RSS targets presence in all panchayats in Bengal by 2021, double from now
West Bengal has 3,342 gram panchayats in 341 community development blocks and RSS presently has units in all blocks and in about half of the gram panchayats.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has set a target of opening one shakha at each gram panchayat of West Bengal by 2021, a target that effectively means doubling the number of such branches in the state.
West Bengal has 3,342 gram panchayats in 341 community development blocks and RSS presently has units in all blocks and in about half of the gram panchayats, according to Biplab Roy, prachar pramukh of RSS’s south Bengal chapter. It has shakhas in all of the state’s 127 municipal areas.
The ways to open units in gram panchayats where they have no presence was discussed during RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s three-day tour of Bengal from August 31.
“We have a target of opening shakhas in all gram panchayats by 2021. At present, we have has about 1,800 daily shakhas – about 1,500 in south Bengal and the rest in north Bengal – besides 500 weekly gatherings called milan. We currently have shakhas in 50% of the gram panchayats,” said Roy.
RSS has organisationally divided West Bengal in two parts – north Bengal and south Bengal. North Bengal makes about one fifth of the state and the rest is under the south Bengal unit. As of March 2014, RSS had 1,010 shakhas, 520 weekly units and 2,536 monthly units in West Bengal.
The prime challenge towards meeting the target is that many of these gram panchayats where they are yet to have a presence are Muslim-dominated, with Muslims making up to 80% of the population.
According to the census of 2011, Muslims make 27% of the state’s population and are in majority in three of the state’s 23 districts.
“We are getting invitations from many Hindus living in Muslim-dominated villages for opening units there. They want to unite to protect their existence and are looking up to RSS for organisational support,” said Biplab Roy.
“If opening a shakha becomes difficult in a panchayat with high Muslim population, the Sangh Parivar will have its presence through seva and other religious activities,” said an RSS functionary who did not want to be named.
Various organisations affiliated to the RSS run social work on the fields of education, healthcare, self-help and religion. The organisations who have a significant presence are Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Vanbandhu Parishad, Shree Hari Satsang Samiti, Vivekananda Vidyavikash Parishad, Samaj Seva Bharati and Arogya Bharati
A senior RSS functionary from north Bengal said that the RSS had conducted social work in Muslim-dominated areas earlier, too, and that it would not be given a thrust. “During the 2017 Malda floods, swayamsevaks did not differentiate between Hindus and Muslims while providing relief work” he said.
Bhagwat is slated for another four-day tour of the state from September 19, during which he would participate in a training camp where senior functionaries of all organisations of the Sangh Parivar, including the BJP, will be present.
BJP state unit chief Dilip Ghosh, general secretary (organisation) Subrata Chatterjee and joint general secretary (organisation) Kishore Burman – all three are RSS pracharaks presently deputed in BJP – are slated to attend the meeting, according to a BJP state executive member who did not want to be identified.
“BJP and RSS are hand in glove. They are trying for a push targeting the 2021 Assembly elections. This won’t help. People will reelect Mamata Banerjee and their dreams will fall flat on their face,” said senior TMC leader and food and supplies minister Jyoti Priya Mallick.
Political analysts said RSS’ expansion drive is likely to benefit BJP ahead of the 2021 Assembly elections. “In West Bengal, the rise of RSS and BJP has been complementary. BJP gained electorally due to RSS’s work at the ground level where the party had no presence. Now that BJP has marked presence in many places, RSS is likely to expand,” said political analyst Amal Mukhopadhyay, former principal of Presidency College.