How RSS cadres work for BJP, poll after poll
At a closed-door meeting in Gujarat, ahead of the December election, a senior functionary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was given the task of helping his colleagues reach out to the electorate and explain why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, having seemingly fallen short of popular expectations, was still a better alternative to the Opposition.
“He (the functionary) calmly told the swayamsevakas to tell people that there would be a time-bound resolution to their immediate issues, but if the administration of the state passes into the hands of those whose politics is based on appeasement (of minorities), then the future is bleak,” recalled another functionary, who was privy to that meeting, on the condition of anonymity.
The senior functionary was explaining to the RSS workers, some of whom were critical of the government, how to connect with the people at a time when public anger was mounting and disappointment with the incumbent government was conspicuous.
He had earlier heard the cadre explain how economic policies — the November 2016 demonetisation of high-value banknotes and the July 2017 implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) had hurt businesses, particularly small and medium ones. He had also received feedback regarding the anger within the farming community, which was expecting better remuneration in terms of the minimum support price and a solution to the water crisis, and told about the growing unrest among the youngsters, notably the Patidar community, seeking reservations in government jobs.
Similar scenes played in the previous year in Uttar Pradesh (UP), where the cadre wanted to know how they were expected to back politically expedient decisions of choosing electoral candidates on the basis of caste or absorbing candidates whose ideology was at variance with theirs.
In both states, the BJP won, no small thanks to the role played by the foot-soldiers of the RSS, which officially maintains it does not ask people to vote for the BJP. Its cadre is deputed to help the political protégé during the campaigns, and will doubtless play a key role in states slated for elections later this year and the Lok Sabha elections the next year.
Concerns expressed in Gujarat and UP were overridden by the commitment to ideology. A majority decided to follow the line they were given — only a few disagreed and chose to sit out.
The functionary quoted above said disagreements or disappointments are overcome for the sake of ideology. “This was not the first time that disagreements arose. The Sangh is a democratic forum and allows dissenting voices to be heard. But once a collective decision is taken, it becomes mandatory for all to follow.”
This practice is what many RSS functionaries said establishes the Sangh’s code.
The Sangh’s official stand is that its role in election management is limited to streamlining booth-level work and conducting meetings to mobilise voters. But foot-soldiers of the Sangh are equipped with the know-how to conduct surveys to gauge the mood and to lay the ground for mobilising support for the BJP.
“The RSS does not shape elections campaigns, or meddle with electoral issues, but closer to the elections its helps fill the gaps,” said another functionary.
RSS functionaries stress that political ambitions or pecuniary benefits do not drive the cadre. Ratan Sharda, author of ‘Secrets of RSS - Demystifying rhe Sangh,’ said a majority join the RSS with the desire to serve.
Senior functionaries insist that the Sangh sticks to its domain of “nation-building and man-making”. They are evasive about the routine meetings that take place between RSS functionaries and leaders of the BJP, especially around elections, and bill these as coordination efforts to ensure ideological pursuits are not abandoned. In the BJP, the post of general secretary in charge is held by a pracharak deputed by the RSS, and acts as a bridge between the two, influencing decisions and conveying messages.
An octogenarian pracharak that HT spoke to was less ambivalent about the Sangh’s role. “The Sangh was banned thrice. Our work is constantly criticised even though we do not share the stage with the BJP; it is obvious that we cannot be expected to support those who target us.”
The recent standoff between other RSS affiliates and the government over policies such as the strategic disinvestment of the national carrier Air India or involvement of foreign entities in health schemes was seen as a tipping point in the Sangh-BJP equation. But the RSS presented it as an expression of democracy within the organisation. These disagreements, senior functionaries said, would not impact RSS-BJP coordination.
A senior functionary who works in the sector of education said affiliates work on the premise that consensus on key issues is important. Citing examples, he said: “It is the BJP government that understood the need to revise the curriculum, especially the doctored history being taught by the communists. There may be some disagreements on appointments or policy issues, but largely we are on the same page.”