The Bharatiya Janata Party has covered a long distance in Bengal, from winning just 3 seats in 2016 assembly elections to emerging as one of the top contenders to win the 2021 polls. A by Crowdwisdom360 shows the BJP is likely to be the single largest party in the state.
Much of the momentum the BJP has been able to gather in West Bengal is being attributed to the silent work of its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. On March 22, 1939, the day of Hindu Nav Varsh, the foundation of the first RSS shakha was laid in Bengal.
Today the number has grown to 1,600. RSS has over a lakh full-time pracharaks working relentlessly for the last five years. These pracharaks are spread over all the districts in Bengal and most importantly, in the rural belt of Bengal.
Many sister organisations helped the growth of RSS in the state through their social work.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) started working in 1964, Vidya Bharati (the RSS’s formal education wing) in the 1970s, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in the early 1980s, Ekal Abhiyan (informal education) in 1989, Sewa Bharati (the social service wing) in the late 1980s, and so on.
This involved building deep (almost familial) ties with its followers, invoking a sense of Hindutva identity among them, launching various local development projects, such as schools, health camps and hospitals, reviving traditional community resources such as ponds, bagichas (gardens), etc.
Through social reconstruction programmes, the Sangh strengthened its ties with the communities.
The Gau Raksha movement, which was quite visible in the North in the 1960s, found resonance in Bengal too. In the 1990s, RSS established an organisation called the Seema Jagran Manch, which worked in villages located along India-Bangladesh border.
After the 2009 Lok Sabha results, when the Left Front suffered a massive setback, winning only 15 seats out of 42, RSS asked all its sister organisations to focus on expansion.
The work done by the RSS volunteers and the Modi factor helped BJP secure 17% vote share in 2014 general elections. However, BJP realised it had popular support but not the organisational strength to channelise it as it could win only 2 seats.
BJP appointed RSS man Dilip Ghosh as state unit chief in 2015. He played a key role in onboarding Mukul Roy from the TMC into the saffron fold.
RSS provided the party with dedicated organisers, from the state to the grassroots level. It started to work in the rural and tribal belt of Bengal, especially in the areas of Jhargram, Junglemahal, and the districts of North Bengal.
This time the work done by RSS bore fruit as the BJP won 18 seats with 40% vote share in 2019 general elections. This performance provided BJP the confidence that it can breach Mamata’s fort in 2021 state elections.
They are reaching to the people at their doorstep every day and have been involved in establishing one-to-one connection with the masses in Bengal. Elections are not won through rallies, and while senior leaders are involved in big rallies, these volunteers are preparing the groundwork for the party, providing the BJP the last mile connectivity.
The RSS has also pressed into action its senior leaders in Bengal to oversee the election preparedness like Shiv Prakash who is also the Joint General Secretary (Organisation) of the BJP and another senior RSS pracharak and BJP’s national secretary, Arvind Menon.
Apart from them, a host of other RSS leaders like Uttar Pradesh general secretary (Organisation) Sunil Bansal, Sunil Deodhar, who is credited in crafting BJP’s victory in Tripura were sent to Bengal to work for the BJP.
When the ruling TMC was allegedly involved in corruption and cut money, RSS helped people during the Amphaan cyclone which ravaged several districts of Bengal last year. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the RSS reached out to almost 2 crore people of Bengal through food and ration.
Mamata Banerjee's attempt to wipe out the Left opposition from Bengal has helped the RSS exponentially.
RSS was quick to understand that the cultural and religious things matter for voters. It slowly cultivated a base among lower caste Hindus in the state. Theirs is a political project and elections are instrumental to their objective.
The Sangh’s work for the BJP in Bengal can be summarised into:
(i) providing party with foot soldiers to propagate its message
(ii) working among subaltern caste groups to build a voter base
(iii) providing ground intelligence to the party - issues, dynamics, caste break up, influencers etc.
(iv) providing list of probable candidates
(v) providing feedback on campaign, rallies, speeches of top leaders and candidate selection
(vi) managing logistics on polling day, ensuring supporters go out and vote.