RSS to intensify focus in states that withstood the Modi-wave

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) cadre will spare no effort in helping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its political protégé, perform better in states that withstood the Modi wave in the last general election. The aim is to help the BJP win more seats in such states and reduce the victory margin of its opponents in potentially tough contests..

The Akhil Bhartiya Pratinidhi Sabha,the highest-decision making body of the Sangh, recently discussed ways to reinforce the BJP’s Lok Sabha election campaign in states such as West Bengal, Kerala, Odisha, Karnataka and northeastern states. Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim will also pick new state governments alongside the April-May elections to the Lok Sabha..

According to a senior RSS functionary, BJP president Amit Shah is learnt to have told the Sangh brass that the party had strengthened itself in states such as Kerala and West Bengal where it faces formidable opponents in the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by Pinarayi Vijayan and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, and is in a position to increase its vote share and lower the winning margins of its rivals.

“The BJP is of the view that even if the party does not bag as many seats as it would like to; it will manage to corner more votes and emerge in the second position in many of the constituencies in these states,” said the functionary.

In 2014, the BJP made inroads into Kerala, which sends 20 members to the Lok Sabha, by increasing its vote-share from a little over 6% in 2009 to 10.6%.The party was edged out by the LDF even though the state has the highest number of shakhas run by the Sangh.

Similarly, in West Bengal, where it is fighting a pitched battle against the TMC, the BJP bagged 17% of votes and won two Lok Sabha seats in 2014. The state has 42 Lok Sabha constituencies. The party’s performance in the Hindi belt— a near-sweep in Uttar Pradesh, winning all the seats in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — could not be replicated in states where regional forces such as the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu and Biju Janata Dal in Odisha prevailed.

“Following discussions with the BJP representatives on the sidelines of the Pratinidhi Sabha in Gwalior, it was pointed out that the Sangh will need to focus on [PM Narendra] Modi having emerged as a strong leader, especially post-Pulwama, reinforce the end of dynastic politics, caste-based political entities and hammer home the importance of choosing a nationalistic party,” said a second functionary who was privy to the discussions.

Following the February 14 suicide car bombing that left at least 40 paramilitary troops dead in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian Air Force bombed a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist camp deep inside Pakistan 12 days later .

Feedback from the Sangh to the party is also to focus on the rural electorate to counter the image of the party being urbancentric. During the last Lok Sabha elections, the party had bagged 31% of the total votes to emerge as the single largest party, but 42% of that vote share came from urban voters.

“Shakhas are penetrating the rural areas but the presence is stronger in cities. The biggest beneficiaries of the central government’s schemes have been the poor in the villages and it is necessary to reach out to them,” said the first functionary.

BJP leaders, particularly central ministers, have been asked to keep aside at least 10 days for visiting constituencies that will be identified by the party. The Sangh, which was helping the BJP deal with the caste matrix by working among the socially marginalised, is now tempering its Dalit outreach. Upper caste anger that was held responsible for the party’s defeat in Madhya Pradesh assembly polls has led the Sangh to shift the narrative to the government’s nationalistic and aggressive stance on issues of national security.

According to professor of political science at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Ajay Gudavarthy, the overall strategy of the RSS and the BJP may be to focus on states where the BJP has not won before and where people do not have first-hand experience of their administration. “Modi’s governance was based on politics of hope, of futuristic promises of eradication corruption and poverty; they could not deliver much of what was promised. So the promise and hope may have more value in states where they have not ruled such as Tamil Nadu and Kerala,” he said.

First Published:
Mar 17, 2019 07:51 IST

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