Foot Soldiers of the Sangh – The Big Story News

A group of students attached to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), sit at two counters in the arts faculty of Delhi University (DU).

One is on the main pathway outside the faculty and the other, just a few metres away, in the office of the ABVP, the university’s elected students’ union. Their job: to identify, enrol and educate new voters on the eve of the 2019 general election. As new voters, mostly 18- to 20-year-olds, walk in to fill up the forms, they can’t escape the literature, or the handwritten posters on the office walls. One of them says Vote for a strong leadership, vote for a better India’, another goes How’s the josh? Go and vote, Sir’, echoing the line from Uri, the film on the so-called surgical strikes’ in September 2016.

The posters have one thing in com­mon. They don’t say vote Modi’ or vote BJP’ directly, but they do draw on the prime minister’s punch lines.

One poster is quite direct: Want revenge for Pulwama. Vote for a new India.’ All this notwithstanding the Supreme Court directive on not using the army for campaign purposes. But this is obviously campaigning Sangh Parivar style. Says Siddharth Sharma, a local ABVP leader: We never take names, we only talk about issues. Priya Sharma, a political science student and ABVP worker, adds that most students who come here go back fairly impressed by our focused approach to issues.

And there are many converts. Sapna Sankhla, 19, daughter of a grocery shop owner and a first-time voter, is fairly imp­ressed with the ABVP’s approach: My vote is for the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an honest, sincere man and he has brought transparency to the government. Shubham Goel, a third-year BCom student at the Shri Ram College of Commerce and also a first-time voter, concurs: On most issues, the opposition seems to be criticising Modi for no reason. Like they keep talking about women’s empowerment and safety, but it is the NDA which has done the most in this area, right from banning triple talaq to making child rape punishable by death.

THE ANTI-NATIONAL DEBATE

The RSS leadership believes incidents like the Jawaharlal Nehru University anti-India’ slogans incident in Delhi in 2016 when sedition charges were brought against students’ union leaders, the Dalit uprisings in the north of the country in 2017, apart from Bhima-Koregaon (in Maharashtra), have created a deep divide.

It feels that this and the ambivalent stand taken by many political parties dependent on Muslim votes have turned the 2019 Lok Sabha battle into one between nationalist’ and anti-nationalist’ forces. BJP president Amit Shah attended the three-day annual RSS Pratinidhi Sabha in Gwalior on March 9 and 10 and remained closeted with the Sangh leadership.

To help the BJP prevail, the RSS plans to unleash the huge numbers that make up the Sangh Parivar constituents like the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (the RSS’s tribal body), Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Sewa Bharati (a social service body) and 30-odd smaller outfits. Together, they constitute a mammoth 30-35 million people, a crucial cog in the BJP’s electoral war machine.

Arun Kumar, who heads the all-important national publicity wing of the RSS, says, This is no more a battle between parties, it’s a battle between ideologies. On one side are forces with a nationalist ideology, on the other, those driven by alien considerations. Sangh Parivar leaders also feel that to press through with their unfinished agenda, it is essential that the BJP returns to power. One thing going for the BJP is that PM Modi and Shah have maintained a smooth relationship with the RSS and its constituents. They share a much better relationship with the RSS brass than A.B. Vajpayee ever did during NDA-I.

An action that has particularly endeared Modi to the parent organisation has been the aggressive use of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) to stop funds to NGOs working on secularist agendas or for minority rights (some 11,000 have not been able to renew their licences). The deliberate strategy involved the feint of banning a few Hindu outfits too, as camouflage.

CAMPAIGN MODE

The Sangh Parivar campaign has taken a different strategy so far. Modi, Shah or the BJP are not overtly mentioned, instead they have gone to the voter with four questionswhat have we (Indians) got in the 60-year rule of the Congress? Why is the opposition discriminating on the basis of religion to get minority votes? Why are they not allowing the Ram temple in Ayodhya? Which party is better equipped to secure our borders and protect our national security? The questions were apparently designed targeting the non-committed voter.

Meanwhile, the RSS’s own informal electoral network continues its work among the masses. It starts with the sarsanghchalak and goes down to the grassroots level through 11 zonal pracharaks and 42 prant pracharaks (the Indian states are divided into 42 prants for operational purposes). An important part of the campaign is to reduce the number of NOTA (invalid) votes after an internal analysis suggested it was the main reason for the BJP losing the assembly election in Madhya Pradesh. It seems the BJP’s upper caste vote bank had used NOTA to protest the party’s confused reaction after the Dalit riots, especially the strengthening of the anti-atrocity law to woo the backward community.

The Sangh Parivar is taking the NOTA issue quite seriously, fearing that left-wing NGOs have started a similar anti-Modi campaign, where they don’t ask people to vote for the opposition but advocate NOTA as the Modi government has not delivered on its promises’. Delhi ABVP general secretary Siddharth Yadav blames the urban Naxals, saying the Leftists have been using the strategy in their fortress, JNU in Delhi, for years. As proof, he points to how the NOTA votes cast have been more than those secured by the Congress’s student body, the National Students’ Union of India. The ABVP, he says, is holding nukkad nataks (street plays) to drive home the message of voting for a strong India.

The ABVP will figure prominently in the RSS’s poll strategy for the BJP this election. The student outfit is reportedly active in 10,000 colleges across India with about 400,000 active mem­bers. Sunil Ambekar, the ABVP national organisation secretary, says with some pride, When it comes to swaying public opinion in India’s youth politics, we are a force to reckon with.

Still, the BJP cannot take the RSS’s support for granted. Arun Kumar exp­lains, The cadre are not blind followers, but an amalgam of committed citizens. Our focus is that people should vote 100 per cent in the national interest. Sangh sources point to the example of L.K. Advani who, despite being the face of the 2009 campaign, was not cut any slack by the cadre after his transgression of praising Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

Sources in Sewa Bharati, the RSS’s social service organisation which has some 160,000 projects going on around the country, is also geared up to help the party. So are affiliates like the BKS and BMS, despite differences over Modi’s farm and labour policies. Says an RSS man leading one of these organisations, The biggest thing going for Modi is his clean image. Minor irritants like the Ram temple issue have hence become secondary. He has been able to convince us that constructing it through the legislation route, at this stage, would be counter-productive. It’s a different matter that the apex court has now left the matter to the mediators. In the meantime, the saffron army is warming up to its task of getting Modi and the BJP a second crack at the Centre.


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