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RSS spreads wings to help BJP soar in heartland
- Meticulous planning by Sangh to build network helped outfit reach out to voters with vision of Modi

Patna, May 28: On May 16, the day the election results gave the BJP a huge majority and sparked off huge celebrations, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)’s prant pracharak (state chief) for Bihar, Swant Ranjan, quietly left for Cuttack to attend the outfit’s 20-day training camp or parisikshan shivir.

If the BJP is still soaking in the euphoria, RSS cadres, widely credited with ensuring the win in the heartland, are busy attending similar training camps in Bihar — one is under way at Barh and another set to commence on Saturday at Siwan. These training camps will last 20 days and in between the volunteers will be informed of other such sessions to be organised in other parts of the country.

Against the celebration, lobbying, exuberance and show of colours at the BJP office here, Vijay Niketan — headquarters of the Bihar RSS at Rajendra Nagar — is undergoing renovation. With RSS volunteers mainly focusing on the routine sakhas (drill) and the parisikshan shivirs, the office resembles what a volunteer described as “barracks with its soldiers back after winning the battle”.

Purab ka Narendra (read Swami Vivekananda, who was born Narendranath Dutta) Bharat ko sanskritik aur dharmik ekta pradan kiya. Pashchim ka Narendra (read Narendra Modi) Bharat ko rajnaitik ekta pradan kiya hai (Narendra of the East [read Bengal] provided cultural and religious unity to Bharat that is India. Narendra of the west [read Gujarat] has shaped political unity for India). The new era has dawned. Our task is over now,” said senior RSS volunteer and a Sanskrit professor by profession, Akhilesh Tiwary, drawing a parallel between the 19th century seer and the newly anointed Prime Minister, who draws inspiration from Swami Vivekananda.

But conversations with the volunteers threw up startling details on how the RSS spread its roots in Bihar, particularly during the nearly eight years of NDA rule in the state and how it worked meticulously at the grassroots level to build the base for the BJP.

“We succeeded in reaching out to sections of the Hindu society where so far we had not gone,” Mohan Singh, an office-bearer of the RSS’s Bihar-Jharkhand unit, told The Telegraph. “The RSS is a socio-cultural organisation. Its primary role is to organise the Hindu society and inculcate the spirit of rashtrabhakti (nationalism) among them,” he emphasised.

This philosophy, in a nutshell, formed the backbone of the script the 89-year-old right wing outfit wrote for the BJP in its battle against Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad in Bihar in particular and the caste-based parties in the Hindi heartland in general.

Which were these social sections that the RSS won over? “They were extremely backward classes (EBCs), other backward classes (OBCs) and largely the Dalits and Mahadalits — so far considered to be the pocket-borough of socialist Nitish and Lalu. The split in the EBC and OBC votes in favour of the BJP in the hinterlands coupled with the party’s traditional base among the upper castes and business community tilted the balance in its favour,” said a senior RSS volunteer.

Insiders revealed that through the seven-odd years that the BJP was part of the Nitish government, the RSS’s committed volunteers worked punctiliously among the weaker sections which were being benefited by Nitish’s agenda of “growth with justice”. They did it through their well organized 1,500 sakhas spread over in almost all the panchayats (group of three to five villages) across north and south Bihar.

The growth of the sakhas tells the tale of the growth of the RSS and BJP. There were only about 600 RSS sakhas in 2005 when the Nitish-led JDU-BJP government came to power. The state today has 1,500 sakhas working at the grassroots level. “The sakhas have grown at the rate of about 10 per cent per year,” Mohan Singh said, adding, “It is a continuous process.”

“Neither education, nor health, nor infrastructure nor any other sector has grown at as fast a rate as the RSS sakhas have,” said an RSS volunteer, adding, “Nationalists forces have grown in Bihar.”

The RSS has also relaxed its norms to encourage more youth participation. For example, it’s no longer mandatory for volunteers to attend sakhas every day. For the benefit of those who can’t attend regularly, weekly sessions are now being organised.

What made the real difference for the BJP this time around was the RSS directly involving about 40 of its organisational wings in the elections. Apart from the ABVP, VHP, Bajrang Dal, which were known RSS arms, the organisation engaged its social service wings in a big way. The key wings which had “suspended” their normal chores to work exclusively for the elections included Vidya Bharati, Kisan Sangh, Vanwasi Kalyan Ashram, Seva Bharati, Saksham, Bharat Vikas Parishad, Arogya Bharati and Vishwa Ayurveda Sangathan.

Specifically asked about sectors in which the RSS and its wings were working, Mohan Singh said: “The RSS provides as many as 1.66 lakh types of services. RSS is a laboratory for creating human resources committed to the cause of Hindu samaj (society) and rastravad (nationalism). The volunteers are spread across many fields — education, health, science, services, engineering and business. We simply train the people to be proud of the Hindu way of life for the Hindu dharma is the oldest and all inclusive dharma.”

Sources revealed that the RSS sakhas focused more on the settlements of the backward and Dalit sections, particularly during NDA rule in Bihar. “There was no dichotomy for the Dalits and weaker sections — they were satisfied with the government’s work and voted for both the JDU and BJP, which had contesting in tandem since 1996. Once the JDU broke up with the BJP, the RSS cadres convinced the weaker sections about the act of ‘betrayal’ on the part of Nitish,” said an RSS source. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat paid a three-day visit to Bihar shortly after the divorce last June and mapped the future course of action.

Nitish and JDU, largely dependent on the bureaucracy and his personal image, had little cadre strength at the grassroots level to counter the trained and indoctrinated RSS volunteers.

As inherent in its structure, the RSS stayed steadfast in its opposition to religious appeasement. “We have no qualms in admitting that we treat Hindutva as the only way of life. We are not against any community, but we are strongly opposed to the appeasement of any. We treat them as equals,” Mohan Singh said.

What made their task easier is their unique way of not maintaining membership records. The RSS has survived three bans. The last was in 1992 in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. “We kept working in spite of the ban for there is nothing on paper to identify us as an RSS volunteer,” said an RSS worker, explaining how difficult it was for the administration to book them in the absence of recorded proof.

The sakhas — the backbone of the RSS — are usually organised between 5am and 6am. An RSS sakha cannot be imagined without training in martial arts and Indian games such as kabaddi and khokho. Indoctrination in Hindutva is another feature of the training camps. The trainees mostly drawn from the youths spend 20 days in “bauddhik (intellectual)” sessions in every camp. They are not allowed to have cellphones, radios, TVs or any other means of instrument of getting them in touch with the outside world during these 20 days. The sessions are invariably presided over by a pracharak, a young bachelor who has devoted his life to the RSS. Narendra Modi had begun as one. His elevation has come as a boost to the RSS volunteers: a pracharak now believes he too could be king.