On Wednesday, 31 August, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, while addressing a press conference from the Secretariat, spoke positively about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In a statement that can be comprehended in many ways based on one’s political ideology, she remarked how there are some good people in the RSS.
RSS wasn't that bad earlier. I don't think they (RSS) are that bad. Still, there are many genuine/good people in RSS, and they don't support BJP. They will also break their silence one day.Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister, West Bengal
Her remarks gave opposition parties like the Congress, Left and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, ammunition to reemphasize their allegation about the Trinamool Congress being in cahoots with the RSS.
However, a quick trip down memory lane will tell you that CM Banerjee’s remarks have very little to do with praising or allying herself with the RSS. Rather it is just textbook Mamata brand of politics.
Divide and Conquer
Political analyst and professor at Rabindra Bharati University Biswanath Chakraborty tells The Quint that this remark is simply CM Banerjee’s way of dividing the opposition, in this case the BJP.
Initially she attacked Jyoti Basu, but when Buddadeb Bhattacharya rose to power, then she would attack Bhattacharya and praise Basu. Similarly, years later, she would visit Bhattacharya at his residence when he was sick, and attacked the up-and-coming CPI-M leaders.Biswanath Chakraborty, Political Analyst
Upon presenting the same to TMC state spokesperson Debangshu Bhattacharya, he said that if something gets "worse day by day, the previous thing looks better."
Through her remark, CM Banerjee is drawing a distinction between the RSS and the Bharatiya Janata Party, portraying the latter to be a bigger villain. She is playing on the fact that the Sangh opposed the induction of turncoats in BJP’s Bengal unit. They preferred the elevation of leaders who were nurtured in the Sangh.
This is her way of aggravating the internal tussle in the Bengal BJP.
Maidul Islam, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta says that CM Banerjee is taking advantage of the Bengal BJP’s internal struggle and reaching out to the rural vote bank in areas where the shakhas have a good influence.
Shakhas have increased in Bengal since 2011. With the panchayat elections nearing, Mamata Banerjee is reaching out to that vote bank to consolidate more rural votes. She is reaching out to those Sangh voters who don’t want to vote for the BJP because of their condition in Bengal.Maidul Islam, Political Science Assistant Professor
It is also pertinent to note here that her remarks come at a time when the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate have been investigating top TMC leaders in connection with charges of corruption.
On the national front, this might even be her way of trying to woo old timers in the BJP who feel left out in the Modi-Shah era. She has already pulled a similar stunt with ex-union ministers Yashwant Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha and Babul Supriyo who switched over from the BJP.
Speaking to The Quint, TMC MP Sougata Roy says that he doesn’t see anything wrong in her comments. He adds, “She opposes RSS, but that does not mean there aren’t good people in it.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by Bhattacharya who said that all parties have good people and bad people, there can’t be just one type of people in a party.
Just like how Mamata Banerjee speaks and tries to eliminate the bad elements in her party, she also speaks about the good people in other parties and organisations. Previously she has spoken about good people in the CPI-M, BJP and RSS too. This is the natural course of things.Debangshu Bhattacharya, TMC State Spokesperson
“Natural Ally of BJP”
CM Banerjee’s remark drew sharp criticism from the opposition parties in Bengal. CPI-M’s state general secretary Mohammad Salim, who has previously claimed that the TMC is in cahoots with the BJP, tweeted, “natural ally of BJP, cultivated by RSS”
BJP state executive Sishir Bajoria told The Quint, “The RSS or the BJP does not need Mamata Banerjee’s certification.”
The Sangh not wanting the BJP is as imaginative as Mamata Banerjee declaring Durga Pujo before Pitru Paksh.Sishir Bajoria, BJP State Executive
While AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi tweeted, accusing Mamata of having a long standing relationship with the RSS and of defending the RSS after the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Tracing Mamata Banerjee’s Equation with the RSS
CM Banerjee joined hands with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in 1999 where she was made the Railways minister. This came two years after she broke away from the Congress to form the Trinamool Congress in 1997. But she left the NDA alliance in 2001 and allied with the Congress for the 2001 West Bengal elections.
But her tryst with the RSS began when she returned to the NDA again in 2003 as a cabinet minister without any portfolio.
This is when she requested the sangh for support in fighting “communist terror” in West Bengal.
If you (the RSS) give us just one per cent support, we will be able to fight red terror.Mamata Banerjee in 2003 at a Book Launch
It was around the same time when she called the RSS the “true partriots” of the country and in return the RSS had called her “Durga”.
CM Banerjee has always maintained a distant but cordial relationship with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Her attacks have mostly been directed towards the BJP and rarely towards the RSS, and never towards Bhagwat. Bhagwat too has hardly ever attacked CM Banerjee.