BJP bags nine of 11 LS seats in Chhattisgarh: RSS played key role in turning around saffron party's fortunes

The day BJP’s central leadership announced a new set of candidates for the 11 Lok Sabha constituencies in Chhattisgarh, replacing all sitting Members of Parliament from state, there was a massive hue and cry among the members and supporters of the saffron party.

Many, including the experts on right-wing politics, said that the BJP had gone bonkers and the decision of replacing the existing candidates with fresh faces was nothing short of a ‘self-destructive and suicidal’ attempt. Even seven-time sitting MP from Raipur Ramesh Bais wasn’t spared.

“How could Narendra Modi and Amit Shah take such an illogical decision?” many remarked. However, all the critics were proved wrong on Friday, as the BJP won nine seats, including Raipur, which was least expected.

 BJP bags nine of 11 LS seats in Chhattisgarh: RSS played key role in turning around saffron partys fortunes

A BJP rally backed by RSS in Bilaspur. Image courtesy: Debobrat Ghose

Once the candidates were announced, it was BJP's ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that led the latter’s strategy planning for election in the ‘rice bowl of India’, where the saffron party was pulverised by the Congress in Assembly election in December 2018. The Congress had come to power by winning 68 out of 90 seats in the Assembly, ousting the 15-year-old BJP government. The BJP finished with 15.

In a first for Chhattisgarh, the RSS took the reins of elections under its control. It was a wake-up call to connect with the grassroots, under RSS’ stewardship, as the saffron party during its 15-year regime had almost lost it.

The most drastic step had already been taken, as very few people got to know about Sangh’s discreet intervention in BJP’s fielding of absolutely new faces in the state. This announcement by the BJP made the ruling Congress believe it had been given a walkover by the Opposition party.

In the initial phase of the election, the Congress was certain about its win in 10 out of 11 seats. But, by the second phase that took place on 18 April, the situation had turned a bit in favour of the BJP. The political pundits, who had vouched for the Congress, were not so certain of a total sweep for the party now. But by the last phase of polling in Chhattisgarh, scenario changed dramatically. People became more vocal about Modi and his nationalism plank.

This change didn’t come overnight. In one of the RSS’ closed-door meetings — ‘Atma-Manthan’ (introspection) held at ‘Jagriti Mandal’ in Raipur — the organisation decided to take charge of election strategy.

The entire focus of the Sangh, especially from the second phase of polling, was to reassert the slogan – “Deshhit mein Modi ko jitaana hai” (Modi’s victory is necessary in the interest of the nation). This gained momentum after Modi’s visit to Korba and Bhatapara districts on 16 April. The party cadre got visibly charged.

The distance between the RSS and the BJP had widened during the Assembly election. A section within the Sangh had decided to stay away from polls and not to support the ‘corrupt and arrogant’ BJP leaders, as it had turned into a ‘baniya party’. The RSS’ suggestion to replace some sitting MLAs went unheard.

Things changed after February, after the BJP top leadership allowed the Sangh to decide party's strategy in Chhattisgarh.

The objective was to divert common man’s anger against previous BJP-led Chhattisgarh government, and create a narrative around ‘Modi and nationalism’.

Next was implementation of a 'contact' programme with surgical precision, from district to booth-level. Sangh’s Sampark Vibhag (public relations department) asked its foot soldiers — comprising professionals, traders and students — to contact (sampark) voters, build a strong bond (sambandh), and communicate with them (samvad) on issues of national interest, which indirectly would go in Modi’s favour. RSS shakhas acted as nodal agencies. Lists of households were handed to groups of volunteers for making repeated contacts. Different groups were formed with specific duties and areas assigned to them.

“We told people about the benefits of GST in business and how it would be beneficial in the long run. Lot of misconceptions were spread on GST,” a pharmaceutical trader of Bilaspur said.

Through monthly meetings of senior functionaries in Raipur and weekly meetings at local levels, RSS monitored the progress.

“We formed small groups and started working as per the plan on a daily basis. We reached out to the masses, built momentum on nationalistic issues. It was a 'dharma yudh' (religious battle) for all of us and we volunteered to ensure Modi’s victory,” said Raipur-based young lawyer, Atul Saxena.

Saxena had been associated with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) — the student wing of the RSS, from his college days.

All stops were pulled — from closed-door meetings of RSS functionaries to 'chai pe charcha’ with local BJP leaders and senior citizens, backed by Sangh activists, one-on-one marking of voters in places like a football match to win over the fence-sitters, and to give support to BJP rallies and road shows.

But, the RSS never came out openly asking people to vote for the BJP. Many still don’t know how BJP did the turnaround in Chhattisgarh in its favour in just three months after it was routed by the Congress!

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Updated Date: May 24, 2019 23:39:14 IST