They walk the narrow streets of cities and towns in twos and threes and come knocking on the door of voters at regular intervals. On the margins of a high-decibel battle for votes in Bihar, a silent army of women volunteers from the Durga Vahini – an affiliate of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) – are fanning out across the poll-bound state to win over supporters for the BJP.
It is soft women power on show in the run-up to the high-stakes elections in Bihar. The women volunteers do not directly talk politics, but do spread the message of nationalism and Indian culture. Bereft of any shrill that characterizes normal electioneering, they are organising community meetings, prabhat pheris and satsangs (religious congregations) instead to propagate ideals identified with the saffron party.
When you confront them, the Durga Vahini activists vehemently deny association or support to any particularly political party, insisting they only support the “national cause”. What is left unsaid is their campaign to win over hearts and minds will only help the BJP the most.
“We are making them aware of the nationalist issues, but in a way you can say that we are also guiding them,” says Anita Singh, an office-bearer of the Bhagalpur unit of Durga Vahini. She has been actively associated with the outfit since 1989.
“We only talk about rashtra-hit (national cause) and support those who share the idea,” concurs Richa Yogmai, Khagaria district coordinator of the Vahini.
Committed to the protection of Rahstra-Dharma and Sanskriti (culture) by bringing about a renaissance in Hindu society, the presence of the outfit is increasingly being felt across most of Bihar’s 38 districts in the run-up to the polls.
Today, Durga Vahini boasts of 30 branches and 300 permanent members, besides hundreds of ordinary members.
Anamika Sinha, 28, is one such dedicated foot-soldier of the Vahini from rural Bihar. Married with two kids, she was indoctrinated into the Hindu-cause five years ago when she started attending neighbourhood Bhagwat Katha sessions. She is now out to transform others.
Professor L N Sharma, chairperson of the Bihar Political Science Association, points out groups like the Durga Vahini have ‘huge’ chances of influencing the minds of women in rural areas. “Women are more religious. Irrespective of the fact whether they know the name of RSS or VHP, when a religious symbol comes, they quickly get associated and do not wait for males to guide them. They have an entirely independent view,” he said.
The Durga Vahini aims to exploit such vulnerability and make significant inroads into the minds of women voters, who constitute 46.65% of the total electorate. Women form a strong support base for Nitish Kumar, the chief minister and BJP rival. If the Vahini can “break into” this support base and win some over to the BJP, it would hurt Nitish badly, observers say.
As elections near, the Vahini is aggressively rolling out more programmes. In October, training camps would be held across all districts, said Anil Kumar, a regional in charge of the VHP in south Bihar.
“In this caste-ridden society with high rate of illiteracy, where women are often guided by males when casting their franchise, the task is cut out for the Vahini members,” said a VHP leader on condition of anonymity.