The Bhartiya Janata Party’s (BJP) biggest defeat in Delhi was due to the non-participation of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in its campaign. RSS campaigning always made difference to BJP in elections. Finally, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) versus Nitish-Lalu led ‘Mahagathbandhan’ fight in Bihar sharpens, the RSS has decided to step up its help to BJP — by deploying pracharaks who have been instructed to frame the election as a matter of ‘Hindu self-esteem’. The BJP’s origin lie in the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, popularly known as the Jana Sangh, founded by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee in 1951 in response to the politics of the dominant Congress Party. It was founded in collaboration with RSS, and was widely regarded to be the political wing of the RSS. Jana Sangh’s aims included the protection of India’s “Hindu” cultural identity, in addition to countering what it perceived to be the appeasement of Muslim people and the country of Pakistan by the Congress party and then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The RSS loaned several of its leading pracharaks, or full-time workers, to the Jana Sangh to get the new party off the ground. Prominent among these was Deendayal Upadhyaya, who was appointed General Secretary. The Jana Sangh won only three Lok Sabha seats in the first general elections in 1952. It maintained a minor presence in parliament until 1967. In the 2014 general election, the BJP won 282 seats, leading the NDA to a tally of 336 seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha. The vote share of the BJP was 31% of all votes cast, a low figure relative to the number of seats it won. This was the first instance since 1984 of a single party achieving an outright majority in the Indian Parliament and the first time that it achieved a majority in the Lok Sabha on its own strength. It’s RSS that played the vital role in focusing on these 32 per cent hard core Hindu votes to BJP.
Now working on the same lines, a BJP – Sangh cadres are telling voters in Bihar, only a vote for BJP will keep Hindus ‘safe’. The campaign is focusing mainly on Dalits. In a meeting held late Sunday evening between senior RSS leaders Krishna Gopal and Dattatreya Hosbale and 70 Sangh seniors, the strategy on framing Bihar elections as a “Hindu swabhimaan ka chunav” (an election for Hindu self-esteem) was given concrete shape. Sangh is now campaigning in Bihar’s Seemanchal area. Sangh’s duty for the polls is to ensure proper coordination and communication among RSS and BJP workers in Katihar, Purnia and Kishanganj. Pracharaks’ door-to-door campaigning includes telling people about what Sangh describes as “five different kinds of Muslims” – Suryavanshi, Parchaiyya, Bangladeshi, Deshi and Shias.
They are telling Hindus that some Muslims such as the Deshi and Suryavanshi are not aggressive. Their living style is similar to Hindus. Their women wear sarees. However, those from western UP and other parts (parchaiyya) or Bangladeshis have done harm to the country before. The point is to make Hindus vote for the BJP that will keep them safe in the country. The Sangh’s campaign on Hindu ‘self-esteem’ is using what RSS strategists think is a potent gesture – in Siwan, Kishanganj, for example, Sangh leaders are asking voters to swear by the cow that they will vote for BJP. BR Ambedkar is the other Sangh pitch – in areas like Rajgir, Phulwari and Masaurhi, RSS campaigners are consistently talking about the Sangh’s efforts to popularise Ambedkar. Groups of RSS campaigners, armed with photos of Ambedkar, insist on sharing some food – usually misri (crystallised sugar lumps) – with members of a Dalit household, and tell household members that the Sangh doesn’t believe in caste discrimination.
Campaigners are also co-opting Nitish Kumar – saying good work during Kumar’s chief ministership was thanks to his then ally BJP holding portfolios such as public works, finance and urban development
There are 1,200 RSS shakhas across Bihar. Five swayamsevaks from each shakha have been given poll responsibility. All political parties and their associates indulge in some or the other form of voter-profiling. This usually takes the shape of targeted messaging of policies aimed at groups of voters. So, the RSS highlighting the BJP’s role in ensuring good governance under Nitish Kumar or reaching out at Dalit voters is understandable. However, the RSS does the BJP no favour by linking Muslims and their alleged ‘propensity for terrorism’ in an effort to rally Hindu voters. The RSS is undermining the message that the PM has sought to highlight: the real enemy is poverty.
After the 1st and 2nd phase of elections, grand alliance position seems to be strong. This time winning the election in Bihar for BJP is very difficult. However, let’s see what RSS’s magic can do for them.