Patna: The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) has stepped up its activities in Bihar to strengthen its roots among the backward and extremely backward castes which have hitherto been the supporter of Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar.
Like its ongoing drive among tribes of Jharkhand and adjoining areas of Chhattisgarh, the RSS is closely interacting with people at the grassroots level and trying to rope in the intermediary castes to its side in Bihar, where caste affiliations still influence voting patterns. The idea behind this is to strengthen Hindutva — the core strength of the Sangh Parivar — and break the caste barrier in the state.
The aim of the RSS is to rope in the votes of the backward and extremely backward castes so that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does not have to bank entirely on allies like Janata Dal United (JDU) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) for votes. The BJP wants to have the magic number in the Bihar assembly in 2020 polls on its own like it achieved in the parliamentary polls in May this year.
The backward and extremely backward castes together constitute nearly 45 per cent of the total population in Bihar. If the BJP manages to strengthen its roots among them, it will emerge as a powerful and mass-based political party as opposition parties, including Congress, RJD and other allies of the grand alliance, stand vanquished and debilitated.
The RSS came into focus in Bihar recently when its two senior functionaries — Ramlal and Ramesh Pappa — called on chief minister Nitish Kumar, fuelling speculation in the political circles in the backdrop of the ongoing duel over leadership for the 2020 assembly polls. Though the RSS dubbed it as a ‘courtesy meeting’ and clarified that it had nothing to do with politics, the Opposition used it as a tool to attack Kumar, saying the RSS had started dictating terms in Bihar.
The Opposition may be exaggerating the issue to target Kumar but it is certain that the future of the NDA leadership in Bihar will entirely depend upon the viewpoint of the Sangh based on its feedback on the perception of the NDA government led by Kumar in the state. A section of top BJP functionaries have already demanded that the chief minister pass on the leadership baton to the BJP this time and play an active role in national politics.
Kumar’s meeting with RSS leaders assumes significance in view of the uproar created two months ago when Special Branch of the Bihar Police issued a missive seeking details about all the officer-bearers of the RSS and its 18 front outfits, including their phone numbers, addresses and profession.
The RSS had taken strong exception to the move but the government dubbed it as routine affair. Some prominent Hindu outfits whose details were sought included Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Hindu Jagaran Samiti, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Hindu Yuva Vahini, Durga Vahini among others.
Notwithstanding the controversies around it, the RSS has been silently working in the hinterland to increase its footprint in Bihar. It has engaged Banwasi Kalyan Kendra, which works in forest areas — especially in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and in select pockets of the state like Kaimur and Seemanchal. It has opened over a dozen hostels for boys, more than 60 health and medical centres, middle schools called Shishu Vidya Mandir in almost every district and over 200 self-help groups as part of its agenda.
The main areas of operation of the Banwasi Kalyan Kendra include West and East Champaran, Purnea, Kishanganj, Katihar, Gaya, Supaul and Madhepura. “The Seemanchal region has been facing the problem of infiltration since long, especially after the Bangladesh war. Similarly, Bodh Gaya witnessed a terror attack in 2013. The terror outfits have created sleeper cells in areas of Magadh region bordering Jharkhand. We are trying to sanitise the society,” an RSS functionary said.
The focus areas of the RSS are those which have sizeable Muslim population and preponderance of the backward and extremely backward castes. The RSS leaders claimed that their primary work is to inculcate the culture of Sanatan Dharma among children in remote localities and also attract educated youth with modern outlook towards the Sangh Parivar.
The RSS leadership believes that the youth in Bihar have hitherto been influenced only by casteist forces represented by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led by Lalu Prasad and other similar political outfits of the socialist strain. “The caste divide in Bihar has been sharper and the leading political parties pursuing casteist agenda have only defeated the Hindutva forces till now,” the RSS functionary said.
Leading the RSS bandwagon in Bihar is Ramdutt Chakradhar, the Kshetra Karyavah (regional head) of Bihar and Jharkhand. Chakradhar, who is commanding the operations for the past four years, spends his time in remote areas of Bihar and Jharkhand and focuses mainly on the youth. He has inspired a large number of youths from engineering and management streams to serve the Banwasi Kalyan Kendras and Seva Bharti centres in Bihar.
The saffron outfit wants to become a hegemonic force by projecting Hindutva as an ideology that encompasses every section of society in Bihar. Besides its affiliate organisations among students, workers, farmers, intellectuals and professionals, the RSS has separate outfits for women, religious minorities and tribal people.
The RSS mission is also to enhance its outreach among women and rectify its image as a paternalistic organisation. An allied saffron outfit has conducted a survey at the national level, which was recently released by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in New Delhi. Emboldened by the positive outcome of the survey, the RSS now sees an opportunity to spread its political projects among women to a much greater extent.
Amid enhanced activities of the RSS, the BJP leadership too appears to be aggressively pursuing its saffron agenda in the state. Recently, Bihar deputy chief minister and senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi announced the installation of statues of Pt. Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Arun Jaitley in Patna.
(The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal)