In 1947, Nair Service Society of Kerala – an organisation founded by social reformer and freedom fighter, Mannath Padmanabhan, to unite the dominant caste Nairs – established a college in Changanaserry, in the Travancore region. The linguistic state of Kerala was yet to be formed and Padmanabhan named the institution, NSS Hindu College.
According to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s anecdotal history, it was MS Golwalkar, the second chief executive of the RSS, who prompted Padmanabhan to name the college so. Padmanabhan had earlier felicitated Golwalkar in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala on his 51st birthday.
The ties between NSS and RSS, however, seem to have strained over the years. In the upcoming Kerala assembly election, the NSS has opposed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate Kummanam Rajasekharan who is contesting at Nemom, Thiruvananthapuram. In the constituency, a three-way contest is on between the BJP, Indian National Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Here, the NSS leadership has come out in support of K. Muraleedharan, a Congress candidate and son of former Chief Minister K Karunakaran. Will the NSS understanding with the Congress defeat BJP’s ambitions in Nemom and in other constituencies in the state? Nairs form 14.5 per cent of the population of Kerala.
What Changed Between RSS and NSS?
The RSS mouthpiece Organiser quotes Mannath Padmanabhan as having said, “RSS is the only effective cure for the lack of strength and organisation and the consequent cowardice and wretched state of our Hindu race. Every village of Kerala must proudly possess a Shakha of the RSS… Had I been younger, I would have gladly participated even in the physical activities of the RSS”.
A Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary in Kerala explained, “The RSS and the NSS do not have any ideological conflicts. The organisations have been committed to each other in the past”.
Then, why has the NSS not supported the BJP? “The current leadership of the NSS has not understood the pulse of the organisation’s members. It is only the leadership which has turned away from the BJP, not the Nairs,” the RSS leader explained.
Is the claim true?
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls the National Democratic Alliance’s vote share in Kerala was 10.85 per cent. In 2019 Lok Sabha polls it increased to 15.20 per cent, with the BJP alone claiming 12.93 per cent of the vote.
“In Kerala there has been a steady increase in support for the BJP. Mostly, it is the vote of the Nair caste group which has swung in favour of the party and this has hit the Congress the most and CPI(M) the second most. But the NSS leadership has not yet warmed up to the BJP,” said KP Sethunath, political analyst and senior journalist based in Kerala.
During the ‘Save Sabarimala’ campaign that followed a 2018 Supreme Court judgement which allowed women of menstruating age to enter the hill shrine, a visibly angered NSS leadership had asked the community to place their weight behind the agitation.
While the agitation was primarily organized by the BJP and RSS, in 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it was the Congress-led United Democratic Front which reaped its electoral benefits by winning 19 out of the 20 Lok Sabha seats. Meaning, the Nair vote too swung in favour of the Congress.
Why Support Congress?
The RSS and the BJP blame NSS General Secretary G Sukumaran Nair for maintaining a distance with them. “The NSS should not have supported the Congress openly. It has sent a clear signal that Sukumaran Nair is against the BJP,” the RSS leader told The Quint.
Sukumaran Nair’s support for the Congress is the result of his former association with a regional party, the Kerala Congress, political observers say.
Kerala Congress is a party which was founded in 1964 after a faction split from the Indian National Congress. While KM George and R Balakrishna Pillai founded the Kerala Congress, they had received the support of NSS founder Mannath Padmanabhan at the time.
The Kerala Congress split into several factions in the later years, but currently, one prominent faction Kerala Congress (Joseph) is with the United Democratic Front and the other, Kerala Congress (Mani), is with the Left Democratic Front. “Because the leadership cannot support LDF after it implemented the Sabarimala verdict, the NSS is now supporting the Congress which wants to bring in a legislation to safeguard temple customs of Sabarimala,” a source close to the organisation said.
Moreover, the NSS leadership’s decision to support the Congress is meant to safeguard their prime assets—educational institutions, the RSS leader rued. NSS, according to the organisation’s website has over 100 schools and dozens of private colleges. “The Congress can offer them discounts in sanctions and approvals,” the RSS leader alleged. When contacted, Sukumaran Nair was not available for comment.
Meanwhile, with the CPI(M), the NSS had made its differences clear on more than one occasion, the latest being, Sukumaran Nair’s decision not to attend a meeting on Citizenship Amendment Act called by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in 2020.
Does the Nair Vote Depend on the NSS?
The Quint spoke to an NSS district functionary Jayaprakash Nair who has been eagerly waiting for the election. “We will maintain equidistance from all the parties which are contesting,” he said. Why not vote for the BJP with which NSS has had a long history? Jayaprakash Nair rued, “NSS leadership’s decisions are followed by all the functionaries in all districts. While we do not have anything against the BJP, the leadership’s decision was not to support them”.
When asked whether it is difficult to predict electoral choices of individual members, Nair laughed, “There is very little which the organisation can do about the political affiliation and aptitude of individual members. But, as an organisation, the NSS will remain independent”.
In a 2019 by-poll for the Assembly seat of Vattiyoorkavu constituency in Thiruvananthapuram, the NSS’ waning influence among the Nair community was evident. Even though the NSS had supported the Congress, VK Prashanth of the CPI(M) won the seat in that election.
This election, will the Nair vote defy NSS leadership and swing in support of the BJP?