Men and women will gather, read aloud the Preamble to the Constitution and recount the stories of Independence movement icons, before taking up subjects of topical interest, from inflation to unemployment — under the aegis of the Tricolour.
Come July, such scenes are likely to play out across village maidans and town squares of Uttar Pradesh, with the Aam Aadmi Party planning “Tiranga Shakhas”, in what the party claims is a bid to counter the BJP’s nationalistic push, and strengthen its organisational presence in the country’s most populous state.
AAP leaders say the idea also fits into the larger canvas of the party’s campaigns centred around “real rashtrawad (nationalism)” — from Tiranga Yatras, to installation of high-mast Tricolours across Delhi, to the introduction of a deshbhakti curriculum in schools, to raising issues like health and education.
The Tiranga Shakhas also go one step further – by drawing a parallel with the RSS’s model of shakhas in both the name of the meetings, the members called ‘pramukhs’ organising them, and the way AAP will be holding them. Plus, the unfurling of the Tricolour at AAP meetings will highlight the fact that the RSS hoists its own flag at its shakhas. The Sangh’s adversaries often accuse it of putting its dhwaj before the Tiranga.
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“I will launch the first such tiranga shakha in Lucknow on July 1. Our shakhas will be open to every gender, every community, every caste. High school children can also participate,” AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh, credited with being the brain behind the initiative, said.
At the RSS daily shakhas, numbering more than 65,000 across the country, the saffron dhwaj is unfurled and volunteers perform a ‘dhwaj pranam (salute to it)’ through songs. After that, under the supervision of a ‘baudhhik pramukh’, volunteers express their views on social issues, while a ‘sharirik pramukh’ leads the members in physical exercises for fitness. After the shakha, the dhwaj is brought down and safely kept away.
At AAP shakhas, after the Tricolour is unfurled and volunteers have read from the Constitution, leaders will speak about personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Bhimrao Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Ashfaqulla Khan and others. The party will appoint 10,000 ‘Tiranga Shakha pramukhs’ to conduct the meetings.
Sanjay Singh said the venue of the Tiranga Shakhas will vary depending on circumstances. “It can be in a field somewhere, or maybe someone’s house, party offices. All options are being explored,” Singh, AAP in-charge in Uttar Pradesh, said.
More importantly, he said, the Tiranga Shakhas will not be “male only” clubs, in a veiled jibe at the RSS gatherings where women are not allowed.
“These shakhas will discuss important issues of the country, like the need for better health infrastructure, education, unemployment, and make people aware about politics and participation in it. We will invite non-political people from all sections of society for these shakhas,” AAP spokesperson Vaibhav Maheshwari said.
He added: “AAP will detoxify the atmosphere polluted by the RSS with its agenda of hatred. People will draw a comparison between the shakhas of AAP and the RSS.”
While the plan is to eventually hold Tiranga Shakhas up to the block level, these will begin with wards in urban areas, with AAP planning to make a headway into UP through the civic polls scheduled for later this year. The party will be appointing a mohalla prabhari per 30 households for the election.
The plan is to have the shakha footprint in all the 75 districts of the state by July.
In the 2022 UP Assembly polls, most AAP candidates had lost their deposit, with the party managing just a 0.38% vote share.
“We plan to scale up the number of shakhas to 10,000 eventually. There are approximately 12,000 municipal wards in UP from the level of municipal corporations to nagar panchayats or town areas where we will field candidates. For that our state unit is being overhauled,” Singh said.
Maheshwari said AAP is also planning other activities for engaging with people, but these are yet to be finalised.
A party functionary said they are not bothered about the criticism being levelled at it over the planned shakhas. “Some critics are saying this shows that AAP is the B-team of the BJP. A lot of people are questioning our move. But we are patient. When they see our shakhas, they will understand the difference between shakhas of AAP and of the RSS,” the functionary said.
The RSS’s Purvi Kshetra Prachar Pramukh, Narendra Singh, said AAP would soon realise the folly of its idea. “In a democracy, everyone has the right to organise shakhas. But it needs dedication to assemble people at one place every day. Others too attempted to hold shakhas in the past, but failed. The RSS has a large and strong network and organises shakhas for society and people. AAP will organise shakhas only to create voters.”
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