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RSS turns inwards to look for Dalit icons ahead of UP, Punjab polls

Ahead of the assembly elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh where so-called lower castes form a sizeable population, the RSS is banking on its own Dalit icons to tilt the scales for the BJP. For the poll campaign in these two states, the Sangh will be leveraging two of its icons - Balasaheb Deoras and Dattopant Thengadi as poster boys.

assembly elections Updated: Jan 04, 2017 09:39 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Members of Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) participate in a Vijayadashami program wearing the organization's new uniform in Bangalore, in this file photo from October 23, 2016. The Sangh is now banking on icons from within its folds who advocated the virtues of equality within the Hindu communities as it readies its cadres for assembly elections in five states.(AP Photo)

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) ambitious samajik samarasta (social harmony) campaign aimed at obliterating casteism is poised to be rolled out in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, the two states with a sizeable Dalit population that go to polls soon along with three others.

Having kept the anti-caste juggernaut rolling-- giving it a harder push just ahead of elections--the Sangh is now banking on icons from within its folds who advocated the virtues of equality within the Hindu communities as it readies its cadres for assembly elections in five states.

While Uttar Pradesh has over 20% Dalit population according to the Census 2011, the percentage in Punjab is over 31%.

Read | RSS adds theologian Ramanuja to list of anti-casteism heroes

To woo these crucial votes, the Sangh is banking on the legacy of Dattopant Thengadi, the founder of Sangh arms Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and a BR Ambedkar associate and its third Sarsangachalak Balasaheb Deoras.

It was after Deoras’ campaign against untouchability in 1973 that the Sangh took up programmes under Seva Bharati for addressing concerns of the so-called lower castes.

Speeches and writings of both the ideologues centered round the theme of social harmony and eradicating caste biases will be released at the upcoming New Delhi World Book Fair, which kicks off Saturday. Unlike the previous editions of the fair, where publications by the Sangh and its affiliates were limited to a stall, this year it will have a larger presence.

The book fair is organised by the National Book Trust, an autonomous organisation under the ministry of human resource development, and headed by Baldeo Sharma, a former editor of the Sangh mouthpiece the Panchajanya.

Read |RSS asks BJP to address its core agendas including the Ram Mandir in UP poll campaign

“Both Deoras and Thengadi campaigned against caste biases and their contribution towards unifying Hindus is indisputable. The exercise to publicize their work and thoughts is in line with the Sangh’s samajik samarasta, not linked to the elections,” said a Sangh functionary.

However, sources in UP indicated that the cadre has been asked to strike a balance between wooing the Dalits and the OBCs, taking care to ensure that the upper caste is not alienated. With the mood within the middle and upper middle class supporters of the Sangh not too upbeat post demonetisation, the BJP’s ideological mentor has its task cut out.

Similarly, in Punjab where the BJP in alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) faces anti incumbency, the cadre has been asked to redouble efforts to reach out to the voters.

“Caste equations play out differently in Punjab, but the larger issue is the same. As followers of Deoras and Thengadi, who was the election agent of Ambedkar, the cadre’s brief is to push for equality,” another functionary said.

The RSS was partly blamed for upsetting the Dalits in Bihar, after Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat suggested ahead of the assembly elections last year that there was a need to revise catse-based reservation.

To eliminate any faux pas in UP and Punjab, RSS cadres will instead distribute literature based on Thengadi’s speech ‘equality impossible without harmony’ and his other works with similarity to the ideology of Dr. Ambedkar.

Read | RSS to use surgical strikes to swing votes in UP assembly polls

First Published: Jan 04, 2017 09:39 IST