In the last three months the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) intensified its activities to provide food and medical help to migrant workers during the coronavirus pandemic and relief to those affected by Cyclone Amphan as it made a political point that the ruling Trinamool Congress failed to manage the two simultaneous disasters.
RSS, the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has around 1,800 sakhas (branches) in West Bengal. It could not hold daily assemblies because of nationwide lockdown that started in March but its members have tried to help people during the crisis.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is the worst thing that has happened in India. Helping people should be our sole objective,” Jishnu Basu, general secretary of the RSS state unit, said while speaking to HT.
The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), the RSS’ trade union arm, in a bid to provide work to migrant workers has set up help desks to provide employment opportunities in the eastern state as well as in others like Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The BMS claims it is contacting local employers as well.
“We are operating 38 help desks across Bengal. According to our estimate, 80% migrants will leave the state again. We are preparing records of these people and helping them to get work,” said Ravi Singh, the BMS’ state working president.
“Our 121 active unions in Bengal have distributed food and sanitisers among 1.62 lakh families at 665 locations in 23 districts. Tarpaulins, food and relief materials were distributed in Amphan-hit areas as well,” Singh added.
The National Medicos Organisation (NMO), an organisation of doctors and volunteers of the RSS, along with two other outfits, have so far held 80 medical camps in East Midnapore and the South and North 24 Parganas, the Amphan impacted districts.
“We have treated about 25,000 people so far, thanks to 80 doctors, 250 volunteers and help from the BJP medical cell. Masks and medicines have been distributed. We are preparing a list of people who need surgery,” said Dr Prabhat Singh, state president of NMO.
Sahakar Bharati, a nationwide cooperative movement backed by RSS, has in recent years set up multipurpose, agricultural and fisheries cooperatives depending on location and requirement, said Vivekananda Patra, its organising secretary in West Bengal, Sikkim, Odisha and the Andamans.
These cooperatives are now helping people affected by lockdown.
Basudeb Sarkar, who is associated with Sahakar Bharati, said he has been able to help the families of many of his neighbours who went to other states for work and faced crisis during the lockdown.
Sarkar is a resident of Nandangram village of North Dinajpur district in north Bengal.
“Around 2.24 lakh people from North Dinajpur were stuck in other states. We helped some of them through the Sahakar Bharati network in those states. Now our main objective is to help women whose husbands have not returned. We are inducting them in cooperative societies for packaging and marketing organic farm products,” said Sarkar.
Political observers say that with RSS cadre working on the field helps the BJP for the crucial 2021 assembly polls.
The humanitarian work, they say, gives the BJP the same strong platform that the RSS ensured for the party in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Assam and other states.
The BJP bagged 18 of Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, unsettling the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the districts. The party’s leaders are now publicly saying that they will win 200 of the 294 assembly seats in 2021 assembly polls.
Amal Kumar Mukhopadhyay, former principal of Presidency College, said the RSS was doing a great job for people affected by the lockdown and Cyclone Amphan.
“I don’t support the RSS ideology but TMC activists are not doing anything of this kind. They are more interested in robbing the money that has come from the government as a grant,” said Mukhopadhyay.
“Because of these welfare activities the BJP is trying to have its strongholds, particularly in the rural areas that represent the majority of the voters. If RSS continues this work it will surely help the BJP do much better in the coming election,” he added.
The outreach of the RSS could hurt the TMC, a senior minister, who did not wish to be named, admitted.
“In 2011, we could overthrow the Communist Party of India (Marxist) despite its phenomenal cadre-based organisation because voters turned against the Left. In the coming war, our main weapon against the BJP is the TMC government’s performance,” the minister said.
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