Why RSS is keen on dividing Bengal even as BJP drops the demand

The proclaimed crux of the Sangh’s campaign is that the northern part of Bengal has long been neglected, and the separation would lead to its progress and development

The RSS has grown almost fourfold in the last decade in West Bengal.

After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)  pushed its divide-Bengal agenda on the backburner, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has decided to keep the pot boiling.

The RSS move has left the state law enforcers battling the threat of secession from the outlawed Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) worried.

RSS, the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, has started mobilising public opinion for a Union Territory comprising north Bengal districts, if Sangh sources are to be believed.

Crux of the Sangh campaign

The crux of the Sangh’s campaign for the division of the state is that the northern part of Bengal has long been neglected, and the separation would lead to its progress and development.

The RSS reportedly started a ‘whisper campaign’ to push its argument. Sangh sources said its functionaries are going village to village to “create an awareness” about the need for the separation for the progress of the region.

“Swayamsevaks working in North Bengal strongly feel the sense of neglect. Wherever we go, people also tell us about the need for bifurcation of the state. Considering all this, the need for a Union Territory status has been felt,” wrote Ranjan Sarkar, a Sangh functionary from Cooch Behar, in a social media post, giving a cue to the saffron brigade’s plan about North Bengal.

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The region comprises eight districts, namely Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Coochbehar, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur and Malda. Despite its electoral debacle in the 2021 Assembly elections in the state, the BJP dominated North Bengal winning 30 of the region’s 54 seats.

Sharp reactions

Since then, the region’s several BJP leaders such as John Barla, Bishnu Prasad Sharma, Raju Bista, Shankar Ghosh and Jayanta Roy have raised the demand for bifurcation of the state, invoking sharp reactions from non-saffron political parties.

Even a large section of BJP leaders, mostly from the southern part of the state, too opposed the division of the state. Realising that the ground is not yet ready for sowing seeds of division, BJP national president J P Nadda, during his recent visit to the state,  directed party leaders to refrain from raising the demand publically.

A section of the BJP leaders, however, is still persisting with the demand. A day after Nadda’s directive, BJP MLA from Kurseong Bishnu Prasad Sharma said he was sticking to the demand, saying it was the promise made to his voters.

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“From Nadda’s directive, it is very clear that the BJP has not totally given up its demand for bifurcation of Bengal. It’s just keeping the demand on hold to be raised at an opportune time. Nadda only said not to raise the issue publicly, realising it is premature to make the demand now. The BJP will wait till the RSS prepares the ground doing some spade works,” explained Probir Pramanik, a Siliguri-based senior journalist and political commentator.

Hindutva agenda

The BJP’s political growth in the state is largely attributed to the painstaking works done by the RSS to spread its Hindutva agenda.

The RSS has grown almost fourfold in the last decade in the state. From just 580 shakhas in 2011, the Sangh now runs over 1,900 shakhas across the state.

The RSS’s growth has been reflected in the BJP’s vote share, which has jumped to 37.97 per cent in the 2021 Assembly elections from 4.06 per cent in 2011.

To further expand its base in the state, the RSS recently decided to set up its units in Darjeeling and Kalimpong hills, two areas of North Bengal where it does not have any presence.

Separate Gorkhaland movement

Darjeeling and Kalimpong hills are hotbeds of separate Gorkhaland demand. Darjeeling, Kalimpong and surrounding areas are presently administered by Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), a semi-autonomous body. Terming the GTA as an “unconstitutional body”, the BJP has decided to boycott the June 26 GTA elections.

The TMC sees the boycott as part of the BJP’s divisive agenda. The BJP has been trying to separate Darjeeling hills from West Bengal, TMC leader Gautam Deb said, reacting to the BJP’s decision to boycott the poll.

The TMC also accuses the BJP of trying to foment trouble in Cooch Behar.

“The bifurcation demand is only reinvigorating the secessionist forces,” claimed another TMC leader Mukul Bairagya.

He was referring to the recent video message released by KLO chief Jibon Singha.

In the video released earlier this month, the separatist leader was heard saying: “Kochbihar (Cooch Behar) is a separate category state under the India Accession Treaty. John Barla, Nishith Pramanik, Jayant Roy, MPs and MLAs who have won from the region support a separate Koch-Kamtapur state. The people of Koch-Kamtapur will form the greater Kochbihar or Kamtapur State.”

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