Kolkata: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the right-wing Hindu nationalist group, has started a spat with the Kolkata police over a proposed visit to the city by its chief Mohan Bhagwat later this week.
The RSS had planned a rally, marching at least 5,000 volunteers—or sevaks in its parlance—in honour of Bhagwat in the Bhukailash temple ground in Kidderpore, a populous Muslim-dominated neighbourhood in south-west Kolkata. The ground is part of an estate in partial ruins with twin Shiva temples that date back to 1781.
The Kolkata police refused to give permission to the rally there, citing concerns about law and order, according to a key RSS leader in Kolkata, who asked not to be identified. The rally may be held at an army-controlled ground near Shahid Minar—the most commonly used space for political rallies in the heart of Kolkata. If the police refuse permission for this location as well, it will move the court, this RSS leader said.
Sudip Sarkar, the deputy commissioner of police for Kolkata’s port area, said there was no official communication on this matter. RSS had asked for permission for a rally in Kidderpore, an area which falls under his jurisdiction, and the police had said no—all without any letters being exchanged. The Kolkata police will give an explanation for its stand if the court demands it, Sarkar added. With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—with which the RSS is closely aligned—looking to emerge as the key opposition party in West Bengal, Bhagwat’s visit to Kolkata is much anticipated. The RSS has for long had a strong support-base in the state. Bhagwat is expected to spend two days in the city, starting on Saturday.
A spokesperson for the Eastern Command of the Indian Army said in Kolkata that the ministry of defence had granted permission to the RSS to hold its rally near Shahid Minar, which according to the RSS leader cited above is “strategic", but the second best option to the temple ground in Kidderpore.
It is a neighbourhood where the Hindus feel marginalised, said this person, explaining why the RSS wanted to hold the rally there. The RSS wants to stand beside such people and sees such areas where the Hindus feel “alienated" as fertile grounds for expansion of its base in West Bengal.
Recent elections have shown that the BJP’s support-base has jumped substantially in districts bordering Bangladesh with substantial Muslim populations.