For a change, RSS not shying from accepting role in BJP’s Kerala toehold

  • Smriti Kak Ramachandran, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 20, 2016 16:35 IST
Volunteers of the Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) take part in the "Path-Sanchalan", or Volunteer March. (REUTERS)

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which credits the “resurgence of the nationalistic movement” in the country for helping BJP gain a toehold in the Left bastion of Kerala and for winning Assam, is not shying from admitting its own contribution to help its protégé.

After the assembly election results were announced on Thursday, the Sangh--which otherwise insists on being called a cultural organisation--shed its diffidence in admitting it helped the BJP.

“Election outcomes do not determine the Sangh’s work but, yes, positive changes (electoral gains) enthuse our workers,” a senior RSS functionary told Hindustan Times.

Read: Poll results: It’s an all-time high for us, says Jaitley on BJP’s win in Assam

The RSS, which runs the highest number of Shakhas (5,000) in the state, has been zealously working to breach the Left’s firewall in Kerala. BJP won it’s first ever assembly seat in the state and increased its voter share to a double digit here.

The Sangh’s biggest concern about the state is its “changing demography”, which fuels worries over “increasing religious conversions” and a “decreasing Hindu population.

“When we began work in the State, people mocked us; they said Nagpur oranges don’t grow in Kerala (RSS is headquartered in Nagpur). But our positive work in the state has been recognised. We worked undeterred by ridicule, neglect and physical attacks,” a functionary in Kerala said.

Read: BJP’s O Rajagopal wins from Nemom, gives BJP its first seat in Kerala assembly

A similar exercise was carried out in Assam, with an emphasis on reaching out to the economically weaker sections as well as the tribals. Special schools in the tribal areas and programmes through the Vanvasi Kalayan Ashram helped the Sangh pave the way for the BJP.

A senior RSS functionary said, unlike in Kerala, there is greater acceptance for the Sangh in Assam and rest of the North East.

The Sangh’s focus however was Kerala.

The first signs of the Sangh steering the BJP’s election campaign in the state was the appointment of K Rajasekheran, an erstwhile RSS pracharak as the party’s state president. This was followed up by fielding some active RSS workers as candidates in the Assembly election, the most notable being Sadanand Master, who lost his legs in an alleged Left-incited attack.

On the ground, there were more boots than ever. Karyakartas (workers) were trained to canvass for an alternative to the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Left Democratic Front (LDF), which have dominated the political scene in the state for decades on end.

“There are several issues that the BJP-backed by the Sangh flagged, such as poor employment avenues, lack of development and the unbridled violence perpetrated by the Left,” the functionary said.

Attention was drawn to gory incidents of hacking, maiming and injuring those sympathetic to the RSS-BJP combine, as the Sangh set out to consolidate the Hindu vote.

Read: P Vijayan to be Kerala CM, Achuthanandan to get cabinet post: Party sources

Borrowing from the Sangh’s Hindutva card, the BJP forged ties with the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, representing the Ezhava community, the so-called backward Hindus. The followers of saint-philosopher Sri Ramanuja, an exponent of Vaishnavism, were wooed with the intention of dispelling the notion that the RSS perpetuated casteism.

While the BJP tried to focus its campaign around a “development agenda”, the RSS did not demur from raising the issues of “love jihad” and “beef eating”, both pitched as deliberate attempts to marginalise the Hindus.

With an emphasis on reviving temple festivals and religious ceremonies in ‘God’s Own Country’, as Kerala is hard-sold to tourists, the RSS set out to break the jinx of the BJP not ever winning a seat in the Kerala Assembly or winning a Lok Sabha constituency.

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