As the Bharatiya Janata Party government gets ready to make a political show out of next month’s Ardh-Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has quietly accelerated a massive exercise to hijack the Hindu religious gathering in order to whip up a saffron tide ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The RSS, the BJP’s parent organisation, has started training thousands of its volunteers who would be deployed in the Ardh-Kumbh Mela area. An Ardh-Kumbh mela is one that is held every six years. The RSS has also asked most of its affiliates to take part in the six-week-long event, which will start from 14 January next year.
“It is not yet decided whether swayamsevaks”—RSS volunteers—“will be deployed in uniform,” Nandlal, the RSS’s vibhag karyavah, or unit head, of Varanasi North, told me while elaborating on the preparations of the RSS to make a first-of-its-kind intervention in the Kumbh Mela. “A decision in this regard will be taken by the Sangh’s central leadership by the end of this month.”
Varanasi North is one of 25 regional units that comprise the Kashi “prant,” which is one of the six artificial divisions of Uttar Pradesh that the RSS has created for the Sangh Parivar’s organisational purposes. The 25 units of the Kashi prant have been carved out of 18 districts in eastern and central UP, including Prayagraj, Varanasi, Jaunpur, Bhadohi, Ballia, and other nearby areas.
“It has been decided that each vibhag of Kashi prant will deploy six to seven hundred swayamsevaks during the Kumbh Mela. They are being trained in crowd management and in various ways they can help people who get separated from their families and relatives,” Nandlal said, adding that the RSS cadres would pay special attention to elderly visitors. “One of the highlights of the Sangh’s activities will be setting up of a large number of eye check-up camps in the Kumbh Mela area where swayamsevaks will distribute one lakh spectacles to the needy pilgrims.”
To top it all, a play will be staged during the Ardh-Kumbh Mela showcasing the history of the RSS. The play is titled “Sangham Sharanam Gacchami,” a reference to a Buddhist prayer translated as “I go to the Sangha for refuge.” It is unlikely to dwell on anything that the RSS wants to conceal.