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RSS finds firm footing among backward castes in West Bengal

RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat, who was as involved in the BJP victory as anybody else, conducted a 20-day training session for his volunteers who are supposed to fight the ruling Trinamool Congress and its alleged policy of minority appeasement.

india Updated: Aug 18, 2014 01:16 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times

Where exactly was RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat on May 16, the day the BJP swept the 2014 Parliament elections?

Curiously, Bhagwat, who was as involved in the BJP victory as anybody else, was conducting a 20-day training session for his volunteers who were supposed to fight the ruling Trinamool Congress and its alleged policy of minority appeasement.

It became apparent when Bhagwat later visited the RSS centre in Kolkata to simulate the state leadership and speed up the Sangh's activities, particularly in rural Bengal.

The Sangh's rapid growth in Bengal - 25% in 12 months since March 2013 - explains Bhagwat's focus on a state where the BJP and its ideological guardian, the RSS, had always been virtually non-existent.

"Our daily sakhas increased from 820 in March 2013 to 1,010 by March this year," Jishnu Basu, publicity head of the RSS' south Bengal unit, told HT.

The RSS deems a sakha or a unit 'daily' if it functions continuously for 15 days.

By July, the RSS had 30 more sakhas in place. It also organised some 100 'exposure' camps to educate people about the Sangh's activities.

But what exactly is the new constituency - apart from the revival of Hindu votes - that the RSS is banking on in Bengal?

State RSS leaders are confident that the backward castes, who feel let down by successive governments - even the Left Front - are flocking to the Parivar.

The RSS had in recent times panned the Mamata Banerjee government and its Left predecessor for neglecting the backward communities. It had also attributed the plight of Hindu OBCs to the inclusion of 90% Muslims in West Bengal within the OBC category.

"We are concentrating on the living conditions of the SC, ST and OBC people in Bengal. These communities have been most deprived, especially during the last days of the Left Front government and the first three years of the Mamata Banerjee government," Basu said.

Consequently, the RSS has expanded in the SC, ST and OBC-dominated areas of South and North 24-Parganas, Nadia, Murshidabad, especially the southern part of the district - Bankura, West and East Midnapore and Howrah (the rural swathes).

Also, the issue that Bangladeshi infiltration is 'threatening a demographic change' tops the agenda of the RSS in West Bengal. "But again, it is the people from the SC, ST and OBC communities who are suffering most, both economically and socially, because of the influx," Basu added.

Interestingly, people from scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward castes are increasingly taking over as local leaders of the Sangh.

Almost 70% of its local leaders are from the backward castes. They include Atul Kumar Biswas and Ramapada Pal, south Bengal sanghchalak and pracharak, respectively.

"There is nothing deliberate in the caste composition of our leaders. The percentage of our SC, ST and OBC members is high because we have been focussing on issues related to them for a long time," Basu said.

In contrast, the RSS' ideological opposite, the CPI(M), stands accused of letting the upper castes dominate the party. The 10-time MLA, Abdur Rejjak Mollah, cited this reason before quitting the party.

First Published: Aug 18, 2014 00:49 IST