At RSS’ Mega Meet in Meerut, A Strategy For Dalit Votes in 2019

Is ‘Rashtroday’ a political ploy by the RSS to peddle the narrative of Hindutva among Dalits?

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Namaste Sada Vatsale Matribhume,
Twaya Hindubhume Sukham Vardhitoham.
Mahanmangale Punyabhume Twadarthe,
Patatwesh Kayo Namaste, Namaste.

Standing on a stage that had a poster of ‘Bharat Mata’ in the background, Amit Kumar, an 8th grade student, was reciting this prayer which is taught in the ‘shakhas’ of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). His eyes are shut and his right hand is close to his chest in a typical swayamsevak pose. The prayer translates to:

“Forever I bow to thee, O Loving Motherland! O Motherland/Land of Hindus, Thou hast brought me up in happiness. May my life, O great and blessed Holy Land, be laid down in Thy Cause. I bow to Thee again and again.”

Amit told us:

I have been visiting shakhas for an year now. They instil a feeling of patriotism in me. But that doesn’t mean I am anti-Muslim. One should not see everything with the same prism.

Amit is one of the lakhs of swayamsevaks gathered in Meerut from 15 districts of Uttar Pradesh for the RSS congregation called ‘Rashtroday’.

Organising such a huge gathering by the RSS in western Uttar Pradesh has huge political significance. The area has been a hotbed for news related to Dalit activism.

The Saharanpur violence that took place during April-May 2017 was a dispute between Dalits and savarnas. Ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP’s eagerness to mend the bridges with Dalits is quite evident.

During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Dalits had deserted the Bahujan Samaj Party and voted overwhelmingly for the BJP. But that was the impact of the Modi wave. When Uttar Pradesh went to polls in 2017, some of the Dalit vote did swing back to their ‘messiah’ Mayawati.

Now that things aren’t looking good for the BSP on the political front, the BJP sniffs an opportunity to pull Dalits back to their corner by peddling the narrative of nationalism and Hindutva.

Is Rashtroday A Part of BJP’s Dalit Wooing Strategy?

Addressing the swayamsevaks in the gathering, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had said:

All Hindus are my brothers. It doesn’t matter what their caste or creed is, which God do they worship, what is their mode of worshiping or where does he live. All Hindus are my brothers. 

Some swayamsevaks do not find this statement politically loaded.

Dalits are anyways Hindu. There is no politics (in Bhagwat’s statement). As he said, we will try our best to work together with them. 
Vineet Jain, Businessman

Bhagwat even managed to spin the meaning of extremism.

Extremism means extreme compassion, extreme non-violence. The world doesn’t follow the rules unless someone strictly enforces them. Even the Gods ask for the sacrifice of a goat because it is weak.
Mohan Bhagwat, RSS Chief

The Quint spoke to some swayamsevaks on issues such as cow vigilantism. They seemed to be in support of gau raksha, but against the violence in the name of gau raksha.

I don’t want to impose my views on anyone else. But the protection of cow must be ensured.
Tanishk Bansal, Student
Even in the case of cow slaughter, instead of taking the law in your own hands, one must seek help from police and law.
Aadesh, Student and Bajrang Dal Member

A few days ago, Mohan Bhagwat had invited severe criticism with his comment of preparing an army in three days. But in Meerut, he refused to acknowledge the congregation as a show of strength.

We haven’t done a show of strength by inviting one lakh swayamsevaks but we have measured our strength.
Mohan Bhagwat, RSS Chief

But Mr Bhagwat, are you measuring your strength or are you measuring the pulse of general public ahead of 2019 general elections?

(This article was originally published on Quint Hindi and was translated by Anubhav Mishra.)

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