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  Opinion   Columnists  09 Sep 2017  Will RSS outsmart Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal?

Will RSS outsmart Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal?

The writer is a senior journalist in Kolkata.
Published : Sep 9, 2017, 12:14 am IST
Updated : Sep 9, 2017, 5:55 am IST

The BJP and the Sangh Parivar are casting themselves as the antidote to Trinamul.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (Photo: Abhijit Mukherjee)
 West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee (Photo: Abhijit Mukherjee)

Political theatrics is rapidly changing in West Bengal, as competition seems to be intensifying in the race to appropriate gods, goddesses and spiritual leaders as a tactic to leverage festivals and celebrations to capture popular attention. In this tug-of-war for fervent hearts, Sister Nivedita, the Irish-born disciple of Swami Vivekananda, appears to have been appropriated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, while Ganapati Bappa has been grabbed by local Trinamul enthusiasts. By cancelling permission for a celebration of Sister Nivedita’s contribution to Indian nationalism by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in Kolkata on October 3, the Trinamul Congress government has on one hand succumbed to the provocation and on the other issued a challenge to the increasingly pushy plans of the BJP to invade and snatch West Bengal from Mamata Banerjee’s control.

Read along with the directions to the police issued by the chief minister to ban all processions that include weapons - symbols of militant Hinduism like tridents and swords - as part of the dress code, the signals are easy to decipher. With every available means, it will be Mamata Banerjee’s agenda to thwart efforts by the RSS and the BJP to convert gods, goddesses, spiritual icons and tridents into political capital. Declaring the streets and government-controlled public spaces, such as the Mahajati Sadan hall, off limits is designed to deliver a high-visibility message of zero tolerance in Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal to the RSS’ plans to establish itself. But in reality, can she actually curb the spread of the RSS in the state? The facts indicate that the Sangh Parivar has already managed to establish bases in West Bengal, aided by the enormous reach of the BJP in power at the Centre and Narendra Modi’s relentless messaging amplified by the army of social media propagandists. The expansion of the RSS is revealing: from 580 shakhas in West Bengal in 2011, it now has over 1,500 shakahas and thousands of cadres. While most of this growth has been in the districts, including North and South 24 Parganas, Hooghly, Howrah, Birbhum and West and East  Midnapore, Kolkata and the Muslim-majority districts of Malda and Murshidabad have also responded to the RSS’ messages of “saving” Hindus in the homeland.

The RSS and its parivar is on a growth trajectory, backed by the advantage that the BJP enjoys as the party in power at the Centre. The clout and the cult of Narendra Modi has spread the BJP’s popularity, and helped it to expand rapidly across the country. Denying this juggernaut space in West Bengal will not cripple its efforts to increase its presence; it will merely add to its growing capital of rage against Mamata Banerjee. The effect of denying permission has been instant; the BJP’s state chief Dilip Ghosh has called on his troops to beat up the police and Trinamul Congress workers because that is permissible in Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal. If this seems a bizarre response, then the logic of Mr Ghosh’s argument needs to be understood - provoke the Trinamul Congress and create chaos, perhaps to the point when it will appear that there is an irreparable breakdown of law and order. His instigation to violence is spelt out in a three-step plan for his partymen to follow. First, provoke the Trinamul Congress to violence. Second, push the police to register FIRs. Third, if the police does not, because of its reluctance to take on the Trinamul Congress and the consequences that may follow if chief minister-home minister Mamata Banerjee gets angry, then beat up the police.Unlike the conventional and essentially constitutional political parties that have been opposing Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, the BJP is a different kettle of fish. It is clearly happy to dispense with the conventions of parliamentary politics. It is reshaping the politics of disorder that was once uniquely Mamata Banerjee’s strategy to break the polarisation in West Bengal of Left versus Congress to make space for Trinamul Congress.

The BJP and the Sangh Parivar are casting themselves as the antidote to Trinamul Congress and the established political order. In doing so, it has by inference turned Ms Banerjee into the source of everything that is wrong or toxic in West Bengal. By extension, Trinamul Congress has become the legacy party of the Left and Congress, which makes it even more toxic. Therefore, every action or reaction of Mamata Banerjee is open to a very different interpretation, a mind game in which the BJP-RSS has acquired a certain expertise through practice in several other states.

At this point, Mamata Banerjee is in danger of being outsmarted and so outmanoeuvred by the BJP-RSS. Her personal style is being challenged. To differentiate herself from the rest, ms Banerjee used her simple faith to turn herself into the patron of West Bengal’s best carnival, Durga Puja. It gave her an immediate connect to the millions who celebrate the festival. The contrast to the dour and distant CPI(M) was brilliant tactics and she has used chanting mantras, painting the third eye and inaugurating pujas into her political signature.To compete now, the BJP-Sangh Parivar has to invent a toll that would provoke Ms Banerjee and make itself more popular. It hit upon multiple roadshows of trident-brandishing and sword-waving bhakts to celebrate Durga Puja, particularly on Vijaya Dashami, or the triumph of good over evil. By banning this, Ms Banerjee has stepped into a very slippery place. It has pushed her into a competition in which she will lose more often than win against the BJP-Sangh Parivar. In order to outdo the BJP in public displays of Hindu piety and undo the perception that she has overdone her appeasement of the state’s significant Muslim minority, Ms Banerjee has been reduced to organising Hanuman Utsavs and Ganesh Pujas. The absurdity of these manoeuvres have not damaged the BJP-RSS’ appeal; on the contrary, it has made her vulnerable to ridicule and provocation.

The sudden appearance of the elephant-headed god in pandals across Kolkata is a clear indication that Mamata Banerjee is trying to accumulate a new kind of political capital. And that is a dead giveaway.

Tags: mamata banerjee, mohan bhagwat, narendra modi