BHU is Sangh’s oldest recruiting ground

In his book <b>‘How the BJP wins’</b>, Prashant Jha narrates BJP’s election machine, the RSS’s role as the source, supplement and shadow and its willingness to stoke conflict to win

Photo courtesy: IANS
Photo courtesy: IANS

Prashant Jha

Banaras Hindu University is one of the Sangh’s oldest recruiting grounds. The Modi government made it a point to award the university founder, Madan Mohan Malaviya, the Bharat Ratna in its first year in office.

With a vice chancellor who prides himself on being a Sangh product, the university – like most Indian higher educational institutions after 2014 – has witnessed many academics now publicly articulating their loyalties to the organization’s worldview.

One such associate professor, also a swayamsevak, said the Sangh was ‘101 per cent’ involved in the election campaign. He was not entirely comfortable with the BJP’s ticket distribution, and felt it was wrong of the party to deliberately keep many aspirants hanging for a long time...

But this, he emphasized, did not take away from the larger goal of supporting the party. ‘At the end of the day, the BJP has to fight elections and not us.’ The academic outlined the exact role the Sangh was playing. It was helping manage the dissatisfaction of those who were resentful at not getting the ticket. ‘We are telling them they will be accommodated next time, that they must think of the need to remove the Samajwadi Party government.’ Volunteers like him were speaking to their friends and family, colleagues and students, and university staff and telling them how bringing a BJP sarkar in UP would help. ‘And our pracharaks are doing what they did in 2014 – working at the booth level to get voters out.’

Take another constituency of supporters. The Sangh’s financial strength comes from the old entrepreneurs and businessmen.

Varun Mehra owns Hotel Swastik Inn in Godhulia Chowk, near the Dasaswamedh Ghat. The hotel is on the second floor of a building inside a narrow by-lane, one of the hundreds which have made Varanasi an urban maze. Mehra was sitting along with a police official, who introduced himself as responsible for security at the Vishwanath temple and its vicinity. He was an RSS sympathizer as well...

Mehra comes from a family of Sangh supporters, closely integrated in the local Sangh ecosystem. ‘I was born into it. We are the Sangh, hum hi Sangh hain,’ he said with a laugh. He explained how the organization, and its supporters, worked. ‘The Sangh works quietly. None of us want any publicity. I will give you an example. A pracharak of the Kashi region yesterday got a BJP MP to meet businessmen. We had an interaction with him. And then there was a photo session. As soon as people started taking selfies, the pracharak slipped aside. You will not see them, and that is why this perception that they are not present.’...

The Banaras Hindu University academic and Mehra represented the Sangh volunteers who would not be counted if you take a narrow view of how the RSS supports the BJP. They are the invisible supporters, embedded in communities, with influence, who can shape opinion in an election.

The more direct work of mobilization is done by the Sangh machinery. Right opposite Mehra’s hotel is the old office of the RSS in Varanasi. Pracharaks give their lives to sustaining and expanding the organization, and its objective of ‘uniting Hindu society’. They are the ones who help provide the personnel to the party at key moments, such as elections...

He highlighted an important distinction in the way the Sangh and the BJP thought about elections. ‘The Sangh is a school where we award people marks on the basis of merit, hard work and outcome. But politics is different. A party has to see caste, economic strength, winnability. Ultimately, they have to fight elections. And we are there to support them.’ ...

Only one leader, and one party, fit this bill in the imagination and messaging of the Sangh. That leader remained Narendra Modi. That party remained the BJP.

The new Sangh office is located in Sigra, only a few kilometres away from Godhulia Chowk, but the legendary traffic of the town means we crawled our way to it. It was from here that the functioning of the Sangh in eighteen districts of Kashi prant was managed...

But the most authentic explanation for how the Sangh helped the party came from key political interlocutors themselves...

A key BJP leader said that there were, however, two big differences between the Sangh role in 2014 and in 2017 in the state election.

The first was that the BJP itself was weaker in UP in 2014, and needed that assistance. By 2017, given the work put in by Amit Shah, Sunil Bansal and his team, the BJP organization had become a lot stronger, and the need for outside assistance had diminished...

This also resulted in a second difference. In 2014, many RSS workers from outside UP had been brought to the state to assist in all activities – IT, feedback and monitoring, door-to-door mobilization, campaign management. This approach can sometimes boomerang. In the Bihar elections, a top state leader hinted to me that it generated resentment among the locals.

In UP 2017, the BJP did not need workers from outside in any large number. In fact, local leaders from areas which had already voted were shifted to the areas going to vote next.

‘RSS workers from outside are not as involved, but that is because there is no need for it. They are doing what is required,’ added the leader, who traced his roots to the RSS. ‘Ultimately, please understand that the Sangh is where we come from. It is my mai-baap too. This distinction is artificial.’

Indeed, in the search for an RSS role, it was easy to miss the fact that the entire leadership had come from the Sangh itself.

Narendra Modi was a pracharak in the Sangh. Amit Shah was from the Sangh. Sunil Bansal had come from the Sangh just three years earlier. Keshav Prasad Maurya was a VHP activist and office-bearer till not so long ago. Lower down the hierarchy, Chandramohan had been in the ABVP, in the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, before moving on to the BJP. Many state-level office-bearers traced their roots to one or the other organization of the Sangh Parivar. The support staff of every major BJP leader, Amit Shah downwards, consisted of individuals who had come from a Sangh background.

Indeed, the BJP was the Sangh. In some elections, the rest of the RSS machinery may be more active, and in some, they may retreat...

The BHU academic was the Sangh. Varun Mehra was the Sangh. We only focused on the pracharaks and their role in mobilization, and this was inadequate. As Bhaiyaji Joshi, the second most powerful person in the Sangh, told Organizer in an interview, ‘Our entire effort is to make Grihastha (family) karyakartas the main pillars of our work. Today, thousands of families are taking forward this work. The number of pracharaks is very less in comparison to the Grihastha karyakartas.’

This was the wider ecosystem, and each person – in his own way, often quietly – did what he had to during the election.

Excerpt taken with permission from Juggernaut. Pg 228; Rs 399

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Published: 24 Sep 2017, 4:13 PM