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BJP lets RSS take charge in Chhattisgarh

From choosing candidates to running BJP’s voter-contact events, the Sangh has taken over

Firstpost print Edition

Every evening for over a month, Dr S Krishnan, a paediatrician in Bilaspur, has been rushing from his clinic to the Railway Colony on a crucial mission. So does lawyer Atul Saxena, who makes a beeline for Shankar Nagar after work. The two professionals want to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi win the Lok Sabha elections, and they are willing to go from door to door to make it happen.

Both Krishnan and Saxena volunteer for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and have a background in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). They are part of a grass-roots effort to revive the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Chhattisgarh. Indeed, the RSS has picked up the reins of the elections here.

A few months ago, the scene was quite different. In December 2018, Chhattisgarh was swept by the Congress in the Assembly elections, ousting the 15-year-old BJP-led government. At that time, a distance had grown between the RSS and BJP. A section of the Sangh had decided not to support “corrupt and arrogant” BJP leaders. There was also disgruntlement at the BJP’s dismissal of the RSS’s suggestion to replace some sitting MLAs.

Things changed post-February, when the top BJP leadership gave the Sangh its nod to take over the poll strategy. The objective: to divert the common person’s anger against the previous BJP-led Chhattisgarh government, and create a narrative around Modi and nationalism. One of the first moves was choosing fresh candidates for all 11 Lok Sabha constituencies. Ten of these candidates came from a Sangh background, and were trained in shakhas. The decision was arrived at during a closed-door Atma Manthan (introspection) meeting at Jagriti Mandal in Raipur, and presided over by the organisation’s prant pracharak (state head).

The primary focus of the Sangh, especially from the second phase of polling, was to reassert the slogan “Desh-hit mein Modi ko jitaana hai (Make Modi win for the good of the nation)”. This gained momentum after Modi’s visit to Korba and Bhatapara districts on 16 April, where party cadres were out in full force.

A key part of the RSS’ strategy has been the implementation of a contact programme which has been conducted with surgical precision from the district to booth level. The 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; this, it is hoped, will bolster pro-Modi sentiments. In this enterprise, RSS shakhas acted as nodal agencies. Lists of households were handed to groups of volunteers who were tasked with making repeated contact with their targets. Different groups were formed with specific duties and areas assigned to them. The RSS through monthly meetings of senior functionaries in Raipur and weekly meetings at local levels monitored the progress.

While the RSS has not openly asked people to vote for the BJP, all stops have been pulled out from closed-door meetings of RSS functionaries to chai pe charcha’with local BJP leaders and senior citizens, to rousing cries of Jai Shri Ram at BJP roadshows and rallies.

“Raman Singh and many of his ministers had lost their connection with the masses and were unaware of ground realities. When the central leadership changed all the candidates in this election, the Sangh decided to actively step in. We’re reaching out to the masses, building momentum for nationalist issues. PM Modi needs to be at the centre,” a senior RSS functionary from Chhattisgarh told Firstpost on condition of anonymity.

While the BJP’s announcement to field all new faces was first met with scepticism, there is reason to believe the party’s tide may be shifting, at least to some extent. In the initial phase of the election, the Congress was certain about its win in 10 out of 11 seats. But, by the time the second phase, political pundits who had vouched for the Congress were no longer so certain of a total sweep for the party. “I consider this to be a dharma yuddha (religious battle). I’m volunteering to ensure Modiji’s win,” Dr Krishnan told Firstpost.

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