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Sangh along: RSS gears up for door to door campaign in UP
It’s not ‘Namo Namo’ but, for the first time, RSS is openly rallying behind BJP in an election. Shyamlal Yadav visits three shakhas in UP to get an idea of the plan worked out to mobilise cadre for the BJP “in national interest”
Photographs: Vishal Srivastav, ShyamLal Yadav, Praveen Khanna
With his back to an ochre-red swallowtail flag, Prabhu Narayan Srivastav, a retired engineer of the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation Ltd, addresses a motley group of about 20, most of them in flared khaki shorts and white shirts. This is a routine morning shakha of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at Triveni Nagar in Lucknow, but the swayamsevaks know Srivastav, sanghachalak of the Awadh unit, is preparing them for something unusual.
“Our sarsanghachalakji (RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat) has told us to work for the nation and not worry about who will become the prime minister. Our job is not to chant Namo Namo. Ham kisi vyakti ki jai jaikaar nahi karte (we don’t hail any particular individual). In the interest of the nation, we will go door to door and ensure that people turn out to vote,” Srivastav tells the group.
At the RSS’s annual Vijayadashmi meeting in October last year, Bhagwat had talked about ensuring “100 per cent polling”. “To discharge our responsibility as voters, first and foremost, we have to ensure that our names properly figure in the voter list. Hundred per cent polling will make democracy healthier.”
With the country heading for a daggers drawn election, the RSS, which has so far remained content pulling the BJP’s strings, is now shedding its reticence and coming out openly to rally behind the BJP “in national interest”. The organisation, known for its committed cadre base, is galvanising its members into action, getting them to reach out to potential BJP voters and ensure they reach the booth on election day.
Shailendra, a swayamsevak at the Triveni Nagar shakha, says, “Other than Sharad Pawar’s idea (of wiping off the indelible ink and voting again), we will do everything to increase the voting percentage.”
The strategy has been meticulously chalked out across the RSS’s 44,982 shakhas throughout the country. Districts have been divided into nagars and bastis (settlements). Each nagar has around 10 bastis, with about 10,000 families in each basti. A team of 10 swayamsevaks is deployed for each basti.
Each of these swayamsevaks or panna pramukhs (‘panna’ because of the paper on which he has the voter list) goes door to door with the voter list and updates it. On his way out, he leaves behind a copy of the local RSS magazine, such as Rashtradeo in western Uttar Pradesh. The cadres have also been told to gauge the mood of the families they visit and categorise them as as sakaratmak (friendly or positive), tatastha (neutral) and voters whom they can’t influence.
The RSS has appointed prabharis (in-charges) at different levels — Lok Sabha, Assembly, mahanagar, nagar, mandal, polling station and, finally, two swayamsevaks for every booth.
Subhash Singh, the mukhya shikshak who conducts the Triveni Nagar (Lucknow) shakha, says he has deployed a team of swayamsevaks to contact all the voters of the 19 polling booths in his shakha area. “We will request people to cast their votes before their breakfast on polling day. This will be easier for them as many voters do not cast their vote due to long queues or because it gets too hot during the day.”
Ashok Singh Yadav, a regular at the Lucknow shakha, is an advocate associated with the RSS’s subsidiary Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. He says though the cadres won’t directly seek votes for Modi, the message won’t be lost on anyone. “We do not seek votes for any particular party. But most of the people who hesitate to vote are potential BJP voters. So, by convincing them to vote, we will ultimately contribute in the mission of making Narendra Modi the prime minister.”
To boost the morale of its cadres, the RSS has decided to hold dand yudhs (where cadres will display their lathi-wielding skills) in every city on March 30 as part of its Hindu New Year celebrations and on April 1 to mark the birth anniversary of founder K B Hedgewar.
Though the RSS’s stated focus is “vote bane (voters are registered)”, “vote kate (fake voters are removed)”, and “vote pade (votes are cast)”, sources say most of the effort is to ensure the second, “vote kate”. In Uttar Pradesh, BJP leaders handed over to the Election Commission a CD with a purported list of voters whose names appear “in several places”. They also claim to have developed a software to identify duplication of names in voter lists. Swayamsevaks in the Triveni Nagar shakha claim to have provided to the election staff a list of nearly 180 voters who figure on the voters’ list but who are “actually dead”.
In Uttar Pradesh, which is crucial to the BJP’s chances of forming a government at the Centre, there are around 7,000 such shakhas in poll mode. With this being rabi season, there are no daily shakhas in some of the rural areas, but the RSS has formed booth-level teams across the state, separate from the BJP teams. The RSS teams also draw from representatives of its nearly 50 affiliate organisations such as the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Vidya Bharati and Sanskar Bharati.
Miles away from the state capital, at a park in Ghaziabad’s Vaishali, Sector 5, which shares its border with the national capital, the swish of dandas (sticks) slicing through the early morning air draws the attention of passersby. The drill ends with a shrill whistle and the 15-20 swayamsevaks assemble in orderly rows for their prayer. Here too, the conversation later veers towards the elections and the “job” at hand.
Krishna Chaitanya, who conducts this shakha, says, “Nearly 2,000 new voters were registered because we went door-to-door in December-January and now we will try our best to ensure that every vote is cast on April 10.”
Vaishali has one polling centre with seven booths and Chaitanya has deployed seven-eight people — a few residents and some swayamsevaks — for each booth to convince voters to vote on election day. Vijay Goel, the mahanagar karyavah of the Vaishali unit, says, “In this area, people talk a lot, but only a handful casts votes. This time we will ensure that voting percentage reaches a record high. We are aiming for 100 per cent voting.”
Goel says that in the Hindon area, they approached nearly 800 RWAs to register new voters. “We left copies of Form 6 (to register new voters) at certain shops or with photocopiers and told people that they could go there and take the forms after paying Re 1.”
Nearly 100 km away from Lucknow is Thulwansa village in Rae Bareli, where another shakha is in progress. The mukhya shikshak of this camp is Abhishek Maurya, an LLB student. “This year, we have managed to add nearly 60 names to the voter list.”
This village has nearly 2,500 voters, most of them OBCs and Dalits. “We know our seat is high-profile because Sonia Gandhi represents it, but we will ensure that maximum votes are cast and that majority of them go to the BJP.” Villagers say the shakha was set up in 1985, after a communal clash. Muslims form nearly 15 per cent of the voters in Thulwansa.
It helps the BJP that the RSS has a dedicated cadre force with a reach that is the envy of many mainstream political parties. According to a report released earlier this month at the RSS’s Bangalore Pratinidhi Sabha, the organisation holds weekly meetings at 10,146 places and monthly meetings at 7,387 places.
However, sources concede that these figures could be inflated and that at some places, shakhas are losing their way by being openly political and lobbying for tickets for BJP leaders close to them. Before the BJP came out with its list of candidates, the RSS’s Keshav Bhawan and Bharati Bhawan offices in Lucknow were a hangout for BJP ticket-seekers.
Besides, for an organisation that prides itself on being the ideological fountainhead of the BJP, the decision to take the plunge and openly throw its weight behind the party has rattled a few within.
During private conversations, swayamsevaks concede that the RSS, from being a mentor of the BJP, will end up looking like the “younger brother” of the party.
An RSS pracharak in Ghaziabad says, “Though we have always called ourselves a cultural organisation, people consider us a political one. Now looking at the way we are working in these elections, there will be no doubt that we work for the BJP.”
A day at the shakha
Members usually spend an hour at the shakha. During the first half hour, the cadres exercise and play games such as kabaddi and kho-kho. The next 15 minutes are for baudhik (intellectual) activities such as chanting mantras, reading passages from RSS books and singing songs. For the last 15 minutes, they chant the RSS prayer Namaste Sada Vatsale Matribhume.
During sittings at the shakha, members discuss the status of the vote-contact programme and approach voters whenever they find time. To streamline the campaign, the RSS holds coordination meetings at both the national and local levels.