With the rise of caste leaders like Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor posing a challenge to the BJP in the Assembly elections in Gujarat, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has activated its 12 vibhaags (units) in the state with an aim “to unite the Hindu community”, which, they say, has been “bearing the brunt of divisive politics”.
A series of meetings of various RSS vibhaags will soon take place with a specific goal of reaching out to Hindus to “allay the influence of caste leaders” like Alpesh Thakor (OBC), Jignesh Mevani (Dalit), Hardik Patel (Patidar) as well as Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, whose roadshows and carefully chosen temple visits could lead to the party’s resurrection in the state, where it has been out of power for over two decades.
While Hardik, who has been spearheading the Patidar quota agitation for the last two years, has been asking people to vote against the BJP, Mevani, who led a movement against Dalit atrocities after the Una flogging incident, had recently met Rahul Gandhi. Thakor, on the other hand, has joined the Congress, and has been actively campaigning for the party.
“The growing discord between different communities that are an integral part of the Hindu society is not a good sign for national security as well as social order. With many people having vested political interest and the Congress playing the card of casteism, it has become very important for the Sangh to perform its duty to bring the society together against the divisive forces. We are encouraging people to vote for those who stand for development,” a senior RSS functionary said.
According to sources in the Sangh Parivar, RSS members will reach out to voters, especially youths, through one-on-one meetings as well as through social media. The campaign is part of the Samajik Sadbhav campaign for which the Sangh had formed a committee of 15 members in each town and tehsil of the state. As per RSS leaders, there are a total of 176 tehsils, and close to 1,400 Samajik Sadbhav karyakartas are working on the ground. They are supported by the next category of pracharak who are called social leaders. Several volunteers, pracharaks and swayamsevaks will take to social media in their individual capacity to spread the word of “unity and nationalism”.
The Sangh is also organising a special meeting of its swayamsevaks and pracharaks where the current political situation in the state will be discussed. Every single Sangh leader will visit homes in their designated areas and speak with the members of the Hindu community. A Whatsapp group and broadcast list, titled ‘Sandarbh’ will also be launched, where “inspirational” messages will be circulated to “make the voting population think”, Sangh sources said.
According to RSS (Western Region) secretary Sunil Mehta, their focus is always on ensuring that the Hindu society does not break over caste issues. “Wherever there are Sangh workers, they try to explain to the people to not get divided on the basis of caste. During elections, it is natural that caste politics will happen in our country. As number of educated voters and youths is increasing, the influence of such caste leaders is diminishing. Earlier, people would easily fall for such things. The Sangh does not directly interfere in a political campaign, but we talk to people and discuss issues. They understand that we are trying to keep the society united.”
During the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, which was centered around Narendra Modi as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, about 500 Swayamsevaks had embarked on a door-to-door campaign in Gujarat, urging people to turn up for voting. They said that they were “adhering to the advice” of Sangh supremo Mohan Bhagwat, who had urged swayamsevaks to promote “nationalist” leaders.
RSS leaders are, however, tight-lipped about running the campaign for the BJP ahead of the Assembly polls this year. Most of them termed it as “routine exercise” of the Sangh as part of their “duty to bring unity among Hindus to ensure active nation building”.
“This is what we do every single day. We hold monthly meetings to discuss how we can strengthen the society, which forms the core of nation building as well as instilling pride for the country. It is possible only when Hindus unite as one community and not fight among themselves. In recent months, especially since the elections have been announced in Gujarat, the Congress has been playing up its Hindutva card in Gujarat. The entire show of Rahul Gandhi visiting temples across the state, aligning with those who are symbolic to castes and communities, is an example of how they are trying to lure Hindu voters by dividing the community. We are only working to negate the influence of such forces that are detrimental to the society,” a senior RSS leader said.
He, however, dismissed any suggestion of “growing anxiety” within the BJP and RSS over the party’s prospect in the polls after an internal survey reportedly revealed that the BJP’s strength in 182-seat Assembly may fall to 100 after the election.
“It is not true that there is any such survey that indicates that the BJP is on a shaky ground in Gujarat. This is the bastion of the BJP. So, they do not require the Sangh to campaign for them on the ground. It is wrong to call our work an election campaign,” the senior RSS leader added.
According to a Sangh pracharak, they will not ask people to vote for the BJP. “We are only asking people to be cautious of beherupiyas (impostors) who will never return once the elections are over,” he said. Echoing the RSS, the BJP said that any such campaign by its parent outfit will help unite the Hindu voters.
“So entrenched was the caste system in the country under the British that the Sangh had to work to unite the Hindu votes. For the Sangh, Hindus are all those who believe and respect Bharat Mata. They can be Brahmins, Patels, OBCs, Sikhs, Jains or any other community… We do not see the Sangh’s activity as one that will help the BJP in the election, but one that will help build the nation into a stronger force,” said BJP leader Keyur Rokadia. As a senior RSS functionary said: “We do not tell them that they should vote for the BJP or any particular leader. But people are intelligent enough to make a good choice.”