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Opinion: How RSS helped BJP to win India's North East

RSS-BJP?s intensive interaction with the civil society has also succeeded in underlining its role as the only party which unites and keep India united. Photograph:( )

Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Dec 27, 2017, 08.41 AM (IST) Kartikeya Sharma

The hard work done by RSS in the civil society continues to pay dividends to BJP across the country. The best example of it is the marriage of civil society interests and political ambition in North East where RSS has been working from the 1970s. 

It is because of this investment of time with civil society issues by RSS, that BJP has been able to build a political network in areas which is culturally and socially different to the ideological thinking of the RSS. 

It is the confluence of social and cultural networking of RSS with BJP’s political and electoral machine which explains the rise of BJP as an important party in the North East.

A similar investment was made by the Congress Party during the freedom struggle. The political action was only one part of the Congress activity, the party was involved in hundreds of other civil society issues. From nation building to character building, the Congress worked on a myriad of issues, almost crafting the mindset of the Indians. It is this mental world which has been challenged by the RSS-BJP combine in the last 50 years.

To understand the success, it is important to understand the work done by the RSS in North East. To start with Arunachal Pradesh, RSS runs Arunachal Vikas Parishad in Arunachal Pradesh which in other states is known as Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. It runs schools and maintains hostels for the students. There are thousands of RSS affiliated schools in the state alone. 

The RSS runs National Integration programmes which allow students from the North East to stay with different families in different parts of India. Apart from the BJP, more than 4000 trained ‘sevaks’ work in Arunachal Pradesh who run Shakhas and other programmes which works at the level of social but impact the political mood. Apart from it, affiliated organisations run Civil Service Orientation Services.

There are programmes dedicated to students who require engineering coaching. On top of it, new Yoga Centres have also come up which focus on individual character building. Additional to this is the massive network of Bal Bari schools. Though RSS insists that it has nothing to do with the BJP but the fact is that RSS, unquestionably, has laid the ground for BJP in the North East. Central to this social action are the faceless pracharaks who devote their lives to an ideology that also ends up shaping civil society sentiments on a number of political issues.

The special focus is imparting lessons on cultural nationalism (which is debatable) and national integration which provides an alternative discourse to the civil society. 

Unlike Congress of the 50’s and 60’s which was then the sole repository of nationalism, the RSS-BJP combine has shifted the axis by claiming nationalism as its own domain. Today, they claim to be the sole repository of nationalism. It has allowed them to combine culturally and socially different voices into one, like pre-colonial Congress. Congress refashioned the dominant discourse of the nation into its own image. It started before independence but was institutionalised after independence.

 Earlier, the RSS-BJP too wanted to refashion the discourse of nationalism into its own image but only succeeded in the last 25 years. It is this shift which is finding an imprint in our electoral history cutting across regions. It is this worldview, aided by rapid urbanisation and consolidation of a larger Indian national identity, that is emerging as the main opposition to highly volatile, violent, dominant and majoritarian global Islam.

RSS-BJP’s intensive interaction with the civil society has also succeeded in underlining its role as the only party which unites and keep India united. 

Assam result broke this very myth of geographical and ideological limitations of BJP. It made them local and national at the same time.

Such has been the impact of the effort that the issue of food habit has been kept aside in the North East, and prayer houses have been built for local communities who worship elements of nature in the state.

 Despite having an acrimonious relationship with Christian Missionary establishment all across India, RSS has worked both ends in the North East. It has organised non-Christian communities in their cultural realm preventing conversions and also engaged the existing non-Hindu religious establishment by sharing political space with them.

The North East also remains one of the few states where the RSS ensured that most of the pracharaks have a local tribal background. Arun Anand, a scholar who has worked on the RSS says, "RSS has helped BJP identify local issues. It is for this that BJP does not look alien to the people and senior leaders go a mile to accommodate local junior leaders.”

Speaking to WION, Sunil Mohanty, the RSS in charge of Arunachal Pradesh said, "What we are worried about is the dilution of the living boundary. Tribals living near the border are migrating to the district headquarter for lack of amenities which is not good. Living boundary is as important as the physical boundary.”

Such has been the compulsion borne out of this interaction, that the BJP had to work out suitable state-related issues against various parties.

 It created space in states, such as Tripura where Congress has not been able to unseat the Left for past 15 years. The BJP also hijacked the issue of illegal migration and consolidated votes in Assam on this issue, making minority votes irrelevant. For Congress to come back today, it cannot harp on the issue of alienism of BJP. 

BJP has become as indigenous as Congress in the North East. RSS-BJP combine might rest on national integrity, focusing on local issues and threat which it faces from migrant populations which can change the local political axis.

Though Congress recently started a Professional Congress, it still needs people who can create a daily ritual of interaction between the worker, leader and civil society. It is through this interaction that social opinion in conjunction with political action translates into mass politics. Most of its departments are defunct today and have not functioned properly for years.

Various frontal organisations of the Congress have an episodic and politico-electoral relationship with the civil society where intimate bond with the organisation is missing. The absence of this bond further dilutes ideological underpinning of an individual. It should worry the Congress. It is for this reason that despite a massive anti-incumbency, BJP was able to retain Gujarat by a thin margin. At the end, personal bond infused with ideology does work.


(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL).

Kartikeya Sharma

Kartikeya Sharma is Political Editor at WION. When he is not working, you will find him travelling, reading or cooking.