‘One is Cultural, Other Political’: No Contradiction For Bengal Youth Juggling Between Right-wing, TMC
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s success in 2014 general elections, the footprint of the RSS and linked organisations has also grown.
Youth standing near a TMC graffiti in Bengal.
Kolkata: There is no contradiction, argues a 25-year-old from Purulia district in Bengal, on his association with the Bajrang Dal and the fact that he is also part of the Trinamool Congress. “One is political, the other is cultural,” he said.
Such contradictions aren’t uncommon here. In the past month, News18 found members of the right-wing outfits linked to the Sangh Parivar, mostly unemployed young men, who were also members of the ruling TMC across the state. Their explanations followed similar contours: that their political and public life was separate from their religious, cultural and personal life.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the 25-year-old explained that he isn’t mulling to join the BJP, though, he admits, the thought has crossed his mind. Unemployed, in spite of completing his B-Tech degree, he said, “I have worked with the TMC since they came to power in 2011.” The son of a panchayat member and member of the Leftist Forward Bloc, he added, “My life as a Bajrang Dal member is different. I help during religious festivals like Ram Navami. Why should there be any contradiction?”
Meanwhile, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee continues to attack the BJP and the RSS, accusing them of inciting riots in the state. On Friday, she attacked union minister and BJP MP Babul Supriyo of running around with money bags with RSS leaders. She said, “Neither Hindus nor Muslims incite riots. It is the RSS that does this.”
It was in 19th century Bengal that the seeds of Hindu nationalism were sown, germinating in Maharashtra and giving birth to the RSS in 1925. For decades, every day practices of the RSS remained incomplete without invocations to Vivekananda and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. The state also played a key role in the political growth of KB Hedgewar, the founder of RSS and his successor MS Gowalkar.
But it wasn’t until the BJP’s alliance with Banerjee in 1999 and the consequent electoral success of the BJP in Lok Sabha, that the RSS began increasing its presence in the hostile Left-dominated political terrain of the state. “The traditional base for the RSS consisted of upper-caste Hindus, Hindu refugees from East Bengal, Marawari traders and businessman and Hindi-speaking non-Bengalis,” said a senior Bengal BJP leader.
Since Narendra Modi’s electoral success in 2014, the footprint of the RSS and linked organisations also grew. As of last year, the RSS operated 910 shakas at 650 places in south Bengal, along with 452 shakhas at 373 places in north Bengal.
At Dhulagarh town in Howrah, some 25 kilometers from Kolkata that saw arson and loot over two days of communal violence in 2016, the fractures are clearer. “The Bajrang Dal and even the Shiv Sena had its presence here. But it was only after the violence that many joined,” said Samik Sarkar (35) who lives in Pollepara area of the town. Sarkar describes himself as a ‘participant’ in Bajrang Dal and VHP events. “We have nothing against Banerjee. She came to power with the BJP. But she has turned a blind eye to the criminal elements in her party, who are appeasing Muslims. That is why the violence happened,” he adds.
At the Bengal BJP headquarters, a state committee leader involved with the Lok Sabha preparations said that he wasn’t surprised with the contradiction. “You have to realize that the political culture of Bengal is different from the rest of the country. The political party you support is linked to your identity in a way that is very contradictory. You support it, but you might not always agree with their policies.”
At Jalpaiguri, a 23-year-old concurred, adding that his reasons for supporting the TMC were largely ‘material’. “You support the party. You get work. In return you do political work for them. This is the first time that the BJP has actually been a strong force here. But my association with the RSS is much older, since my early days of schooling.”
Elsewhere, at Basirhat, another area that has seen communal violence in the past years, a 31-year-old added, “The local TMC leadership has become everything we disliked about the Left. The only reason many of us are still with the party is because of Didi (Mamata Banerjee). So what if I am a member of the VHP. They help conduct pujas and give aid to those in need.”
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