AYODHYA/LUCKNOW/NEW DELHI: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), faced with the twin challenge of an alliance of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party on the one hand, and the Congress on the other, has turned to volunteers of its ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for help.

With its 80 Lok Sabha seats, Uttar Pradesh is seen as key to the reins of power in New Delhi. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) swept the state in 2014, winning 73 seats, which in turn gifted the NDA its massive majority. In 2017, the state again voted overwhelmingly for the BJP in the assembly elections.

The volunteers of the RSS and its allied organizations are playing a significant role again this time, just as they did in 2014 and 2017. As an organization, the RSS does not get involved in campaigns but its members are free to do so. Senior BJP leaders said RSS members are helping the party with door-to-door campaigns and distributing publicity material. RSS volunteers are also helping BJP leaders reach out to the common people by giving the leaders information on where the voters stand on issues such as the Union government’s performance, national security and schemes such as Ujjwala Yojana for cooking gas connections and Saubhagya for electrification.

“The support of RSS swayamsevaks (volunteers) is crucial for the party in its election campaign in Uttar Pradesh and across the country," said a senior BJP leader based in Lucknow.

RSS volunteers said the organization’s members are free to choose which candidate they want to work for. They said they had prepared their own campaign material, including a pamphlet highlighting issues of national security, and the role of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in securing the country’s borders and fighting terrorism. In constituencies like Ayodhya and Lucknow, the work of RSS volunteers can be seen in campaign offices where supporters often hold brainstorming sessions and lead on-ground canvassing.

“The government has worked for the betterment of the poor and socially weaker sections through schemes like Ujjwala, housing for all, electricity for all and health for all. We highlight these schemes when we meet voters. The support of individual RSS workers is based on policy decisions of the government and it is not about supporting one leader. Individual workers can choose to support any candidate in the elections," said a senior leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) based in Ayodhya.

RSS leaders said that in some cases swayamsevaks have formed trusts to help campaign for a candidate or the party. “RSS as an organization does not get involved in election campaigning but its individual members are free to help," the VHP leader added.

The RSS volunteers are focusing on ensuring high voter turnout and preventing division of votes on the basis of caste. “This is an incumbent government, so our primary role is to make sure that people come out and vote. For that, we run a number of voter campaigns," said another VHP leader.

“The RSS calls itself a cultural organization and maintains that its volunteers support and help political parties which are in line with their individual views, thoughts and ideologies. Everyone is aware of the involvement of RSS volunteers in the BJP’s campaign and as citizens every person has a right to support and canvass for whichever party they want," said S.K. Dwivedi, former head of the political science department at Lucknow University.

To read more stories on Lok Sabha Elections 2019, click here

Close