How Mamata Banerjee's paranoia is paving the way for steady gain of RSS footprint in Bengal


If the BJP is making inroads into West Bengal and the RSS is spreading its shakhas across booths and gram panchayats, the party should thank Mamata Banerjee for it. Through a series of administrative missteps, an all-too-frequent adversarial position against the Centre and by indulging in politics of polarisation, the Trinamool Congress has paved way for BJP's rise as the dominant opposition force. A quiet saffron surge is under way.

The numbers don't tell the story. According to last year's Assembly elections, BJP's vote share has come down to just over 10 per cent from an unprecedented high of nearly 17 per cent in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. But this is not a surprise. Wave election gains are typically unsustainable and the BJP had neither the structure nor the infrastructure in the state to build on that advantage. The party has also suffered due to massive infighting and the lack of a unifying, grassroot-level local leader.

During a 'chintan sabha' in November 2015, BJP apparatchiks had expressed frustration about the internal bickering and the party's inability to make much headway into the birthplace of Jan Sangh founder Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. BJP had an opening, but was unable to build a grassroot base. It also faced a perennial perception problem. It was perceived in this part of India as a party of 'north Indians' associated with baniyas and traders. BJP was also divided about its communicative strategy.

While the high command wanted development to be the core plank, the party's state unit workers rued a missed opportunity. They claimed that the BJP is failing to tap into the massive disgruntlement that exists among the Hindus who are feeling increasingly restive about Mamata's "appeasement" politics. It is here that the TMC came to their 'help'.

 West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. PTI

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. PTI

Mamata Banerjee's paranoia in not letting BJP gain a toehold in the state has ironically ensured that possibility. Instead of trying to counter BJP politically, she sought to use the might of administrative machinery and ended up conceding political ground. The brouhaha over RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's rally in Kolkata is the latest example. There was no legal, ethical or moral justification for the state government to deny RSS the permission for the 7 January meeting of swayamsevaks. One would have imagined the state government has learnt its lesson from past experiences.

On multiple occasions — Amit Shah rally in November 2014, VHP rally in December 2014, Sansad Mela in Asansol this year organised by Union minister Babul Supriyo — the state government had withheld permission on flimsy grounds only to be snubbed later by the Calcutta High Court and had to reluctantly comply. The HC even issued a suo motu contempt notice against Rajeev Kumar, the Kolkata Police Commissioner, "for not complying with its earlier order with regard to the RSS’ application for permission to hold the event."

Each time this charade was played out, a message went out that the TMC, despite its absolute majority in state Assembly and total domination of Bengal political stage, is insecure about the saffron unit's presence. The arrest of state BJP vice-president and spokesman Jay Prakash Majumdar on the basis of a five-month old cheating case has also strengthened the perception of tit-for-tat vendetta politics, catapulting the BJP on a higher orbit.

While administrative heavy-handedness presented BJP the visibility, it got the chance to make deeper and firmer inroads due to increasing polarisation in state polity. Despite returning with unprecedented majority for a second term bagging 211 seats in the 294-member state Assembly, Mamata has been frequently accused of trying to "appease Muslims" to ensure that the considerable amount of 27 percent Muslim votes stays firmly in her kitty. As the accusations mounted and the TMC government courted frequent and persistent criticism, it created an angst and valuable space for Opposition to exploit.

No less than the Calcutta High Court had slammed the state government recently for trying to "appease minorities". While lifting the curbs on Durga Puja rituals imposed by the administration, the HC held in October last year that the time limits set by the state government for Durga idol immersion on account of Moharram were "arbitrary" and said the order was a "clear endeavour" by the state to "appease the minority section of the public", according to a report in The Indian Express. The court added that “there has been a clear endeavour on the part of the state government to pamper and appease the minority section of the public at the cost of the majority section without there being any plausible justification. The reason therefore is, however, not far to seek."

Be it the monthly stipends to imams and muezzins, turning a blind eye to fatwa-happy Muslim clerics, attempting to "secularise" school textbooks by replacing traditional Bengali names with Urdu designations or new coinages, denial of communal riots and desperate attempts to play down the seriousness of the incidents, the various bungling of the state government has given rise to anger among the majority.

The RSS, however, has been careful in trying to stress that they are not against communities but are fighting for the unification of Hindu Samaj. Addressing the rally in Kolkata, Bhagwat said: "We have formed this organisation not to oppose anybody but to strengthen ourselves. The Hindu Samaj has a glorious history in this country. But despite such a glorious history, is the condition of Hindu Samaj the way it should have been? Are Hindus able to perform their religious rites and activities freely and fairly across India? Are the human rights of Hindus well established in this country?"

The question is an open-ended one and partial towards interpretation. The RSS is spreading wings. In North Dinajour alone, it has shakhas in 75 of 99 gram panchayats. It is trying to engage with the youths and has even set up separate units for women and members of the minority community, according to a report in Bengali daily Ei Samay. The overall number of local RSS members has also seen a rapid rise. This is not a vote share-driven surge but a firmer, steadier ascension. The stage is set for bitter political battle ahead.

Published Date: Jan 16, 2017 14:43 PM | Updated Date: Jan 16, 2017 14:43 PM

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