NAGPUR, Maharashtra — A day before the Lok Sabha election results in 2014, senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologue M.G.Vaidya told this reporter that if Narendra Modi was elected as the Prime Minister of India with a comfortable majority, he must build the Ram Temple on the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
Five years later, barely a week from the results of the 2019 general elections, 96-year-old Vaidya is more circumspect.
“I will talk to the media only after May 23,” said Vaidya, a former RSS spokesperson, who has a rare distinction of working with all the RSS chiefs since the ultra-right organisation’s foundation in 1925.“Come to me after May 23.”
Vaidya isn’t the only RSS person maintaining this ambiguity in Nagpur, the home of the Sangh. Some of the RSS’s most influential members in the city have been reaching out to senior journalists and politically connected contacts to gauge the public mood, suggesting the organization doesn’t really know what is in store for it post-May 23.
“It is a reason for worry. But let’s hope, Uttar Pradesh will deliver again,” said an RSS leader from Vidarbha. “A chunk of 40-45 odd seats from UP will be a game changer in this election as it was in the last election as well. But we really don’t know what’s really happening there.”
The BJP’s best bet, the RSS functionary said, was that losses in the Hindi belt would be offset by gains in states like West Bengal and Odisha.
Another RSS functionary from Pune agreed that Uttar Pradesh held the key to the BJP’s fortunes. The functionary said it was unlikely that the Samajwadi Party’s OBC base would vote for BSP candidates, allowing the BJP to win enough seats in the state to retain power.
But if the alliance between the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) held firm, the BJP may not even form the government, the functionary said. The RSS would then build bridges with the new government, he said.
“Having your own government is always beneficial but the RSS’s work doesn’t stop if a favorable government is not in the office,” the Pune-based functionary said. “The problem will be when there is a government who might go after the RSS including its sources of income and other issues.”
“RSS had cordial relations with BSP founder Kanshiram. In case, there is a non-BJP government, the RSS would put its weight behind anyone who it perceives to be less vindictive,” he said, adding that the Sangh would probably prefer Mayawati to Mamta Banerjee.
Former RSS member and right-wing writer from Nagpur, Dilip Deodhar insisted that Modi and the BJP were certain to come back to power and that reports to the contrary were the work of a partisan media.
“The RSS, as an organization has spread and increased tremendously in the last five years. The BJP also strengthened itself and made 12 crore members,” Deodhar said. “Sangh Parivaar has focused on new and first-time voters in the last five years. This voter is the BJP’s strength this time because this voter is high tech. Modi is an election-oriented strategist.”
This election, Deodhar added, the BJP’s base was far more diverse than in 2014. The nomination of Ramnath Kovind, a former BJP Rajya Sabha MP who is Dalit, as India’s President was a clear step towards consolidating the party’s hold amongst marginalised Hindu communities.
“Even 2014, masses were not with the BJP. But this year, they are,” Deodhar said. “Every step and scheme of Modi was targeted at these masses. Even a two percent swing of these masses will help BJP come back.”
There is strong resentment against these two inside the RSS. BJP was a workers’ party once and collective decisions would be taken but now all the decisions are being taken by Modi-Shah duo
Yet, the city also has its doubters.
“The BJP is not going to get the majority this time. There is no doubt about it. If they don’t get a majority, there will be a demand for change in leadership,” said veteran journalist from Nagpur S N Vinod. “They may form the government but Modi might not be the Prime Minister,”
The 75-year-old journalist, who has closely monitored the RSS activists from its headquarters, claimed that the demand for change in leadership will come from within the RSS only.
“Gadkari will be a potential candidate and his name will be pushed if the situation is opportune,” Vinod said, adding that the RSS was not as active as it had been in 2014. “It is only Modi and Shah. Modi is asking for votes in his own name. He is not asking people to vote for BJP.”
Vinod said that a section of the RSS was hoping for a more federal NDA government would force Modi and Shah to share power.
“There is strong resentment against these two inside the RSS,” Vinod said. “BJP was a workers’ party once and collective decisions would be taken but now all the decisions are being taken by this duo.”
Deodhar, however, insisted that there was little chance of an NDA government without Modi at its head.
“Even if the BJP doesn’t get a majority, Modi will come back with the help of NDA,” Deodhar said. “Even if the NDA falls short of numbers, Modi has already built the bridges to cross the halfway mark.”
In a little over a week, all these answers will be known.