Red Alert in Saffron Campaign

RSS prepares voter list for targeted campaigning in MP after Congress manifesto threat

In a clear shift from its electoral strategy, the RSS is conducting a survey across Madhya Pradesh to ensure targeted campaigning and optimum results for the BJP. Mujeeb Faruqui/Hindustan Times/Getty Images
21 November, 2018

Over the past ten days, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has conducted an unusual survey of voters across Madhya Pradesh to ensure targeted campaigning for its political outfit, the Bharatiya Janata Party, in the upcoming assembly elections, which are scheduled for 28 November. The survey puts voters in three categories—A, B and C—depending on their likelihood to vote for the BJP. The data, which is being collected at the booth level, is meant to facilitate targeted political messaging by the RSS, to ensure the maximum voter turnout and optimum results for the BJP.

“While voters who have traditionally been supporting the RSS have been put in the ‘A’ category, those who keep shifting and hence require more informal persuasions in order to make them vote for the BJP are made part of the ‘B’ category,” Mrinal Doraye, an RSS worker who is in-charge of the survey in Jaitpur village, under the state’s Dhar district, told me. “Voters who are Communist-minded or who cannot be persuaded to vote for the BJP are put in the ‘C’ category,” he said. “Since it is futile to spend our time and energy on such voters, the new database would help us concentrate on those belonging to the ‘B’ category.”

The survey marks a shift in the RSS’s election strategy and reflects a red alert in its campaign. It is a clear departure from its erstwhile practice of using its booth-level workers to persuade voters of all kinds, without planning to optimise their efforts.

The decision to conduct the survey was taken against the backdrop of the Congress targeting the RSS in its election manifesto, released on 10 November, in which the party vowed to revoke orders allowing government employees to attend RSS shakha sessions. The party has also stated that if voted to power in the state, it will not allow the RSS to hold its shakhas on government premises. “The instructions for the survey came the very next day,” Ishwar Das Vaishnav, a regular RSS worker who is actively involved in the Sangh’s election efforts in the Tirupati Nagar locality in the Dhar district, said.

BJP members have not been involved in the survey, which has been conducted solely by regular RSS workers. The survey is rather extensive in constituencies that have a strong network of RSS workers. “Each member of the booth-level committee of the Sangh was given nearly 20 to 25 households and asked to mark voters of these families under A, B and C categories,” Vaishnav said. “Though we were given a deadline of 22 November to finish the whole exercise, most of the swayamsevaks of Tirupati Nagar have already completed the survey.”

According to a senior office-bearer of the RSS in the Malwa region—which includes most of western Madhya Pradesh—the survey seeks to ensure the optimum utilisation of the RSS’s network to defeat the Congress in the state. “With Congress vowing to virtually ban the RSS in Madhya Pradesh, a new situation has emerged,” the RSS office-bearer said, on the condition of anonymity. “A victory for the Congress will mean not just the loss of a state but also difficult times for the RSS. We, therefore, have no option but to work in the best possible manner to ensure the defeat of the Congress.”

Though roots of the RSS run deeper in Madhya Pradesh than anywhere else in the country, the parent organisation of the BJP had been somnolent in the past few months, due to various reasons, including the saffron outfit’s long stint in power in the state. But the threat perception created by the Congress manifesto has turned the RSS so active that it now appears to consider the state polls a do-or-die battle.

The underlying strength of the new strategy is manifold. Apart from serving the RSS’s targeted campaign efforts, the data could also be used for informal persuasion of voters in the high-stake Lok Sabha election which is to be held next year.

“The constant interaction with voters of ‘B’ category would give us a chance to know how many of new voters we can bank on,” the RSS office-bearer said. “Since voters of the ‘A’ category are already on our side, our swayamsevaks would have a fair idea of specific individuals they should be concentrating most of their energy on.”