On the Pilibhit-Shahjahanpur road, at Ghazipur Munghel, residents talk enthusiastically about the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi: they were impressed, they said, when he visited their village. Visited their village, I ask? No, what they meant was that a Namorath had stopped by to show them two films, the first an advertisement, with the jingle, “Modi aa raha hain”, and the other, in which the BJP leader makes his pitch directly to the people.
Some way ahead, at Patrajpur Bazaar, I spot a Namorath — inscribed with the exhortation that the responsibility of bringing Mr. Modi to power lies with the people of Uttar Pradesh — entertaining weekly shoppers. Children, amused by the jingle, dance around, singing “Namo aa raha hain,” unconsciously amplifying its impact.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Sriphul Singh, in charge of this van, explains that similar vehicles are visiting every block in the state: accompanying him is a driver, and young Ashok Adarsh, recruited by the RSS as technical help. Later, at Etawah, a local RSS worker says the itinerary for these vans, each making five designated stops along a 60-km stretch daily, has been drawn up in Lucknow: from there, the journeys undertaken are monitored through GPRS, “lest someone plays hooky”.
The Modi project is, of course, being powered nationally by a high-octane advertising campaign visible in urban India, its wall-to-wall pitch crowding out competing election appeals. But, on the ground in UP, far from the TV cameras, it is the RSS that is working overtime, in the old fashioned way it knows best, door-to-door, its role extending well beyond managing the ubiquitous Namoraths that are penetrating the remotest villages.
In a crowded by-lane in Bijnor, I meet Maheshji at the RSS office late one evening: on the wall are hung not just portraits of Hegdewar, Golwalkar, and Bharat Mata astride a tiger, but also of Ambedkar. Ambedkar in the RSS pantheon? “Ambedkar rejected the Nawab of Hyderabad’s appeal to convert to Islam,” Maheshji explains, “He also refused to become a Christian.” The fact that Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, he says, doesn’t matter as “it is part of Hinduism”.
It is a ploy that is visibly working in these elections, with even a section of dalits shifting their allegiance from the Bahujan Samaj Party to the BJP, included now in the Hindu fold, in the wake of the communal clashes last year in Muzaffarnagar, as conversations with some dalits in parts of west UP demonstrate.
Maheshji, a samanvay pramukh, heads a group of 10 RSS workers to oversee one election booth. Similar teams monitor the approximately 1.3 lakh booths across UP to “activate the organisational network” to “fill the gaps wherever there is a shortfall in the BJP’s efforts,” he explains.
In recent years the RSS only began work “15-20 days before the elections” but this time, he stresses, “we started in November so that the plan reaches the bottom”, with the RSS’s many frontal organisations all drafted for a single goal.
“Muzaffarnagar set the stage,” Maheshji says candidly, “We found talking about the Hindu ideology and Modi even neutralised anger against re-nominated sitting BJP MPs.”
“We are witnessing the same sort of enthusiasm we saw in 1977 after the Emergency,” says a local RSS leader Govind Behari Aggarwal in Bareilly, stressing, “the country is again at the crossroads, there is an undeclared emergency. There is corruption and anarchy at home; danger on our borders. The UPA has taken it all lightly. We need to restore the honour of the nation: we tell Hindus that these elections will decide the country’s future.”
Finally, every Hindu family is given a copy of “Rashtradev,” a local RSS paper. RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat may have publicly spoken out against the dangers of building a personality cult, but a copy of “Rashtradev” The Hindu accessed is all about Mr Modi, with photographs of him on the front and back pages.