The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Click for full image

By Arnab Mondal for The Telagraph

Soibal Dasgupta is very excited. The 26-year-old slipped into the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and became a temporary insider a little over a year ago to fathom its workings and write a novel, possibly a play too, based on his experiences. Dasgupta’s literary work will happen when it will, in the meantime a series of exposés by him have been published in the National Herald.

One report has led to the recent arrest of Santosh Kumar, former district convener of the BJP trade cell in Bengal’s South 24-Parganas district. According to Dasgupta, Kumar has since confessed to his involvement in planning and executing terror activities via social media posts, and also accepted that there were plans to stoke sectarian trouble after the Shastra Puja, or arms worship, on Vijaya Dashami. It was, apparently, the revenge of the saffron forces for the Trinamul government’s decision to impose restrictions on idol immersion on October 1, keeping the Muharram tazias or processions in mind. Following Dasgupta’s tip-off, a number of miscreant cells were busted.

In the summer of 2016, Dasgupta signed up as an RSS volunteer. He tells The Telegraph, “I got inside somewhat casually. I was curious about how they brainwash children in their schools with their ideas of Hindu-ism and Indian history. I had no clue about their plans to foment trouble and trigger violence in the state. It was just a ploy to research and collect material for my play.”

Dasgupta had been bitten by the theatre bug some years ago. In 2014, after completing his BTech from an engineering college in Punjab, he joined the Jana Natya Manch – popularly referred to as Janam – a New Delhi-based amateur theatre company founded in the 1970s by a group of radical youth, including slain theatre activist Safdar Hashmi. Dasgupta’s parents were not thrilled with these goings on, but there they were.

He recounts how he participated in a play in which a minister spoke about Lord Ganesha as the product of the world’s first head transplant, and the Qutb Minar as the Vishnu Stambh. “The audience would be in splits, but I discovered that these distortions had been included in textbooks used in RSS-affiliated schools. I was intrigued. I wanted to explore this in detail,” Dasgupta adds.

Moloyashree Hashmi, secretary of Janam, remembers Dasgupta. “He was with us for a short while and told me he was writing some plays, but I don’t know the details. Those were his own plays, his personal ventures. We lost touch with him as he changed phone numbers and probably left Delhi,” she says. Dasgupta had to leave Janam and erase a few things of his past to create a new persona to penetrate the Sangh.

Around this time, he came across some pieces on the website run by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT), that described in detail how education and culture were getting communalised in RSS-affiliated schools such as Vidya Bharati and Saraswati Shishu Mandir. Dasgupta then approached some of these schools in Delhi. He wanted to talk to the teachers and, if possible, the students. And that is when he discovered that rank outsiders like him were not even allowed into the campuses, forget talk to anyone there. “That was when I decided to infiltrate the Sangh,” he says.

For signing up, Dasgupta had to assume a new identity. Thus was born Saibal Majumdar, member of the RSS’s student wing, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, and wannabe full-blown Sanghi. He submitted an electronic application to the effect.

“I was lucky, because at that time they were desperately looking for fresh recruits to gain ground in Bengal. I was fluent in English and Hindi and they liked it,” says Dasgupta. He brushed up on his knowledge of Hindu theology and thoroughly researched the RSS ideology. “A series of telephonic interviews followed. Initially, they were a bit wary – they suspected I was a journalist – but eventually I was asked to join a shakha at Chinar Park in east Calcutta.”

The first few months were spent doing “light physical exercises” and developing general discipline. New recruits were made aware of the greatness of Hindu culture. This was the first level. At the second level, they were told about the superiority of “Hindi-Hindus-Hindustan”, as opposed to diversity across India. The third and the final stage appealed to one’s fears. Says Dasgupta, “They infused a sense of victimhood – that minorities are going to kill you and you have to fight back for survival. They spoke about the importance of casteism.”

He also noticed how indoctrination techniques varied with the audience – one set for urban youth, another for rural youth. “With educated urban youth, they [pracharaks] talk about nationalism and the glorious past of India, and reserve for the rural youth, false propaganda and fake news denigrating the minority.”

The eye-opener, however, came some months later – at the time of the World Ayurvedic Congress (WAC), a seminar organised by the RSS in Calcutta. Dasgupta says it became clear to him there, the deep hatred harboured by top Sangh leaders for Bengalis. “They hate the culture and intellect of Bengalis. One top leader even commented that Bengalis are lesser Hindus and their culture cannot be termed culture but a social deformity… Sanskriti nahi, vikriti hai (it’s not culture, it’s distortion),” he says. “They feel that Bengalis are cowards as they didn’t seek revenge on the minorities despite suffering Partition atrocities.” Dasgupta claims he has recording of all these talks. He also has screenshots of the hate propaganda material.

In time, Dasgupta discovered that fringe groups like Hindu Samhati were working in collusion with the Sangh on spreading communal propaganda. But in public, the Hindu Samhati describes itself as a “non-political grassroots organisation addressing human rights issues for oppressed Hindus”. All phone calls, emails and text messages from The Telegraph to its founder and leader, Tapan Ghosh, remained unanswered. His Twitter profile reads, “Uncompromising Hindu activist of Bengal, determined to fight against Islamic aggression and expansion.” However, in an interview this April, Ghosh had said that although he had been an RSS member since he was 13, he was quitting the organisation as he was “disillusioned by its functioning and straying from the founding principles”. Thereafter, the RSS insisted it had nothing to do with him.

Dasgupta believes this is the strategy of the RSS-BJP combine whenever it wants to distance itself from a member who has either exposed them or been arrested himself. Recently, Santosh Kumar too was expelled from the party after his arrest. A party leader even suggested that he might be unhinged.

Following the WAC, Dasgupta decided to expose the hate campaigns and crime brewing inside the Sangh in Bengal. He started a Facebook page, “Anonymous Secularist”, but when he stumbled upon plans to plant bombs and gather weapons and make trouble, he took things to the next level.

Not unexpectedly, both the BJP and the RSS are in a state of denial. “They are trying to find out what the political forces behind me are,” says Dasgupta, who is aware of the dangers looming large over him. But he has no regrets, no fears either. He says, “I still have my sources deep inside the rank and file of the Sangh. Some of them are disgruntled, others are deeply dissatisfied with the nefarious design to divide and rule. They will keep me forewarned.”

Next on Dasgupta’s agenda is to reveal more in an upcoming book by the end of the year.

(The article was first published in  The Telagraph)