (poet) Kazi Najrul Islam and (late president) A.P.J. Abdul Kalam were major supporters of Hinduism. We will keep pursuing that brand of Hinduism in the state,” he said.

Terming cow slaughter a “non-religious” issue, the RSS activist claimed the state has many illegal slaughter-houses that run under the nose of the state administration but no action is taken against them.

“The proper guidelines should be followed to run slaughter-houses in the state. I challenge the Kolkata Municipal Corporation to show what guidelines they have for running the slaughter-houses.”I am sure they have none. They have taken no steps to abide by the laws related to the slaughter-houses," he added.

However, according to political analyst Udayan Bandyopadhyay, the rise of RSS in Bengal wouldn’t have any major implications in the long run.

RSS is a socio-cultural organisation. It doesn’t have a direct political linkage or baggage. Yes, the percentage of BJP’s votes may increase, but in the long run it will have to prove its own strength,” Bandyopadhyay told IANS.

He felt the RSS might grow and have some impact on social life, “but it won’t create any trouble as Bengalis are largely tolerant”.

He said the RSS had its presence in Bengal at the time of partition in 1947 and at the time of the communal riots in the state after the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 — without any adverse effects.

“We have gone through all these phases in history. So I don’t think it would create major polarisation,” Bandyopadhyay concluded.

But he expressed concern over the brand of erudite Hinduism being replaced by a kind of “hooligan and lumpen Hinduism.”



In communally sensitive Bengal, BJP-RSS sees a chance to make a mark with polarising posturing

Monobina Gupta

Published Date: Apr 13, 2017 08:06 am | Updated Date: Apr 13, 2017 08:06 am

Bengal, for many decades now, has had the dubious distinction of being a state where political violence is widespread, even in normal times.

In the past, Congress and various shades of Left parties (Communist parties as well as ultra-radical Naxal groups) had been the principal executors of such violence. Post-2014, however, we find that a third force, represented by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has begun to aggressively articulate this language of violence. Their target: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. File photo. PTI
File image of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. PTI

On Wednesday, BJP youth wing leader Yogesh Varshney declared a Rs 11 lakh bounty on Banerjee’s head. According to a report by news agency ANI, Varshney had said, “Those who will bring West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s head, I will give that person Rs 11 lakh. Mamata Banerjee never allows Saraswati Puja, fairs during Ram Navami; during Hanuman Jayanti procession, people were lathi charged and brutally beaten up. She organises Iftar party and always supports Muslims.”

Apparently, the BJP leader was enraged by the police lathi charge on a Hanuman Jayanti procession in Birbhum district. This is not the first time Sangh Parivar leaders have handed out violent threats. Nor is this the first time that some among them have declared bounties on heads of rival party leaders. Only last month, Kundan Chandrawat, RSS’s mahanagar sahprachar pramukh in Ujjain, had announced a Rs 1 crore reward to anyone who would bring him the head of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

By now there is an identifiable pattern that has emerged to the verbal and physical violence routinely being unleashed by activists and leaders of numerous RSS affiliates. The strength of these affiliates is not important. Fuelling this new-found aggression and confidence is the numerically strong BJP-led central government, and the many victories the party has recently notched up in different state Assembly elections.

Within a span of just two years, three rationalists — Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi — were assassinated by members of a pro-Hindutva, right-wing fringe group. Taking the law into their own hands, members of cow protection groups are randomly beating up — even killing — people suspected of slaughtering cows or eating beef.

And if such violent activities are playing out outside the formal political system, local leaders of the Sangh Parivar are issuing dire threats to the political opposition within the system as well.

In Bengal specifically, the RSS had been biding time — waiting for this moment to arrive. True, the BJP’s performance in terms of seats in the 2016 Assembly election was nothing to write home about. But the party had increased its vote share from the last Assembly election in 2011. RSS leaders maintain that they have been working on a “long term Bengal project”. They also say that the Narendra Modi government’s victory has advanced their ideological project in the state.

This is the context within which one must locate the aggression of the state’s BJP leaders. Rewind to last December. Dilip Ghosh, BJP’s Bengal state president, publicly abused and threatened Mamata Banerjee. “She (Mamata) went to Delhi and had her programmes of protests unopposed. We could have dragged her by (her) hair and threw her out if we wanted,” Ghosh said.

Coming under fire from opposition leaders, Ghosh, predictably, apologised for this remark. Just like BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya predictably told the media that he doesn’t agree with Yogesh Varshney’s remarks. “Don’t agree with such remarks. There is anger against Mamataji for her appeasement politics, but can’t support violence,” Vijayvargiya said.

However, the qualifier (denouncing Banerjee for her appeasement politics) indicates an ambivalent approach, and lends tacit support to such threats of violence.

In a communally sensitive state like Bengal, BJP and RSS are deliberately — and dangerously — using strategies to deepen polarisation, create an atmosphere of anxiety. Consider in this context Dilip Ghosh’s recent inflammatory remarks, daring the police to prevent Hindu religious organisations from taking out Ram Navami processions brandishing tridents and swords on 5 April.

The Times of India on 2 April quoted Ghosh as saying, “Who are the police to issue permission? In Ram Rajya, people worshipped Ram for centuries. Do we have to take permission for that? It is ludicrous. People in Bengal will worship Ram and this time they will do it with arms. If we are few, only then will the law be used against us. A showdown of the Hindus here will help protect the temples… those feeling uneasy with it are free to leave India. Nothing will matter if two to four crore people cross over. You are welcome to move out of India.”

There is only one way to deal with such leaders going rogue: Strip them of the offices they occupy and sack them from the party. But who will take such a move when the entire political strategy of the Sangh Parivar works to exploit exactly these faultlines?