state elections

As Uttar Pradesh heads for the polls, RSS steps out to take most decisions for the BJP

RSS joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale is said to be playing the main role in the party's election management strategy.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has quietly emerged to play a more public role in Uttar Pradesh, taking most major decisions for its political outfit, the Bharatiya Janata Party, as the state prepares for Assembly elections to be held in seven phases between February 11 and March 8.

RSS joint general secretary (Sah Sarkaryavah) Dattatreya Hosabale, who shifted base from Patna to Lucknow in March, has virtually become the central figure in the BJP’s state unit, said people familiar with the situation. His authority has outstripped that of the party’s office-bearers, led by the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh president, Keshav Prasad Maurya, these people say.

Hosabale’s core team consists of state general secretary in-charge of organisation, Sunil Bansal, and the party’s six regional organisation secretaries in Uttar Pradesh. In the BJP, just as in other affiliates of the RSS, organisation secretaries are key office-bearers who are laterally transferred from the parent body – the RSS.

The organisation secretaries in question are Om Prakash Shrivastav (Kanpur Kshetra), Chandrashekhar (Paschim Kshetra), Bhawani Singh (Brij Kshetra), Braj Bahadur (Avadh Kshetra), Shiv Kumar Pathak (Goraksha Kshetra) and Ratnakar (Kashi Kshetra).

Total control

Together with these officials, Hosabale is playing the main role in almost every aspect of election management – from identifying candidates to managing booths and from conducting ground-level surveys to preparing strategies to mobilise voters in the state, say people familiar with the situation.

“Except for Assembly constituencies in the Varanasi parliamentary seat, Hosabale and his team of pracharaks [RSS full-time workers] have played a key role in the selection of candidates in almost all other seats in UP,” said a senior BJP leader, who is a member in the party’s state election committee, which was constituted in the last week of December.

The list of candidates prepared by Hosabale and his team was discussed and finalised at a meeting of party’s state election committee on Tuesday. “The list has two to three candidates for each seat in UP barring those in the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency,” said the member of the BJP’s state election committee.

Varanasi, which is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency, has five Assembly seats. The BJP has MLAs in Varanasi North, Varanasi South and Varanasi Cantonment, while the Rohaniya and Sevapuri seats are represented by the Samajwadi Party.

BJP president Amit Shah has already told some senior leaders that the final list of candidates will be prepared from among the names suggested by the state election committee, said people familiar with the situation. However, candidates for the five Assembly seats in Varanasi will be chosen directly by the Prime Minister’s office.

Besides the Dattatreya-led core group, the RSS has asked several of its functionaries to assist with the party’s election management process.

To gear up the entire Sangh Parivar to work as a massive election machine, senior RSS functionaries, including Dattatreya, recently completed a series of regional coordination meetings with allied outfits such as the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagaran Manch and Seva Bharati (a conglomeration of NGOs).

Working in tandem

The RSS exercises considerable control over the BJP. Not only does it transfer pracharaks laterally to the party and secure key positions for them in the saffron outfit’s organisational structure, it also keeps the BJP overwhelmingly dependent on its cadres. Though leaders of the BJP and the RSS often insist that the latter provides suggestions rather than directives, the truth is that the saffron party does not have much leeway when it comes to taking major decisions on issues related to organisational matters and policies.

Even though the RSS is said to work in tandem with the BJP at the time of elections, the two bodies have existed separately. It is because of this separation that there have been occasions when the BJP has acted independently of the RSS.

However, the new initiative of the RSS in Uttar Pradesh is unusual because this is the first time that the RSS has come out to play not a supplementary but the central role. This, some observers say, has made meaningless the party recognised by the Election Commission of India.

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