National

BJP Workers Did Not Have Ears To The Ground

Party’s organisational failure to form a majority government at centre needs to be fixed, senior RSS members said

Dinesh Parab/ Outlook Photo
Ratan Sharda Dinesh Parab/ Outlook Photo
info_icon

A rap on the knuckle or a stern warning against throwing caution to the wind ?

Whatever the interpretation be, the Bharatiya Janata Party has received an earful over its unexpected loss of majority in the Lok Sabha elections from the top brass of its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

The surprising defeat in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra--the two largest states where the BJP is in power- and decline of power in the southern states, has been like pulling the rug out from under its feet, after landing a thumping majority twice before. The BJP won 32 new seats but lost 92 incumbent seats in Rajasthan, Karnataka, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Bihar, and yet again failed to infiltrate the fortress of Tamil Nadu. In the end, the overall tally of 240 out of 543 seats fell short of forming a majority government at the centre, making it dependent on the crutches of the coalition government. The bland performance and the bitter election campaign leading to slanderous remarks, false narratives and social divisions have rattled the Sangh leadership in Nagpur and it has made its displeasure known nationally.

In a televised speech at the gathering of newly trained RSS workers in Nagpur -- on the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge of his new cabinet -- Sarsanghchalak (chief) Mohan Bhagwat, criticised the ruling and the opposition parties for the divisive poll campaign. His remarks, some of which were directed at the ruling BJP government, were followed by a scathing article in the Sangh’s unofficial mouthpiece, the Organiser, pointing out the overconfident BJP’s strategic mistakes. The combined message has caused mini explosions in the political circle and is being seen as a sign of discontent between the BJP and the Sangh.

Refuting the rumours, RSS member Ratan Sharda, said the BJP and the Sangh belong to the same ideological family and there was no rift between the two. “It is a message to the BJP’s leadership that they should remove whatever shortcomings have come up in the organisation structure and recover the losses on the ground level.”

Sharda who has authored three books on RSS and runs a blog called, ‘Secrets of RSS’ is a lifelong member of Sangh and deeply entrenched in the right-wing ecosystem. Juggling media requests for interviews, and attending calls over his viral Organiser article at his spacious flat in Mumbai, Sharda told Outlook, that the RSS knew not everything was right with the BJP during elections. The BJP’s famed machinery was weakened and its leaders failed to launch corrective measures in time, suffering heavy losses and conceding substantial ground to the opposition. “BJP workers did not have their ears to the ground. They did not use the feedback mechanism to convey to the top leadership that something was going wrong. They let people feel that everything was fine. They got too complacent thinking Modi would make them win, and it didn't work,” he said.

As per his analysis, the BJP lost about 10 per cent votes or an estimated 34 seats among the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe voters due to the rumours that BJP wants overwhelming majority of more than 400 seats to change the constitution and end reservation. Additionally, the voters did not support the BJP’s choice of candidates -- 25 per cent of whom were given to defectors who joined the BJP after leaving their political parties. “Karyakartas were not sensitive in understanding voters loyalty to the BJP, which arises from a fundamental ideology of the BJP which is different from other political parties. People have been disenchanted.”

Sharda specifically highlighted the case of “unnecessary politicking and avoidable manipulations” in Maharashtra with the induction of Ajit Pawar and members of the Nationalist Congress Party in the BJP-Sena ruling alliance. “In a single stroke, BJP reduced its brand value. After years of struggle to be numero uno in Maharashtra, it became just another political party without any difference,” he wrote in the Organiser.

In Uttar Pradesh, tickets were given to former Congress leader Kripa Shankar Singh and Retd IAS officer R K Singh who described RSS as a conspiracist and terrorist organisation. “Why would people vote for such candidates or local workers support their campaign, if they did not expressly issue apology after joining the BJP,” he questioned.

While there was a lack of coordination at the booth level and glaring errors in ticket distribution, Sharda also noted during his travels that the BJP’s leadership underestimated voter problems and got comfortable knowing that the RSS’s foot workers would toil and sweat to get its candidates elected.

The Sangh lends its full support and works in coordination with the BJP during major events like national or state elections to encourage voter participation. As part of its ‘100 per cent voting campaign’ RSS holds meetings across the country, appealing people to cast their votes in favour of nationalistic parties. This time however, there was lack of coordination between the BJP and the RSS, barring states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, in the last mile effort to get the voters to the polling booths. Sharda claimed members like him found under utilised despite offering help. The resultant effect of a decentralised campaign was that the BJP lost several seats to the opponents with a slender margin of few thousands votes.

Sharda believes the shock of substantial losses is good for the fresh and young BJP workers who have only seen the party’s success since its landslide victory in 2014. “BJP is fortunate that people have given it a shock, which is bearable. At least they have still won the elections.” He said the BJP must heed to criticism from inside the Sangh parivar and outside from its core voters instead of pretending everything is fine.

One of the surprising element that played towards the last of the seven phases of hectic campaigning, was national president J P Nadda’s statement expressing high confidence in gaining an overwhelming majority and dismissing RSS support. The statement spurned rumour mills of rifts between the two organisations and reinforced the widely held belief that under the stupendous political success of Modi government, the RSS had turned BJP’s junior team.

Advertisement

The RSS is entrenched in all spheres of life through an estimated 38 national level organisations working in social, educational, cultural, think-tank and religious spaces. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, Ekal Vidyala, Bajrang Dal among others command high membership and wide appeal. But none are as big as the BJP which has become the world’s largest political organisation with 18 crore members, many of whom are proactive supporters. Although Modi’s coming in power has accelerated interest in Sangh, the growth of RSS is not dependent on Modi, he said.

Advertisement

Sharda added that the timing and messaging of Nadda’s statement came at the wrong moment. While the statement itself was not objectionable as the Sangh has officially maintained it does not interfere into BJP’s affairs, he feels Nadda should have underlined that BJP is part of the Sangh parivar. “Normal RSS worker would surmise that BJP doesn’t need Sangh then why should they work for them. The messaging was mistakenly not explained properly.”

He recalled the era of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and party president L K Advani when a resurgent BJP went to town with the India Shining campaign and appeared buoyant about the NDA being voted back to power. This was also the time when internal power struggle and one upmanship resulted in cracks in RSS’s relationship with the BJP. Party secretary Pramod Mahajan, BJP’s popular and powerful leader from Maharashtra, who was incharge of the election campaign, had several tiffs with RSS. “Mahajan also felt that BJP does not need RSS. It didn’t work out. We paid a heavy price. There is a problem if one of us feels that we can function without the other,” he said.

Advertisement

Sharda believes that differences of opinions aside, the Sangh and the BJP need each others support as they are nationalistic forces who follow same ideologies. RSS works on the social front and the BJP on the political front. “What RSS has worked for 90 years, BJP has put on ground in 10 years in the best possible way,” he said adding that to keep India’s unity and civilisational identity alive, all forces need to work together.

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement