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BJP’s poll success leads to spike in RSS membership

The RSS website received 7,256 applications in January this year, which went up to 27,871 in March when the assembly elections to five states - UP, Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab and Manipur - were held.

india Updated: Jun 14, 2017 11:25 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
A similar pattern was seen in May of 2014 when the BJP swept the Lok Sabha polls.
A similar pattern was seen in May of 2014 when the BJP swept the Lok Sabha polls.(HT Photo)

The number of online applications for joining the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has shown a spike in the last four months, after the BJP swept to power in four states, including Uttar Pradesh.

The RSS attributes this surge in interest to curiosity to know more about the organisation and the desire to join its service projects.

Data, however, hints to a correlation between the BJP’s electoral success and the rush to associate with the nonagenarian organisation where the ruling party’s ideological moorings lie.

For instance, the RSS website received 7,256 applications in January this year, which went up to 27,871 in March when the assembly elections to five states - UP, Uttarakhand, Goa, Punjab and Manipur - were held. A bulk of these applications were made in the second half of March and fell to 14,073 in April.

This pattern was earlier seen during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when the average applications made went up from 7,530 per month to 16,926 in May, when the results were declared and the BJP swept to power with a thumping majority.

The RSS began the process of online applications in 2012. The average applications went up from 2,400 a month in 2013 to 6,990 in 2015 and 7,236 in 2016.

The RSS brass, however, insists that the rise in its popularity is not incumbent on the BJP’s electoral mandate. It cites the examples of Kerala, considers a Left-bastion, where the Sangh has always had the highest number of shakhas (the smallest unit of the RSS).

“There is no direct correlation between BJP coming to power and growth of the RSS. Kerala has had the maximum shakhas for many years where the BJP is not in power even in a taluka panchayat,” said Manmohan Vaidya, who is in charge of media for the RSS.

He said the BJP’s recent electoral success has “attracted media attention towards the RSS and opposition to the RSS of defeated forces has become stronger”, which in turn have led to an increase in curiosity to know more about the RSS.

“There is a growing urge to know more and feel proud about our cultural roots in youth that is globally connected through the Internet, this is the main reason for the youth to join the RSS,” he explained.

UP, Uttarakhand and Gujarat have joined Kerala, Delhi and Maharashtra as the states from where most applications come from. In TMC-ruled West Bengal, the organisation has nearly doubled its shakhas - from 580 shakhas in 2011, they now have more than 1,500.

Another functionary not wishing to be named said the RSS is aware of the fact that there is a perception that joining the Sangh is the first step towards gaining foothold in the BJP. “There are many who boast of having attended shakhas. There is no formal membership so a lot of these are just claims,” he said.

He added that only those who attend shakhas regularly are considered part of the Sangh.

“The Sangh has grown even during the Congress rule, but it does attract more people now who are motivated by nationalism,” he said.

The number of shakhas and attendees are counted and announced annually at the meeting of the Sangh’s highest decision making body, the Pratinidhi Sabha in March.

The Sangh registered its highest growth between March 2015 and 2016, ever since it was formed in 1925. Data provided by the Sangh showed 10,143 shakhas were introduced at 5,161 new places in the country between 2012 and 2015, and the number rose to 57, 233 in 2017 (till April).

In the past five years, daily shakhas have grown by 29% , and there has been a 40% growth in monthly shakhas across India.