Kerala already has the highest number of RSS units with over 5300 daily shakhas across the state.

In Kerala RSS plans to expand across state by end of 2019
news Politics Friday, July 05, 2019 - 17:02

The BJP may have been unable to open its account from Kerala during the Lok Sabha polls but party leaders have made it clear that ‘Mission Kerala’ is high on the party’s agenda. Even as the BJP aims to increase its presence in the state, the party’s ideological arm and ground force - the RSS - is preparing to take on the last red bastion. By the end of 2019, the outfit aims to spread to all parts of Kerala.

“We had this plan in 2018 but the floods and Sabarimala issue played spoilsport. Currently, out of the 1461 mandal parishads in rural Kerala, we have a presence in 1398 of them. One strategy of our two-pronged approach will be to spread to the rest of the 63 mandals. In the five urban centres of Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Kozhikode and Alappuzha, we will target busy district headquarters and increase presence in the bastis or localities which have over 10,000 residents. This we will do by December,” P Gopalan Kutty Master, a senior RSS leader and state Prantha Karyavahak told TNM. 

Interestingly, Kerala is the state with the highest number of RSS units or daily shakhas in India. Currently, there are over 5300 daily shakhas where at least 20 workers meet everyday for an hour to discuss spreading of the ideology. While bigger states such as Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka are divided into pranths or provinces for ease of operation, Kerala being a smaller region demographically and geographically, is considered a single province. This year, the RSS plans to penetrate unexplored regions of this state-province and its communist strongholds by setting up a shakha or two in a few wards in these areas. 

“Essentially, we will convert a zero activity mandal to an operational one by setting up a shakha in maybe one or two wards. In these areas, related right-wing groups might be spreading our ideology but we will set up official units,” Gopalan added. 

The RSS already has a significant presence in places such as rural Thiruvananthapuram, Chengannur in Alappuzha, Kannur, Malappuram’s Tirur and Ottapalam and Kollangod in Palakkad, with 200-250 shakhas in many mandals. The outfit has negligible presence in places such as Idukki’s Thodupuzha, Ponkunnam in Kottayam and other regions, it is here that they are looking to increase units from less than 50 to 100 in every mandal. 

The data from the RSS membership drive in 2018 is, however, a cause for concern for other parties. Despite its expansion drives receiving a blow from the August floods in 2018, the RSS recorded a 7% increase in membership, with 8000 new people enrolling as part of a special campaign.  

While political analysts believe that the BJP’s presence in Kerala is an ideological one, and is yet to translate into electoral gains for the party, a report on the voting pattern over the past three Lok Sabha elections, presents a different picture. A July 2019 report in The Hindu focused on the voting pattern of the 55% Hindus in Kerala to highlight significant rise in votes secured by the NDA. It says that in 2009, the party actually secured more than 11% or 10 lakhs of the total Hindu votes (which comes to around 90 lakhs). In 2014, the party vote share again grew to 19% or 19 lakh votes of the total Hindu electorate.  Five years later, in 2019, this has jumped to 32% with the NDA securing 32 lakhs votes from the Hindu majority. Among upper caste Hindus, the party also secured 38% of the votes. Considering this rate of growth, the writer even predicts that the party would, in all possibility, snatch 50% of the Hindu electorate in Kerala in the next 10 years. 

Whether it is through a carefully spread narrative of Hindu victimhood in Kerala, which has 45% of religious minorities, or with a steadfast focus on temple and local Hindu issues, the BJP has managed to take root in the political landscape of the state. According to reports, a national level membership drive of the BJP, which aims to increase membership numbers in Kerala plans on focusing on local Hindu issues.

In the 2019 parliamentary elections, the NDA, which has never won a parliamentary seat from the state, finished second in the capital of Thiruvananthapuram. Although Congress candidate Shashi Tharoor comfortably bagged a hattrick win, the BJP made its presence felt by pushing the CPI(M) to a distant third. But it seems these small gains have motivated the RSS and BJP to go for the big push.

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