The initial groundswell of support in Uttar Pradesh for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to invalidate high-denomination notes seems to be on the wane, threatening the prospects of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state elections next year. This is the feedback that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the party’s ideological parent, has gathered through its meetings in the state.
Amid growing disquiet among members of the Sangh Parivar over the continuing distress caused by the withdrawal of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, the RSS, in a massive exercise, is tapping into local units of the saffron body and its affiliates to gauge the situation on the ground.
Indications of the fading enthusiasm in Uttar Pradesh came in the very first meeting that RSS joint general secretaries Dattatreya Hosabale and Krishna Gopal held with leaders of the saffron outfit and its affiliates in eastern Uttar Pradesh, including the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The two-day discussion, which concluded on Tuesday, was held in Varanasi, Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency.
“The meeting was attended by leaders of Goraksha Prant and Kashi Prant of the Sangh [divisions of the organisation in eastern Uttar Pradesh],” said a senior RSS office bearer present at the discussions. “The objective of the meeting was as much to ensure active support of various wings of the RSS for the BJP in forthcoming Assembly election as to obtain feedback with regard to the popular mood on demonetisation.”
The RSS official said that most leaders who attended the Varanasi meeting were of the view that popular sentiment is fast turning against the demonetisation. “The participants also told Dattatreyaji and Krishna Gopalji that the miseries of common masses, if not addressed on urgent basis, would turn into anger against the BJP in the election,” he added.
Eye on polls
For local administrative purposes, the RSS has divided the country into various prants, or states, which do not necessarily correspond with India’s states. The state of Uttar Pradesh, for instance, is divided into six prants: Goraksha Prant, Kashi Prant, Braj Prant, Avadha Prant, Kanpur Prant and Meerut Prant. RSS officials said that similar meetings will be held over the next few days in the other prants.
The RSS will hold more discussions across the country over the next few days, but their focus will be on the states going to polls early next year – Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur and most crucially, Uttar Pradesh.
For instance, Baij Nath Rai, the president of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, an RSS-affiliated trade union, told the Telegraph that the number of jobs lost were higher than those created since Modi became prime minister and that the demonetistion had worsened the situation.
“Under the new government, 1 lakh 35 thousand job opportunities have been created so far but 20 lakh people have lost their jobs,” he said. “We have reports of job losses in the unorganised sector because of demonetisation, but how deep the impact is has to be ascertained.”
The same article also quoted officials from the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, RSS’ economic wing and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, a farmers’ body linked to the saffron outfit who said that going cashless – which the Modi government has been aggressively been pushing for since demonetisation – is not feasible in India yet.
There are also reports of growing disquiet among the BJP MPs over the distress of street vendors, migrant labourers and small traders as a result of the shortage of cash.
RSS officials said that the inputs gathered through such meetings with local units will form the basis of the BJP’s election strategy in poll-bound states.