The row kicked up by West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee’s “praise” for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has continued to rage in political circles, with the Opposition parties as well as sections within the TMC attributing Banerjee’s perceived bid to warm up to the RSS, the BJP’s ideological fountainhead, to various factors.
The Opposition, including the Left parties, the Congress and the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM, have hit out at Banerjee, calling her move “politically expedient and opportunistic”.
Addressing a press conference at Nabanna, the state government secretariat, earlier this week, CM Banerjee said, “RSS is not that bad. I don’t believe it is so bad. Even now there are good people in RSS, who don’t support BJP. One day they will break their silence.”
Her critics promptly pointed out that it was not the first time that Banerjee has “praised” the RSS, saying that she had done so at a rally of the TMC Chhatra Parishad, the party’s students’ wing, in 2018 too. It was also said that when she had been part of the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA government at the Centre, she used to be close to top BJP leaders Vajpayee and LK Advani as well as a section of the RSS leadership. At a conference in 2003, she had praised the RSS as an organisation of “patriots”.
Following the resurgence of the BJP in Bengal as the principal Opposition party with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah focusing on the party’s expansion in the state, Banerjee has been grappling with the saffron challenge, emerging as a staunch opponent of the BJP and PM Modi. She faced a fierce challenge from the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in the state, even though she trounced the saffron party comprehensively in the 2021 Assembly elections, taking over as the CM for the third consecutive term.
The Muslim vote played a key role in the TMC’s election triumphs, with the minority community, which accounts for nearly 30 per cent of Bengal ’s population, having strongly rallied behind Banerjee since the 2011 state polls. This has also resulted in polarisation used by the BJP for making inroads across the state, especially in rural belts where the RSS has a significant presence.
The state BJP camp claims that Banerjee was forced to praise the RSS for fear of losing her support base among the Hindu community due to her “pro-Muslim appeasement politics”. A senior BJP leader said, “Mamata Banerjee has realised that for her appeasement politics, her Hindu vote bank is eroding. So, to balance that, she is now praising the RSS. Earlier also, as part of this balancing act, she visited mandirs and started reciting Hindu mantras at her rallies. But, everybody has now understood her politics that will not work any further.”
A TMC section is however wary of the impact of any erosion in Banerjee’s “secular credentials” on Muslim voters. A party leader said, “In recent past, Bogtui killings and Anis Khan murder case dented Mamata Banerjee’s popularity among the minorities. She recently met Subramanian Swamy, considered close to RSS, at Nabanna. And now she has praised RSS. We don’t know how we would fix this damage.”
Another TMC leader however said, “Mamata is a very sharp politician. She knows what is happening in the Opposition camp. She knows that because of the entry of leaders like Suvendu Adhikari into the BJP a section of RSS leader is not happy with the current BJP leadership. By praising the RSS, she has thus sought to fuel the intra-saffron camp fights.”
Defending Banerjee, senior TMC leader and MP Saugata Roy said, “Mamata Banerjee has just tried to say that every organisation has good and bad people. We don’t need to prove our secular credentials to anyone after we defeated the BJP-RSS juggernaut in the last Assembly polls.”
The CPI(M) however launched a scathing attack on Banerjee, with the party mouthpiece “Ganashakti”, in an editorial page article, alleging that “there is a link between TMC’s corruption and Mamata’s praise for Sangh Parivar” while referring to the heat central agencies have turned up on the TMC leadership in connection with their investigations in cases like school jobs scams. “It is clear now that the fight against the BJP and communal politics is not possible with the help of the TMC, which is eager to surrender before the BJP and RSS,” the daily charged.
Slamming Banerjee, CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakrabarty alleged, : “The Left parties had from the beginning warned everyone about the TMC chief’s true colours … She is a product of the RSS in Bengal, which is now being confirmed through her statements. She cannot be trusted in the fight against communal forces.” Another senior CPI(M) leader, Md Salim, recalled how “a senior RSS leader had once seen in her a best friend.”
Seeking to downplay Banerjee’s remarks, RSS state general secretary Jishnu Basu said, “She has said there are some good people in RSS. We would like to tell her that there can be political differences, but does that mean (political activists should be) killing opponents?” Basu charged that about 60 people had been killed across Bengal following the political violence that erupted after the 2021 state polls. “Mamata Banerjee should have ensured law and order. She is chief minister of those who voted for her and those who voted against her,” he said.