The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has decided to divert its resources from Punjab and Uttar Pradesh to focus on the other three poll-bound states: Manipur, Uttarakhand and Goa.
The move could hurt the BJP’s electoral prospects in the two bigger and politically crucial states, which among the five voting for a new government this February and March.
With a committed cadre at the grassroots, the Sangh plays a vital role in mobilising public opinion in favour of the BJP and deploys its vast machinery to help the party on the day of polling.
The official line, however, is that the RSS does not get involved in elections.
The RSS, the BJP’s ideological fount, is not happy with the way the party is attempting social engineering in UP on caste lines, sources said. The Sangh long-held belief is that caste divisions are a hindrance to larger Hindu unity.
The BJP has returned to the Hindutva agenda, but its core poll strategy revolved around caste equations with aggressive wooing of non-Yadav other backward classes and non-Jatav Dalits in UP.
Caste was the main criterion in the selection of party candidates and this does not have the Sangh’s sanction.
In Punjab, the RSS has strong issues with the BJP’s coalition partner, the Shiromani Akali Dal.
These factors prompted the RSS to opt for a passive role in UP and Punjab. It would rather focus on Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.
“The cadre in these states (UP and Punjab) will do its bit, but there is no intensive planning. Besides, the BJP has a strong cadre base in these states and so, it should not be a problem for the party to mobilise votes,” an RSS functionary said, seeking to play down its decision not to be pro-active in UP and Punjab.
The organisation wants the party to coalesce the Hindu vote, instead of following the “caste-based” politics of the Samajawadi Party and the BSP.
The RSS’s attempts to woo Sikhs in Punjab through its outfit, Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, have not gone down well with the Akalis, who see the move as an attempt to overshadow the Sikh identity by including them in the Hindu fold.
“The Sangh was not happy with the drug problem in Punjab; it also has concerns about growing presence of Christian missionaries in the state, particularly along the border. Another area of contention is the periodic threat of the Khalistan-movement reviving,” an RSS functionary from the Punjab unit said.
In Uttarakhand , the seat of a large number of Hindu pilgrimage sites, the focus is on consolidation of the community against the growing presence of missionaries.
The state’s proximity to China is another reason why the Sangh is keen on aiding the BJP in the hill state.
In Goa, the cadre have been asked to redouble efforts to keep the debutant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress out and ensure there is no mixed signal to “Hindu” voters after senior Sangh leader Subhash Velingkar broke away to float his own party. Velingkar has accused the BJP-RSS of appeasing the former Portuguese colony’s “English-speaking” population.
As was done for Assam and Kerala, the Sangh’s dyed-in-the-wool cadre has been progressively paving the way for the BJP’s ascendance in Manipur. The Sangh and the BJP are working together to stop Congress chief minister Ibobi Singh getting a fourth term in Manipur.
Considered the architects of the Assam win, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav and election strategist Rajat Sethi have been anchoring the poll process in the northeastern state with Sangh functionaries.
With limited grassroots presence in Manipur, the Sangh is counting on the “Hindu vote”, making overtures towards the majority Meiteis who control 40 seats in the Valley, without ruffling sentiments of the hill tribes having 20 seats.
“When the party began campaigning in Assam, no one thought it could pose a challenge to the Congress, but the Sangh cadre had been preparing the ground and the results were for all to see,” a source said.
In the three states, the Sangh is overseeing work at every booth and the cadre had been instructed to downplay caste fractures.