By Arun Srivastava
Winning the battle of Bengal will open the wide vista for the RSS to have its political hegemony on the entire eastern and north eastern states. Though the RSS has succeeded in having a deep penetration in the north east, by exploiting the internal conflicts amongst the indigenous people of the belt, this is not enough to enable it to have a control on the entire eastern India. Obviously to achieve its objective, Bengal has become the fulcrum for the RSS operation.
The year before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections has attained considerable importance to the RSS and as the first crucial step in this direction, it has planned to reorganise structural design. The top leadership of RSS nurses strong view that at some level the cultural and societal differences are affecting the expansion as well as vertical growth of the party.
The five day visit of the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to Bengal, though described by the state RSS leaders as routine, is aimed at purging such elements who are proving to be impediment and take over the control over the saffron activities in the state from the current BJP leaders. RSS leaders strongly hold the view that even after 2 years of TMC leaders joining the BJP, the schism between their approach and style of work continues to harm the party. At some level the erstwhile TMC leaders are using the platform provided by the BJP, to settle their score with the ruling TMC leadership. They are least interested in promoting the cause of the party and win over the Hindus.
In politics every party suffers factional feud and groupism, even BJP has this problem in other states, but it is quite acute in West Bengal. As the work suffers, the RSS leadership is of the view that no longer they should depend on present state leadership as it has failed to contain internal strife and provide a direction to the functioning of the party. Top RSS leaders also are of the opinion that the central BJP showed utter haste in admitting the turncoats in the party. They should have understood the mood of the people;
The number of seats won by the BJP in 2021 assembly poll is not small. It reflects the disenchantment of the people to Mamata Banerjee’s rule. But unfortunately they could not capitalise the anguish and frustration to lay a strong foundation. Ironically none of the state BJP leaders have that charisma based on which they can challenge and counter the popular appeal of Mamata.
The RSS is organising a programme, “Netaji Loho Pronam” to offer tribute to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose one of Bengal’s most revered icons, on January 23, on his birthday. It is an attempt to show the Sangh’s connections to Netaji. It would hold a rally at Shahid Minar, in the heart of city. Bhagwat being the chief speaker itself is enough indicator of the importance of the event.
It is a part of their design to appropriate the strongman and nationalist image of Netaji. Though Netaji was strongly opposed to rightist political line and Hindutva philosophy of the RSS, intends to use his love and concern for motherland. In a statement RSS claimed; “A brave son of Mother India, the first RSS Chief Dr. Hedgewar met Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in 1921 during the Congress session in Kolkata”. This is simply a move to establish his closeness and affinity to RSS and dispel the notion that he was opposed to it.
The statement also claimed; “Both Netaji and Dr. Hedgewar believed a nationalistic, disciplined organisation would be the path to freedom. That’s why one created the RSS, and the other created the Azad Hind Fauj”. It makes it absolutely clear that RSS is too willing to use every mechanism to show its closeness to Netaji.
During his five day stay in the state, Bhagwat would mainly interact with the cadres and pracharaks. Though RSS has already added more than 250 shakhas in the last one year it plans to have around 1000 more shakhas before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections to “reach out” to people at the “mandal” or gram panchayat level. The number of shakhas has grown from 1,100 in 2016 to more than 1,350 in 2017. Incidentally in the rural areas of the state the RSS is not directly mentioning the word Hindutva. The areas where people lack basic facilities like education and health are at the target of RSS for expansion. At present, RSS operates through 910 shakhas in 650 places in south Bengal and 452 shakhas in 373 places in north Bengal. The number of weekly activity or milans stands at 1,092 and there are 226 mandalis active across the state.
With the BJP government in power in Delhi, RSS has focused on running primary-level schools in districts and also create some kind of job opportunities. It is indeed intriguing while the BJP lost the 2021 assembly election, number of its shakhas post-election has increased by 25%. RSS leaders are quite ebullient at this development. They strongly believe that increase in number of shakhas would help the BJP candidates win the 2024 Lok Sabha election. Nevertheless it is also a fact that while BJP received more than 40% of the votes in the general election of 2019, it dropped to very low level in the civic elections and bypolls held in the last one and half years.
The fall in the percentage of votes is attributed to the return of the CPI(M) cadres who had switched over to the BJP after TMC coming to power, to their parent organisation. Bringing its senior functionary in UP, Sunil Bansal to West Bengal is a strategic move aimed at winning the Lok Sabha election. By giving him the command of this politically sensitive state, the BJP has underlined the importance of the state in its expansion plans. A close confidant of Amit Shah, he is said to be an expert on chunav prabandhan (election management).
Clash of two divergent ideological and cultural lines has been hindering the expansion and growth of the party. While the national BJP leaders are for worship of Ram, the state Bengali leaders prefer to Durga Puja. These two are contrary to each other. The party had started its own Durga Puja in 2020, and Narendra Modi himself officiated at the grand celebration’s opening. But his effort miserably failed to identify the party with the Bengali aspiration and culture. After this the party decided to abandon this and stick to Jai Sri Ram.
It is expected that Bhagwat would set a political and ideological line in this regard. While Jai Sri Ram slogan has attracted the non Bengali backward caste people, those migrated to Bengal from Bihar, Jharkhand and UP, it has miserably failed to win over the Bengalis. An insight into the nature of growth of BJP points out that while particularly in urban Calcutta and its suburbs it is dependent on these migrants, it has adopted a sauve face and refrained from pursuing hard Hindutva line in rural Bengal. Keeping in view the needs and aspiration of the rural people, also working under the compulsion to get their votes in 2024 election, the party is distancing from the hardline Hindutva as it has come to realise that it did not help them electorally in 2021.
Realising that a solid performance in West Bengal will help the party to gain much wider recognition in the northeastern and eastern states, the RSS is planning to recruit 35,000 swayamsevaks (volunteers) in the northeast, making Bengal the epicentre of such activities. It will also engage 1000 whole timer cadres in West Bengal.
The RSS needs a band of dedicated cadres to augment the organisational strength from the state to the grassroots level and who can motivate the people to vote for saffron ideology. RSS has also decided to split its two organisational regions in the state into three. They had only two organisational regions – North Bengal and South Bengal. Now it has been divided into three parts North, South and Central Bengal to meet the electoral challenges. (IPA Service)