How Mamata and Mohan Bhagwat Form a Society of Mutual Admiration
No matter how much Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo Mamata Banerjee castigates the BJP and lashes out at her ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), she makes it a point to be cordial with the Sangh leader , Mohan Bhagwat. The RSS sarsanghchalak also returns Didi’s gesture and there are perhaps only a few instances where he targeted Mamata politically.
Bhagwat was in West Bengal to attend an RSS training camp held at Keshiary in West Midnapore from May 17-20. As soon as Mamata learned of Bhagwat’s impending visit, she instructed the District Magistrate and West Midnapore Superintendent of Police to ensure he was well cared for. Mamata also advised the administration to send fruit and sweet baskets to Bhagwat.
The “mutual respect” dates back to 2003 when Mamata praised the RSS leaders as “true patriots” and sought support from the Sangh to fight “communist terror” in Bengal. She had made the remark in 2003 when releasing a book edited by Tarun Vijay, who was then editor of Spokesperson RSS Panchajanya. On occasion, Mamata also mentioned how transferring even 1% of the vote of the RSS supporters to the TMC could help him defeat the left in Bengal.
The RSS has compared Mamata to Goddess Durga in the past. the Panchajana, in 2012 praised Mamata’s austere lifestyle and wished the country had dozens of leaders like her. He described her as one of a ‘rare breed of politicians who didn’t make money [out of their political careers]’.
Mamata and Bhagwat are said to have rarely been harsh on each other publicly, although Didi has been vocal in his criticism of senior BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit. Shah. Mamata’s party and the BJP are fierce political rivals and have been fighting a high-decibel election in Bengal in 2021. After his party’s big win, Mamata set his sights on becoming the face of a proposed opposition alliance against Modi and the BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha Election.
The 2019 parliamentary elections saw the BJP emerge as a real challenger to Mamata in Bengal. The party won 40% of the vote and won 18 seats in Lok Sabha, four less than the TMC. Only once did Bhagwat make a negative comment on the situation in Bengal and the political violence against BJP workers. “What is happening in Bengal! Can this happen on its own? The government and the administration are giving full support to the murderers,” Bhagwat had said, but without naming Mamata.
Mamata has also been careful not to drag Bhagwat’s name into her attacks, even as she continues to call RSS leaders and activists “rioters”. According to political analysts, the growth of the RSS in Bengal – from a few hundred shakhas in the 1990s at 1,900 at present – would not have been possible had it not been for the ruling TMC deciding to look the other way, especially as the Mamata government is accused of forcibly shutting down Communist Party offices in Bengal.
“Mamata has been with the BJP for a considerable part of his political career. It was natural for her to have good relations with the leaders of the RSS. At one point, she firmly believed that only a regimented and disciplined formation like the RSS could challenge a cadre party like the left. Things have changed, but somehow his respect for the RSS and its social service has not diminished,” says Sobhanlal Datta Gupta, a former professor of political science at the University of Calcutta.
The RSS plans to expand its shakha base at the village-panchayat level and in municipal wards in urban areas given the organizational weakness of the BJP in the state. Both the BIP and the RSS believe that the Mamata government faced strong anti-incumbency in 2021, but the BJP’s organizational weakness and lack of cabin-level workers prevented it from winning the polls.
The RSS reportedly told the state’s BJP that inducting people rooted in the saffron ideology was a better way to build organizational strength than getting defectors from other parties on board. One of the BJP’s biggest blunders in last year’s polls was to keep its doors wide open for one and all. Once it lost the election, the party underwent reverse migration.
The RSS has made it clear that TMC defectors should be treated with suspicion, including former Mamata loyalist Suvendu Adhikari, whom the BJP has named opposition leader. This should be music to Mamata’s ears. A section of BJP leaders, prompted by the RSS think tank, have already begun to view Trinamool’s imports with skepticism. While several of these leaders have returned to the TMC, a few others are believed to be considering jumping ship. All of this should reassure Mamata that the BJP will think twice before poaching leaders from its party in the future.
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