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Lok Sabha election in Chhattisgarh: After Assembly polls loss, BJP looks to RSS for victory in the state

After having faced one of its worst electoral defeats in the Chhattisgarh Assembly election last year at the hands of the Congress, the BJP's success in this Lok Sabha election heavily depends on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In Chhattisgarh, especially for the remaining seven constituencies that go to the polls on Tuesday, the Sangh Parivar has not only played the role of master strategist for the BJP, but has virtually taken the reins of electioneering in its own hands.

The entire focus of the Sangh in this last phase of polling in seven constituencies is to reassert the slogan — "Deshhit mein Modi ko jitaana hai" (Modi must be made victorious in the interest of the nation). This slogan reverberated on the streets and bylanes of Raipur, Bilaspur, Durg, Raigarh and elsewhere in the past few days.

 Lok Sabha election in Chhattisgarh: After Assembly polls loss, BJP looks to RSS for victory in the state

BJP workers backed by RSS workers ride across the Arpa river in Bilaspur. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

The focus is Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the slogan gained momentum after Modi's visit to Korba and Bhatapara districts on 16 April. The party cadres are visibly charged up and ready to give the election their best shot. The distance between the RSS and the BJP grew during the Assembly election in Chhattisgarh, as a section within the Sangh decided to stay away from polls and not to support the BJP leaders who had 'grown corrupt and arrogant'. The BJP in the state turned into a 'Baniya party — of the Baniyas and for the Baniyas'. The RSS had even demanded that some sitting MLAs be replaced, but the suggestion went unheard.

Eventually, the BJP had to pay the price, as the Congress won 68 seats and the BJP got only 15 in the 90-seat Assembly. Following this, the gap between the 'Baniya party' and the Sangh widened.
The anger against the Raman Singh government was visible among the common people of the state. Fearing a cascade effect on the Lok Sabha election, the central leadership of the BJP decided not to give tickets to the sitting MPs.

As the BJP leadership replaced all the candidates in the 11 parliamentary constituencies in the state with new faces — including the most winnable such as seven-term Raipur MP Ramesh Bais — the focus shifted from the candidate to 'Modi and the nation'.

"It's the first time that the Sangh has taken the reins of electioneering in its own hands and asked its foot soldiers to reach out to the masses, build momentum for the BJP and ask them to vote. Raman Singh and many of his ministers had already lost their connect with the masses and were unaware of ground realities. When the central leadership showed interest and changed all the candidates in this election, the Sangh decided to actively step in," a Chhattisgarh-based senior RSS functionary told Firstpost on condition of anonymity.

"Now the focus is to ensure that Modi returns as prime minister for the second term. Almost every day we have to change strategy at the local level due to various incidents and the moves of the Opposition," the functionary added.

Until now, the Sangh and the BJP always maintained a 'respectable distance' from each other even though the former is considered the BJP's ideological fountainhead. In Chhattisgarh, the RSS very subtly took control of poll management and asked its pracharaks and swayamsevaks to contact the masses on a war-footing.

BJP and RSS holding 'Chai pe charcha' meeting with various groups in Bilaspur. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

BJP and RSS holding 'Chai pe charcha' meeting with various groups in Bilaspur. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

The outcome is visible in the mood of the people. The Congress had initially thought it was getting a 'walkover' and would win 10 of 11 seats, but with the passage of time, the contest has turned into a two-horse race from being one-sided in favour of the Congress. That's true for several seats such as Raipur, Bilaspur, Durg, Raigarh and Mahasamund. The result could swing either way.

"Many senior swayamsevaks in the Sangh told me that they had no qualms about the BJP's loss in the state Assembly elections. The Sangh felt that the Raman Singh government had to pay the price for rampant corruption, arrogance and the high-handed approach of ministers. Now, the active involvement of the RSS will make the contest challenging especially in the third and last phase," Raipur-based veteran journalist Ramesh Nayyar told Firstpost.

The Sangh Parivar's strategy

- Shakhas actively took charge of connecting with the masses, allocation of duties to swayamsevaks and monitoring the ground situation in respective areas.
- Each swayamsevak or a person associated with the Sangh and its affiliates has been given the responsibility of 100 households. The person on duty is provided with a list of voters and he constantly monitors his target. Besides having interactions with his target group, the swayamsevak has to ensure that the voters cast their votes.
- RSS has taken control from campaigning to booth-level management.
- Members of the 'Sampark Vibhag' of the Sangh have been mingling and casually interacting with the non-BJP voters to take stock of the ground situation. Simultaneously, the objective also is to turn voters subtly in the BJP's favour.
- The Sangh has asked the state BJP and the contesting candidates to keep all differences aside and infuse more energy into the poll campaign with a united effort.
- RSS pracharaks and swayamsevaks are reaching out to target groups from various sectors — from government to private enterprises, from academicians to lawyers, and from professionals to businessmen.
- Besides regular swayamsevaks, the students and people in jobs are taking out time after hours and voluntarily rendering their services.

BJP women workers and ABVP activists at a bike rally in Chhattisgarh. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

BJP women workers and ABVP activists at a bike rally in Chhattisgarh. Firstpost/Debobrat Ghose

RSS' grassroots connectivity a boon for the BJP

The strong grassroots connectivity of the RSS and its affiliates like the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, Seva Bharati etc have proven to be a boon for the new BJP candidates — many of whom are little-known in public. However, all 11 candidates have an RSS background.

"The Congress doesn't have the advantage the BJP does in terms of RSS cadres. The Sangh's grassroots connectivity with the masses both in the urban and rural areas will prove beneficial for the BJP. The Sangh's cadre is committed and works selflessly. The Congress on the other hand has made its Seva Dal — a counterpart of the RSS — defunct. The BJP's narrative in Chhattisgarh is 'Modi and nationalism' and one can’t deny the fact that at the national level, there's no leader like Modi who has a tremendous capability to influence the masses," remarked Chhattisgarh-based economist and social commentator, Vivek Joglekar.

The ultimate battle

Initially, the contest between the BJP and Congress appeared one-sided as the latter had an edge after winning the Assembly election. It seems tougher now. It has been a tradition in Chhattisgarh that the party in power in the state gets more seats in the parliamentary election. In 2014, BJP won 10 out of 11 seats and one went to the  Congress.

The 'Modi factor' (as opposed to Modi wave) has gradually become dominant. Speculation is rife that the BJP may even win five to six seats. "We voted for the Congress so that the BJP in the state loses. The mandate was against the state BJP, but in the Lok Sabha election, we need someone who can lead the country. And there can't be any other leader than Modi. We want him at the Centre," a group of traders in Durg openly declared.

"It won’t be a cakewalk for the Congress. Whatever number of seats the BJP wins in Chhattisgarh, it'll be the Sangh's victory," added Nayyar.

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Updated Date: Apr 23, 2019 11:15:06 IST