Gujarat elections: RSS cadre reach out to Dalits, Patidars
Foot soldiers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party, are reaching out to voters in poll-bound Gujarat, asking them to participate in the electoral exercise and choose carefully.
RSS workers assert that they do not canvass on behalf of the party, but it is clear whose side they are on.
In Surat for instance, where small diamond and textile traders are unhappy with the BJP for the Goods and Services Tax, the RSS cadre is telling voters that the government is listening to them. The cadre also attributes some of the changes made in the GST regime to a nudge from the RSS.
“The GST Council’s decision to reduce the rates of 177 products and services from the peak rate of 28% to 18% is an example of the government being sensitive to traders’ demands. The decision itself came after (RSS supremo) Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat in his annual Dusshera speech echoed the concerns of medium and small entrepreneurs,” said a senior RSS official who asked not to be named.
The RSS is also reaching out to the Patidars and the Dalits to ensure their disenchantment with the BJP does not affect the election outcome. While the Patidars are demanding reservation in jobs and education, the Dalits have mobilised themselves politically after last year’s incident in Una, where self-styled cow vigilantes flogged a Dalit family.
In the wake of these protests, the Sangh has deployed all its resources to scotch any possibility of a fractured Hindu vote . Its workers, apart from eulogising the merits of a “united Hindu electorate”, are also leveraging the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The RSS has planned meetings across the state to assure Dalits and Patidars that the BJP will make good its promises to address their concerns.“The Patidars must remember that it was the BJP that came up with reservation for the economically backward classes, the Congress is only making empty promises,” said the RSS leader mentioned above.
The EBC quota, as mooted by the BJP government was stayed by the courts; it isn’t clear whether the Congress formula will, if the party is in a position to implement it, pass legal scrutiny.
The RSS’ overtures towards the Dalits and the tribals on behalf of the BJP are also conspicuous. Romel Sutariya of the Adivasi Kisan Sangharsh Morcha said the BJP’s hold on the tribal communities that comprise nearly 15% of the electorate has gone up because of the cultural movement such as Ram Kathas being organised by the RSS and involvement of sects such as the Swaminarayan sect.
At his residence in Anand, Sunil Mehta, secretary of the RSS’s West Zone, said the sampark (meetings) with the electorate, including the Dalits, are only to underline the importance of the electoral exercise.
His response to a question on the rationale behind efforts to talk up a “united Hindu electorate” is only that “developing a vertical split on the basis of caste is counterproductive. It is worrying that after all these years caste-based voting is still followed”.
Mehta blames the anti-BJP sentiment among the Dalits to political machination, and says that RSS and Hindu religious leaders rushed to offer aid to the affected in Una.
For years now, the perception in Gujarat is that there is an uneasy relationship between the BJP and the RSS in the state.
Mukesh Shah, editor of Sadhna Saptahik, an RSS mouthpiece, says this wasn’t the case. “There was a feeling when Modi was the chief minister that the RSS and its affiliates did not have an easy relation with him. But I personally know of at least 20 RSS functions that he participated in. As chief minister, he had to accommodate many opinions and each of these (RSS) organisations would have had their own agenda, some of which could have caused an uproar. They perhaps had a feeling that they were not being heard,” he said.
There’s no such feeling now. People say the RSS’ inputs on the performance of sitting legislators was taken before deciding the final list of candidates. This is in contrast to the differences that surfaced during the Uttar Pradesh assembly poll when the RSS cadre in some districts disagreed with the choice of candidates.
In Gujarat, in the home-stretch to the elections, the RSS has redoubled its efforts to cover maximum ground. “There is nothing that can make up for personal contact. The younger lot relies on social media and technology, but we still insist on going door-to-door,” says Mehta.
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