Inside an RSS office in Varanasi, a man in a spotless kurta is busy with paper-work. He is a pracharak, and his area of work spans across Kashi Prant, a vast region in Uttar Pradesh encompassing 22 districts. He works the phones, and tells visitors that they must all fully work to achieve ‘vijay’ (victory).
He is first cautious about discussing politics, but soon says, “Narendra Modi is working for the whole country, for the rich and the poor. Under Modi, the army’s morale is high. Under Modi, development work has started -- now it needs to get completed. And that is why people of all groups have faith in him. UP will see BJP win with a majority.”
At a time when there has been speculation about differences between the Sangh and the BJP on issues such as ticket distribution and demonetisation, and how actively RSS is involved in the UP campaign, the conversation gives a glimpse into the Sangh’s mood.
Like in 2014, the RSS has deployed its entire machinery to secure a BJP victory, HT has learnt.
This is in accordance with a plan jointly designed back in November. The Sangh’s core message to supporters is that having the same government at both the central and state level will help in the state’s ‘vikas’ (development). Its core mode of functioning is enhancing sampark’, contact, at the booth level, and pushing for higher turnout, among favourable voters in particular. And its senior leadership is directly supervising the mobilisation efforts.
HT spoke to two senior BJP leaders with a Sangh background, five serving RSS pracharaks, and several swayamsevaks , including professors, bureaucrats and businessmen to piece together the story. All, except one businessman, insisted on anonymity.
Amid divergence, the convergence
A major point of contention between sections of the Sangh machinery in UP and BJP was ticket distribution.
A BHU professor, who has been a Sangh insider for over two decades, says that there is a sense in the RSS that the BJP’s political culture is changing -- which will have long-term implications.
“Earlier it was ideology, and then satta, power. Now it is power, then ideology. So winnability has become the only criteria in ticket distribution,” he says.
The professor adds that ticket aspirants are used till the end -- including for mobilising crowds for rallies. “In the process, aspirants end up spending lakhs even before getting the ticket. And then one or two people decide who gets it. This time, for instance, Sangh’s suggestions did not carry as much weight as they did in 2014. Those who don’t get it, including some deserving candidates, are then alienated.”
The BJP acknowledges that there was dissatisfaction and dissent -- including from people within the Sangh -- but this has got overblown.
A senior leader says, “Some individuals may be dissatisfied. They may have wanted tickets for someone, and that did not happen. But the sangathan, the organisation, was not angry at any point.”
He explained there was certain logic to ticket distribution that was explained to the Sangh. There were over 60 seats which BJP has never won in UP. “We needed outsiders for many of these seats to be in the race. Then there were another 20 seats where we were vulnerable -- so again we needed people strong in those seats. When you bring in major leaders, they bring in some supporters who you have to adjust. Then we have had some alliances. So in about 100 seats, we have had to compromise.”
He added that the resentment about ticket distribution had also arisen because the party was in the middle of a transition – and was making an investment in younger leaders, in the mid-40s age bracket, from various communities.
“You will see in each district there are a few such candidates. We are creating new Brahmin, new Vaishya, new Thakur, new OBC, new Pasi leaders. Others have lost out and are upset.”
Despite the differences, the Sangh appears to have come around. The BHU professor admits, “The Sangh is now, in fact, playing a role in managing those who are upset and encouraging them to fulfill their duty and work for the elections. We are 102 percent active.”
The pracharak who works in Purvanchal draws an analogy. He says that the RSS is like the class teacher in a school -- who wants to mark students purely on merit and hard work. “But in politics, you have to see caste, economic strength of candidate. They have to fight elections, not us. So it is finally their job to decide who gets it. We are committed to the larger goal.”
The core funder
The second area which, it was felt, could be a concern was the impact on demonetisation. The Sangh’s core support base is the trader-small businessman class, largely but not exclusively confined to the Vaishya community. There have been murmurs of dissent from this segment, which HT has captured on the election trail. And it is entirely possible that a segment may not vote for BJP.
But since they were adversely affected, has it affected the motivation of the Sangh itself? It does not seem so.
Varun Mehra owns Hotel Swastik Inn near the Dasaswamedh Ghat in Varanasi. He comes from an old Sangh family, and has been a life-long swayamsevak.
He rejects the contention that demonetisation is a factor, and cites the BJP victory in local elections in Mumbai as proof. “We won in the biggest economic hub of the country after notebandi. That should tell you something.”
On the larger Sangh message in this election, he argues, “Among the educated and business classes, there are two major sentiments –that the central and state governments should be the same for development work, and everyone has got a chance and BJP deserves it now.” He says that local pracharaks are actively supporting the BJP campaign, and he too is taking this message to others.
“We are the Sangh. And our culture is not to take selfies while doing something, to avoid cameras. The responsible adult in the family does not say what he is doing. But you can rest assured that we are doing what we did in 2014,” adds Mehra.
The modus operandi
Back in November when the party and the Sangh had its first serious meeting about the elections, it was decided that Sangh would, like in 2014, work quietly and independently, away from the party campaign machinery.
It would focus on two key things – enhancing door-to-door contact at booth level, and encouraging higher turnout. The Sangh then appointed, from within its ranks, a person in charge of each Lok Sabha constituency, and then an in-charge for each assembly constituency.
A pracharak who received instructions from his seniors told HT, “We were told to activate the Matdata Jagrukta Manch, Voters Awareness Forum and go to voters to exercise their duty. We don’t go and tell them who to vote for -- but we say vote for the leader and party that will bring vikas for all, that stands for nationalism, that has secured our borders. It is enough.”
The second step, he said, is to ensure that on polling day itself, in favourable booths, voters turned up.
Before polling day, RSS senior leaders visit the area going to the polls. In Varanasi, for instance, Sangh joint general secretary Krishna Gopal, who knows Purvanchal well, has been convening meetings of workers to get inputs and mobilise them.
The BHU professor says, “You will not see our pracharaks distributing pamphlets, you will not see them at rallies, you will not see them chanting slogans. Their work is different, and they are doing it.”
The BJP leader, who traces his roots to the Sangh, adds that it is obvious to anyone who knows the sangathan that they would work for the cause of this election victory. “After all, Sangh is our mai-baap. None of us would be here if Sangh was not.”