How the RSS Helped Fill the BJP’s Grassroots Vacuum in Assam

11 April 2016
In Majuli, the BJP state president and chief ministerial candidate, Sarbananda Sonowal, is engaged in a tough contest against the three-time Congress MLA Rajib Lochan Pegu.
Ujjal Deb / Hindustan Times / Getty Images
In Majuli, the BJP state president and chief ministerial candidate, Sarbananda Sonowal, is engaged in a tough contest against the three-time Congress MLA Rajib Lochan Pegu.
Ujjal Deb / Hindustan Times / Getty Images

Surprisingly, it appears that even without strong organisation in the grassroots level of the state, the Bharatiya Janata Party has emerged as the Congress’s main rival in the 2016 Assam assembly election, the second phase of which is being held today. Part of the reason behind the BJP’s emergence lies in the covert strategy the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been working on for the past several months to ensure the party’s win in the assembly polls.

According to an RSS functionary, in November last year, the RSS had arrived at certain “crucial decisions” for the assembly polls in Assam. “We knew we would have to work very hard since the BJP was weak at the local level,” the functionary said.  “We decided to wait for the strategy that would be adopted by the BJP leadership including the alliances with other parties.”

Both the BJP and the RSS had agreed that, in order to prevent the state from “being overrun by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants,” a BJP government would have to be formed.  A section of BJP workers surmised that if the Congress were to return, it would probably join hands with the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by the by perfume baron Badruddin Ajmal. The AIUDF has traditionally drawn its support from the Bengali Muslims in the state, which includes citizens and immigrants.

The functionary said that the RSS then analysed all the assembly seats in minute detail, and identified the strengths and weaknesses of each constituency. Four months later, it issued directions to all its branches to activate the campaign for the elections.  In some constituencies, intellectuals and social activists began to be invited for public meetings convened by the Lok Jagaran Mancha, a front of the RSS that was founded in 1979. The LJM now has branches all over the state, and is open to membership.

In the run up the elections, LJM has been very active in at least 31 seats in upper (eastern) Assam, including the Dibrugarh, Golaghat and Sivasagar districts, but less in Jorhat, explained Sankar Das, the publicity head of the RSS’s Assam chapter. This, Das added, explained the “bright chances” of the BJP’s success in the polls in these regions.

Rajeev Bhattacharya is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India's Most Wanted Men.

Keywords: state assembly elections Assam BJP RSS
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