MP Assembly Elections 2018: Sangh Jung? RSS looms large as lotus tries to re-bloom

The first day of the new week brought both the top leaders of BJP and Congress back onto campaign trail in Madhya Pradesh for the second time in a fortnight. BJP president Amit Shah has been virtually hovering over the state sky for the past three weeks. The same partially holds good for Rahul Gandhi. Is that a measure of how keen the battle is going to turn out in the state?

The three heartland states—Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan— make up for a sizeable electoral area and the BJP knows it must sweat it out to hold off Congress which is slowly retrieving some lost ground. The party leadership has decided to hold back the names of the candidates in all these three states. The chief ministers who were so far wielding considerable power in deciding the candidates have been kept out of the exercise.

The BJP is apparently under intense pressure from the parent organisation, RSS, to iron out social creases and growing disillusionment among the core upper and intermediate castes over the party’s approach on ST/ST act. Shah’s policy to shore up Dalit votes whiletaking the upper caste votes for granted, is recoiling on the party. Ironically the RSS has hitherto been questioning the relevance of caste reservations.

This week’s mantra to the party was to guard against sabotage by upper caste voters offended by the BJP’s stand against Supreme Court’s dilution of the draconian law on atrocities against Dalits and Scheduled Tribes. After the opposition parties exploited RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s utterances against the reservations, he took a U-turn leaving the party cadre confused. Bhagwat’s stand on treatment of minorities also runs contrary to the perceived view of RSS.

A house named Samidha in the posh Arera Colony, is virtually the sub-headquarters of the RSS away from Nagpur. Quite importantly it is located less than 250 metres from the BJP’s state headquarters. The shadow it casts on the party’s – and thereby the government’s decision-making — is obvious from the presence of RSS hierarchy Shah reports to. One can easily discern the method and discipline it imparts to the party’s functioning. But, it also lends weight to the criticism over the extra-constitutional role the RSS plays in governance. The Sangh representatives scrutinised the feedback from every individual constituency and demanded a feedback from leaders in closed envelopes. The tickets would be decided based on this feedback.

The next week could be quite tumultuous with some protests on tickets dominating the scene.A house named Samidha in the posh Arera Colony, is virtually the sub-headquarters of the RSS away from Nagpur. Quite importantly it is located less than 250 metres from the BJP’s state headquarters. The shadow it casts on the party’s – and thereby the government’s decision-making — is obvious from the presence of RSS hierarchy Shah reports to. One can easily discern the method and discipline it imparts to the party’s functioning. But, it also lends weight to the criticism over the extra-constitutional role the RSS plays in governance.

The Sangh representatives scrutinised the feedback from every individual constituency and demanded a feedback from leaders in closed envelopes. The tickets would be decided based on this feedback. The next week could be quite tumultuous with some protests on tickets dominating the scene.The BJP also wants Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intensify his campaign in the state. The Prime Minister might engage with the state electorate with nearly 50 meetings covering the areas that have been listed as vulnerable. This comes as an acknowledgment of incumbency fatigue.

The polls could thus turn into Namo-Raga contest. BJP supporters believe this would force the Congress to play to the BJP’s strength and, that Rahul Gandhi has already walked into that trap by opting for soft Hindutva. This also points to the early realisation of the crisis and quick response by the ruling party.Rahul Gandhi’s new-found love for shrines of all faiths is a favourite subject of discussion now. Not many critics of the Congress care to remember the spirituality of both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi who equally enthusiastically made regular trips to temples and other places of religious importance.

Significantly the spiritual component is not interfering with the discussion on core electoral issues at hand. This has shown in the speeches of the Congress president. That some important members of the BJP are joining the Congress is a clear indication of the fresh hopes from the party.As the week unfolds most parties will feel the heat while selecting their candidates. Rahul Gandhi’s warning of not picking up paratroopers over the ground level workers is most likely to go unheard. PCC chief Kamal Nath has already hinted at picking up people with winning abilities.

Arjun Arya has returned the SP ticket to be able to focus on his campaign against chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Arya who was arrested for participating in farmers’ agitation at Sehore has joined the Congress and might be pitted against chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The Congress has apparently decided to field a large majority of MLAs again. It was to have released the first list of 100 nominees before Oct 20. The delay points to adjustments over the new arrivals from BJP. The rush of ticket seekers should enthuse the party. But the accompanying woes can’t be underestimated.The Gondwana Ganatantra Party which had decided to go it alone by setting up candidates at over 50 seats is said to have softened its stand on alliance with Congress.

Then there is Hardik Patel who wants a large chunk of seats in Mandsaur district to be earmarked for his supporters. The Patidar-dominated area could test the Congress leadership again. The Congress can’t match the BJPs wherewithal. But it does reflect the conviction that BJP failed to summon so far.

Chandrakant Naidu is a senior journalist

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