Photographs of RSS volunteers engaged in rescue work at the flyover collapse site have been shared extensively on social media platforms, prompting the Left Front to allege that the right-wing organisation was “simply using the tragedy as a means of promotion” ahead of the elections at the Jorasanko Assembly — where the RSS has an extensive network and has helped BJP made rapid strides in the past few years.
The accident site is a little over a kilometre away from the state RSS headquarters at Keshav Bhawan in north Kolkata. Within two hours of the incident, the local RSS shakha sent out its volunteers to help with the rescue operations. Chief of RSS, South Bengal, Jishnu Basu said, “Our volunteers, numbering about 300, went out and aided the police and the army. We helped clear the debris and carry the dead bodies till professional help had not arrived. We also helped in ensuring the area does not get crowded and kept out the public so that rescue work wasn’t hampered. We also formed a supply chain that gave water and food.”
The CPM has accused the Trinamool Congress of actively “preventing” Left-backed organisations from carrying out rescue work, while “allowing” the RSS to “promote the virtual reality” of them helping the people in order to aid them “in publicity, branding and fund collection” ahead of elections in the state.
The RSS was one of the many organisations working in the area. Others included volunteers from a nearby Gurdwara and an association of jewellers in Burra Bazar. But with two photographs of RSS volunteers — showing the formation of a human chain to aid rescue operations — being extensively shared on social media, other parties have alleged that there was an attempt by the right-wing organisation to ‘hijack” the rescue operations.
At around 11 pm Thursday, the volunteers – conspicuous in their white shirts and khaki shorts – fanned out into the neighbourhood, speaking to locals. One of the volunteers said, “We are all obviously BJP supporters. But there is a reason. Do you see anyone from the Left or the TMC helping here? This has always been the RSS ethos and is the ideology of the BJP. People should remember this while voting.”
State urban development minister Firhad Hakim maintained silence on the issue, focusing instead on ensuring that relief work was carried out properly. But police sources betrayed the TMC’s nervousness at the increasing reach of the RSS and BJP in the area. “The police have been instructed to videograph everything. The entire operation is being watched at the control room live, with special emphasis on politicians and the RSS,” a source said.
Mohammad Salim, CPM MP and a politburo member, said, “The RSS doesn’t ever actually aid in relief work. What they do is create a virtual reality of themselves helping, which they then use for publicity, branding and fund collection. These photographs are being circulated by them to make it seem like they are the only ones helping, besides the army. They are doing this keeping elections in mind.”
He added, “The RSS has a network in this area of schools, libraries and other organisations through which they spread their message of hatred. After visiting the site, we immediately gave the call for blood donation and other aid. But we were prevented from extending helping by the administration; the RSS, however, wasn’t. We have always maintained that there is a silent understanding between the TMC and the RSS.”
The RSS, on the other hand, maintained that theirs was a “truly humanitarian response”. “We are not concerned with politics. This is only to help those in need,” Basu said.