Gyms on Panchayat Land in Haryana to be Used for RSS 'Shakhas'

Haryana minister's statement comes soon after Hindu outfits disrupted Friday prayers in Gurgaon, followed by chief minister Khattar's remark that 'namaz' should be read in mosques rather than in 'public spaces'.

New Delhi: Haryana chief minister M.L. Khattar may have raised objections on the use of ‘public spaces’ for namaz, but the BJP-led state government headed by him seems to have no issues with the RSS expanding its footprint by using government gyms made on panchayat land to hold shakhas to propagate ‘Hindu’ culture and ethos in rural areas.

At the inauguration of a state-sponsored gymnasium in Panchkula recently, Haryana agriculture minister Om Prakash Dhankar recently announced that the state government planned to set up gymnasiums on two-acre panchayati land in every village where the youth can practise yoga, wrestling and games like volleyball and kabaddi and also do some weight training, according to a report in India Today .

Earlier, State education minister Ram Bilas Sharma had also said that gyms being set by the government would also be used as RSS units. In fact, Dhankar was asked the question in that context, the report aid.

Meanwhile, more Haryana ministers have backed Dhankar, making clear the Haryana government’s push for the expansion of the Rahsriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the state. Food and supplies minister Karan Dev Kamboj said “Shakhas don’t indulge in any activity which prohibits gyms from being used as RSS units. I don’t think there is anything wrong in using gyms as shakhas. RSS shakhas have been in existence since 1925.” Incidentally, RSS shakhas are an all-male

Thereafter, yet another minister jumped up in support. Sports and youth affairs minister Anil Vij said, “Out of the target of setting up 1,000 gymnasiums, 300 have already been opened. We are in the process of hiring yoga trainers. Besides that, the youth will be trained in kabaddi, wrestling and volleyball,” adding that “What’s wrong in RSS holding shakhas there?”, the India Today report said.

These statements by the Haryana ministers come close on the heels of chief minister Khattar’s suggesting that namaz should not be held in ‘public spaces’. His statement came soon after Hindu outfits disrupted Friday namaz, mainly observed by migrant workers in Delhi’s satellite city, Gurgaon.

According to a NewsClick report on the urban planning disaster in Haryana’s Gurgaon, only 6% land has been left for ‘public use’ as 67% is occupied by homes, shops, offices and industry.

Meanwhile, reacting to Khattar’s statement, the Opposition accused the BJP government of promoting RSS ideology in the state on the pretext of setting up gyms for the youth.

Haryana Congress MLA Karan Singh Dalal said, “If the education minister (Sharma) says RSS workers will set up shakhas at gyms, it is highly condemnable. Using government funds to promote RSS agenda is a criminal conspiracy”,  the India Today report said.

An erstwhile ally of the BJP, the Indian National Lok Dal, too, voiced its opposition to the move. Praveen Attrey, state spokesperson of the party, questioned the use of state property by a private organisation. “The gyms are government property and RSS is a private organisation. How can a private organisation use state property to promote its agenda? If the state government believes that it can use government property to promote RSS agenda, it is highly condemnable,” he said.

According to a report in The Hindu, RSS general secretary Suresh (Bhaiyyaji) Joshi said at an Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Nagpur in March this year that 8,967 shakhas are functional at 37,190 places across the country. The number in 2017 stood at 57,165, functional at 36,729 locations, the report said.