Senior Punjab RSS leader Jagdish Gagneja was considered a bridge between the RSS and BJP, and his death is being seen in party circles as a setback ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections.
Brigadier (retd) Gagneja was the sah sanghchalak (second in command) of the state RSS unit. Shot at by two youths at a market in Jalandhar on August 6, he passed away on Thursday.
A senior BJP leader said before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Gagneja had formulated an election strategy that was implemented at the grassroots level through RSS workers.
The BJP won two out of three Lok Sabha seats it contested in the state.
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“His work in the villages was very beneficial for the BJP ahead of the election. The BJP has a larger vote base in urban areas, which makes it dependent on SAD during elections,” said a national-level BJP leader.
Gagneja was the chief architect behind increasing the RSS base in Punjab, especially in rural areas, he added.
“He was a man with no self-interest, a dedicated RSS leader with an intelligent mind,” said senior BJP leader and MLA Manoranjan Kalia.
According to state BJP chief Kamal Sharma, the attack on Gagneja was planned by anti-India forces that aim to create communal tension in Punjab. He said Gagneja’s death was a loss not just for the RSS but for the state as well.
“Gagneja, who retired from the Army in 2006, had devoted himself to the service of the nation through the RSS. His vision was to improve all sections of society and bring them into the mainstream,” he said.
Sharma recalled that Gagneja’s lifestyle was simple. He had turned down the offer of personal security by Punjab Police.
The RSS leader was against the BJP tying up with SAD for the 2017 Assembly elections.
He had also raised his voice against the “mishandling” of the alleged desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib.
He advocated the use of Punjabi language, emphasising that the respective state languages must be the medium of instruction in primary education in all states of the country.
Under Gagneja’s leadership in the past two years, the number of RSS shakhas in Punjab grew from 593 in 2013-14 to close to 900.
Penetration increased in the villages, where the issue of equality among castes was advocated by Gagneja, RSS sources said.
Gagneja’s activities were causing ripples both among radical Sikh groups and Akalis. “Sikh hardliners have not been able to digest that members of the Sikh community attend the shakhas,” the sources added.
Ever since Gagneja took over as state vice-president two years ago, visits of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to Punjab also increased. Bhagwat visited the state for different events and met several dera heads both at Nagpur and in Punjab.