Bhopal: When V.D. Sharma, a little-known BJP leader in Bundelkhand, made a belated entry in the electoral fray, party leaders of the region were surprised. His candidature was opposed widely in Khajuraho, effigies were burnt, and BJP leaders and workers shouted “V.D. Sharma vapas jao”.
In neighbouring Tikamgarh, Virendra Khatik’s candidature was also opposed by local leaders, including all MLAs. Former MLA R.D. Prajapati even resigned and contested as a Samajwadi Party candidate.
In tribal dominated Balaghat, the BJP replaced the sitting MP Bhodh Singh Bhagat with little known Dhal Singh Bisen. Annoyed with the denial, Bhagat contested as an independent candidate.
In Bhopal, though no one openly opposed Pragya Thakur’s candidature, local BJP leaders campaigned rather halfheartedly. The absence of many the BJP leaders from her campaign trail was conspicuous.
There was resentment against more than half a dozen the BJP candidates across the state. But all of them have won with a margin of more than two lakhs.
What works here? The answer is: the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Along with the Modi wave, RSS penetration proved to be an unbeatable combination.
The RSS leadership drew up a strategy that was independent of BJP’s campaign. They made a list of seats — Dhar, Ratlam, Khargone, Dewas, Balaghat, Khajuraho and others, for instance — where BJP seemed on a weak footing and concentrated their energies there.
Throughout the campaigning season, four wings of RSS — Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, Bhartiya Majdoor Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad — remained super active at the ground level, ensuring minimum vote drift to the BJP.
Different wings of RSS held multiple meetings every day with women and young voters, telling them that they have the power to change the game and rewrite history, RSS workers said. In Ratlam, Dhar and Khargone, teams of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram had begun campaigning well before candidates were announced.
A top RSS functionary from Malwa said, “Our work started six months ago. We never discussed any political party or caste, and instead spoke of nationalism, national security and social development for all sectors. We told people to vote judiciously for the party they think will stand for the country and countrymen.”
“Senior workers of RSS, who worked behind the curtains, took several meetings of regional party leaders and united them,” a Congress leader said, pointing out that in constituencies like Bhind, where BJP’s Sandhya Rai was not even known, it is RSS that did all the networking.
After his victory, V.D. Sharma said, “I am thankful to the RSS and Modiji and, of course, the people of the constituency for their blessings.”
A Congress leader in Rajgarh, where BJP’s Rodmal Nagar won by a huge margin despite perceived anti-incumbency, said: “Besides the Modi wave, it’s the RSS that made the difference.”
In Bhopal, where Congress stalwart Digvijaya Singh lost by a huge margin, RSS volunteers went door to door, often in uniform, to canvass for Pragya Thakur.
“The RSS was in total command,” said a Congress campaign manager.
In Malwa-Nimar too, it was the RSS that effected an amazing turnaround just six months after Congress made deep inroads. While candidates and their teams where busy in meetings, RSS workers marched deep into the constituency, meeting voters in their homes over a cup of tea.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat camped in Indore from February 19-22, meeting senior workers and motivating them to expand their reach for elections.
A senior RSS leader, asking not to be named, said the 70% turnout in Indore was their doing. “Our men were in the field since early morning, requesting each family member to go and vote. We focused intensely on Indore. We had a plan, and campaigned door to door,” he said.
Indore’s BJP candidate, Shankar Lalwani, an RSS worker himself, faced the anger of a section of the electorate because Sumitra Mahajan was not fielded.
The RSS even distributed feedback forms to voters seeking their views on national security, the country’s growth and safety.
“Even when candidates were sleeping, we were talking to voters, be it early morning or late night,” said an RSS leader.
Kashif Kakvi is a Delhi-based journalist who reports on Madhya Pradesh. He tweets @KashifKakvi.