The late communist leader Mao Zedong once said that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. But the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student's wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has chosen karate as its weapon of choice to take on West Bengal's Mamata Banerjee government in the upcoming elections.
Until now, the ABVP has trained 5,000 women aged between 13 and 40 in the martial arts discipline to ward off potential molesters under a state administration that it claims does little to protect them. And its political target, of course, is the ruling Trinamool Congress.
Although state ABVP joint secretary Payal Dhar maintains that there is nothing political about her organisation's campaign, she is quick to allege that Bengal witnesses the highest number of molestations. "The government is useless, it doesn't care for women. So we won't depend on it. We students will learn to defend ourselves," she claims, even as she oversees a training camp at Hoogly's Arambagh.
The camp at Arambagh is part of Mission Sahasi, a nationwide self-defence campaign that the ABVP launched at Mumbai in March. While sceptics may mockingly call it "sanskari karate", it is through such programmes that the Sangh and its affiliates have begun carving a place for themselves in Bengal in view of the 2019 elections.
Hoogly ABVP chief Haradhan Samanta makes no bones about how the karate training camps will benefit them. "There is no need to spell it out, the BJP will gain from this. We are making women more aware and stronger, and they will naturally be inclined towards us," he says.
Sangh spokesperson Aditya Das claims that the increasing saffron presence in the state is giving Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee the creeps. "Mamata is feeling the heat... That is why she has increased her interaction with the Hindu community, for instance, by giving away doles to Durga Puja committees," he said.
There seems to be some truth in Mr Das' contention. While the Trinamool was earlier dismissive of the spread of Hindutva in the state, it now views the Sangh and its affiliates with caution. "The RSS and the BJP are the same. If they look at Bengal as an opportunity to fester communal hatred, we will fight this politically," said Trinamool leader Derek O'Brien.
The Sangh has increased its activities in the eastern state, and has more shakhas today than ever before. A seven-day training camp held at Uluberia in Howrah district last month was attended by 237 college students, 60 teachers and 104 farmers. Similar camps were held in Siliguri, Naxalbari, Darjeeling and Kalimpong too.
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