Punjab, Tamil Nadu On RSS Radar Now
At a recent meeting called by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the organization identified Punjab and Tamil Nadu as its current weak spots. It was felt that the RSS should focus on these two states as far more work needs to be done here at the grassroots in comparison to the other states.
Undoubtedly, the RSS has been steadily expanding its activities in Punjab and Tamil Nadu, especially after the BJP emerged as the main political force in the country by winning two consecutive Lok Sabha elections and sweeping most assembly polls.
But the two geographically distant states have, so far, refused to be seduced by the RSS and BJP’s ideology. The wash-out faced by the saffron party in the last general election in Punjab and Tamil Nadu was evidence that the groundwork done by the RSS foot soldiers and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charm offensive did not yield results.
However, this has not deterred the RSS and the BJP. Determined to make inroads in both Punjab and Tamil Nadu, the two affiliates are intensifying their efforts in these states. It’s a challenging task given the past record of the RSS here and the special character and political culture of the two states.
Both states do not trust of the RSS and the BJP for the same reasons. In Punjab, the RSS has always been suspect as the Sikhs fear the organization’s main objective is to destroy their distinct identity. Influenced by the ideologically-strong Dravidian movement, the Tamil people are equally wary of the saffron camp’s predatory moves which, they believe, are aimed at annihilating their language and culture.
Though the RSS has been working in Punjab for several decades now, its activities have increased exponentially since the BJP came to power in 2014. The number of RSS shakhas has gone up manifold while a large army of Sangh pracharaks has been deputed to the state to propagate its ideology.
The RSS, which operates through its Sikh arm, the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, was once banished from the state. But it has been resurrected and reactivated once again. This has led to tension on the ground leading to the killing of several senior RSS functionaries during the last few years. Extremely proud of their distinct culture, religion, and identity, the Sikhs are constantly on guard vis-a-vis the RSS which has been wooing the Sikhs with the argument that Sikhism is a sect of Hinduism. The Sikhs see this as a clear attempt to erase their faith.
As a panthic party, the Shiromani Akali Dal, a BJP ally, has never been happy with the activities of the RSS. But this has become a further source of tension after the saffron camp demonstrated its determination to put down roots in Punjab. This has brought the focus back on their ideological differences which are kept under wraps as the two parties need each other to attain power as their social bases complement each other.
Though it has had a longstanding pact with the BJP, the SAD is suddenly not sure about the future of their alliance as the two failed to seal a deal for the forthcoming Haryana assembly polls. The SAD has, therefore, tied up with the Indian National Lok Dal instead.
The Akalis are particularly perturbed as the saffron camp is concentrating on the rural belt, which is the SAD’s traditional stronghold. Fuelled by its ambition to have a strong presence in all states, the BJP is willing to overlook its unwritten pact with the SAD that the two parties focus on areas where each is strong: the BJP on the urban areas for the Hindu vote and the Akalis on the rural belt for the Sikh peasantry. The BJP has no more than an eight percent vote share in Punjab but it is hoping to expand its footprint here by weaning away the growing young population which is more concerned with development and employment.
As in the case of Punjab, the RSS has also spread its wings far and wide in Tamil Nadu. The Sangh’s Hindutva agenda has found traction with the upper castes in the state as they genuinely believe in its philosophy. However, the RSS-BJP combine faces the tough task of wooing the backward classes and the Dalits who have been sufficiently empowered by the Dravidian parties.
On its part, the RSS is making a pitch for the unity of all Hindus and, at the same time, is trying to create a wedge between the backward classes and Dalits. It is focusing on the Dalits as they get overlooked for positions of power by the more powerful backward classes. In this connection, the Sangh has been organising Hindu festivals on a grand scale in Dalit colonies. While the RSS is feeling encouraged by the enthusiastic response to these programmes, DMK’s Lok Sabha MP A.Raja was unperturbed. He pointed to the recent general election in which the BJP and its ally, the AIADMK, were routed, saying,” The Dalits are willing to go along with the RSS and the BJP for religious festivities and temple visits but politically they are still wedded to Dravidian politics.”
Dravidian ideology, he added, is deeply rooted in Tamil pride and identity and the RSS is viewed as an organization which wants to impose a Brahamincal order and the Hindi language in the state. It was to assuage their fears that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on his recent visit to the US spoke of India’s linguistic diversity thrice and even quoted an ancient Tamil poet at the United Nations General Assembly. On a trip to Chennai on his return, he made it a point to mention that he took it upon himself to teach everyone that Tamil is one of India’s ancient languages.
Political leaders from Tamil Nadu admit that though their people had rebuffed the RSS and the BJP, they cannot afford to be complacent as their state is now firmly on the saffron camp’s radar.