The RSS men fostering BJP’s Bengal parivar

In the high-stakes battle for Bengal, Shiv Prakash, an RSS pracharak, has been practically permanently stationed in Bengal. “After coming to the BJP I have spent more than 60% time in the state,” Prakash told The Indian Express.

The BJP’s West Bengal campaign is composed of many parts. A crucial one is the little-known Shiv Prakash, an RSS pracharak deputed to the party in 2014 soon after he had overseen its sweep of Western Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. With former ABVP leader Arvind Menon, Prakash has set the framework for the BJP in the state, working behind the scenes.

In December, Prakash, 53, was asked by BJP president J P Nadda to move his headquarters from Delhi, and give “special attention” to Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, besides West Bengal. However, in the high-stakes battle for Bengal, he has been practically permanently stationed in Bengal. “After coming to the BJP I have spent more than 60% time in the state,” Prakash told The Indian Express.

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In the past more than four months, he has come to Delhi just to attend party meetings. Originally from UP, Prakash is now fluent in Bangla, and knows statistics across the state like the back of his hand.

Hailing from a Thakur family of Moradabad, Prakash became an RSS pracharak in 1986. In 2000, he was appointed prant pracharak of Uttarakhand, and then kshetra pracharak of Western UP (including Uttarakhand). After he proved his organisational skills in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, he was moved to the BJP as the joint general secretary (organisation). He was first given charge of Odisha, before the party decided it needed him more for West Bengal. A few months later, Prakash was made in-charge of the BJP’s organisational affairs in West Bengal.

If national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, the BJP Bengal in-charge, is its public face in the state, Prakash is credited with building the party grassroots up. A BJP national secretary, Arvind Menon is one of the two co-incharges in West Bengal of the party.

Since 2015, when Prakash first came to Bengal, the BJP has set up committees at most of the 78,000 original booths in the state (the number has since been increased to enforce Covid norms). Prakash claims to have inducted as many as 17,500 short-time booth workers alone, with the booths split into over 12,000 “Shakti Kendras (power centres)”, a unit devised by him.

“Like the Lok Sabha polls, this time too we have vistaraks in every Assembly segment… Initially people were scared of joining the BJP… Now we have no scarcity of workers,” Prakash says.

His RSS links have also helped Prakash coordinate better with other Sangh organisations working in the state. Pracharaks of other states have pitched in for the West Bengal polls, for example Sunil Bansal from UP and Ratnakar Pandey from Bihar.

Prakash says keeping a low profile has helped him carry on working in Bengal’s violence-ridden politics, and that he has travelled the whole state many times without security.

When in Delhi, he lives in an accommodation in the backyard of 11-A, Ashoka Road, the official residence of BJP Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar Gopal Narayan Singh.

Menon, a Malayali Nair from Varanasi, also speaks Bangla fluently. He started out in the Sangh Parivar as an ABVP worker in Indore, later moving to the BJP Yuva Morcha. It was as part of the BJP Yuva Morcha that he first came to Bengal, touring the state extensively.

Close to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, he was first shifted to Delhi in 2016 following some controversy. But he has long put this behind him.

Menon is said to have played a crucial role in the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections.

In 2018, he was named national secretary and assigned to West Bengal. Menon’s main role has been bridging the gap between the BJP’s old guard and new in the state.

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