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Farmers’ protest: RSS starts outreach programme in Punjab

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 22-02-2021 Smriti Kak Ramachandran
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Demonstrators raising slogans at the Ghazipur border protest site in New Delhi. (Sakib Ali/HT Photo) © Provided by Hindustan Times Demonstrators raising slogans at the Ghazipur border protest site in New Delhi. (Sakib Ali/HT Photo)

Concerned by the possibility of a pro-secession movement gaining ground in Punjab and the fear of hostility between Hindus and Sikhs, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has mobilised its cadre to carry out outreach programmes in the border state. The outreach is aimed at dispelling “misunderstandings” about the farm laws and to impress upon the need to insulate the ongoing farmers’ stir from pro-secession groups, said functionaries aware of the details.

A section of farmers from Punjab have been demanding the three new farm laws be repealed, though the agitation has also been joined by farmers’ groups from Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, where influential Jat Khaps have also lent their support to the agitation. The Sangh, however, is worried by the agitation being used to stoke the pro-Khalistan sentiment.

Also Read | Will soon visit Gujarat to mobilise support for farmers’ protest: Rakesh Tikait

“There are some farmers who have been led to believe that because of the new laws they will lose ownership of their land or the government is withdrawing minimum support price for their crops. While there are some genuine concerns that the government is ready to discuss, a misinformation campaign was deliberately carried out. The agitation has now been taken over by vested interests, who are not worried about the farmers, but are driven by other motives,” said a senior functionary, requesting anonymity.

At meetings with local leaders, Sangh functionaries have underlined the need to differentiate between the pro-farmer groups and individuals and organisations known to support the Khalistan movement. “Punjab lived through tumultuous times in the 1980s when terrorists killed thousands of innocent people. Nobody wants those days to return,” said the functionary quoted above.

The Sangh also sees a “pattern” in how agitations are used to create hostility between communities. “When the Citizenship Amendment Act was formed, a misinformation campaign began that it would lead to Muslim citizens losing their citizenship. Similarly, famers from Punjab are being used to drive the agenda of anti-national forces,” said the functionary.

The outreach, however, is not easy. At least two incidents of violent attacks at Shakhas were reported in February in Punjab’s Baltana. Many functionaries have had to face angry responses, especially in rural areas, said a second functionary.

“There are some organisations that have, over the years, created doubts about the Sangh. Sometimes this takes a violent turn and we have lost people too, but we are confident of overcoming this,” said the second functionary.

Though he did not name names, the second functionary was referring to the friction between the Akal Takht, which serves as the five seats of Sikh religious authority, and the Sangh that has not abated over the years. The Takht accuses the RSS of trying to subsume the Sikh identity with that of the Hindus, even as the Sangh has denied the charge. They object to the Sangh identifying Sikhs as Hindus.

The Takht has also accused the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat—an offshoot of the Sangh formed in 1986 with the intent of building ties between Sikhs and the Hindus in the aftermath of the 1984 riots—of colluding with the RSS to gain control over the Sikh religious bodies.

The Sangh’s latest outreach to build bridges between communities is a throwback to the 1980s when the third RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras had asked for full-time volunteers drawn from each state to be deputed to Punjab.

The ongoing agitation and the consequent disruption of shakhas in the state have also led to concern that the functionaries could be sitting ducks for physical attacks. Asked whether the Sangh has requested for security at the shakhas and its offices, the second functionary said the issue will be discussed with the authorities.

“The authorities are aware of the threat perception to the Sangh functionaries. Over the years there have been several attacks; since 2014 at least five senior functionaries have been killed. But the Sangh has continued its work. Even after the bloody attack of 1989, our work did not stop,” said the second functionary.

In 1989, terrorists attacked a shakha in Moga killing 27 Swayamsevaks or volunteers; the death toll rose to over 40 after the injured succumbed.

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