MUMBAI: BJP’s electoral battles are often fought with a generous dose of help from RSS, and this is yet again visible in Dharavi, known as continent’s biggest slum, where the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has launched a massive campaign to help BJP wrest the assembly seat from Congress.
“The parivaar is doing everything possible to help us win. It is like the father helping the child clear his final exam,” said Mani Balan, BJP president at Dharavi, who is also an RSS member.
This heavily congested cluster of slums has mostly voted for Congress in the last 60 years. RSS has been functioning here for the last 30 years and, interestingly, 95% of its 4,000 registered members are Tamilians, with the remaining hailing from Gujarat and Maharashtra.
BJP has not contested here in a long time, having supported candidates of its erstwhile partner Shiv Sena in the last 25 years. But this time, RSS is going all out to help BJP’s Divya Dhole win the assemble seat.
In the last few days, RSS karyakartas, from Dharavi and several other parts in the city, have been carrying out intensive door to door campaigns to take the message, “Modi will make Dharavi a smart city” to every household here.
“The Congress has shamelessly taken pride in calling us the biggest slum. We are asking people to vote for self-respect,” Balan said.
He said Hindutva movement in the slum gained strength in the early 2000s when some RSS karyakartas started efforts to combat conversion into Christianity. “We noticed the huge number of conversions happening in the Tamil Nadar community here. The only way to prevent that was to oppose the entry of the evangelists, mainly from Tamil Nadu and Kerala into the slum. Even Pravin Togadia has lauded our efforts,” Balan said.
Dharavi is a throbbing lifeline of the city with 2.5 lakh registered votes.
Nearly 40,000 of them come from the South Indian states and they are mostly into making food items such as chikis and idlis, or are drivers or work in printing factories.
There is also a large group of people from Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, working in the tanning industry while a few hundred Gujaratis, mainly potters from Saurashtra, make lamps used during Diwali. Most of these communities are seen as supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Besides Hindus, RSS also expects support from Tamil Dalit Christians known to feel strongly about Sri Lankan Tamils, with a view to split the voter base of the Congress that has substantial support among Muslims and Christians.
Vivekanada Raja, who heads the RSS in the area, said, “We are going to the house of every Dalit Christian and telling them about the war crimes against Tamils in Sri Lanka and how only Modi — and not the Congress — has stood strongly against enemy states.”
Apart from a shakha that is held frequently in the municipality ground here, the RSS organises a public chanting of the 1,000 names of Hindu gods on Diwali.
Every Hindu festival is celebrated in the slums with pomp and show, but on Vivekananda Jayanti there is always more fervour — children are given books and stationery and calendars extolling Hinduism are distributed among households.
BJP leadership itself is giving a lot of importance to Dharavi, with Union ministers such as Venkaiah Naidu, Nitin Gadkari and Sushma Swaraj and actors such as Hema Malini canvassing here.
This could be a source of worry to sitting Congress MLA Varsha Gaikwad and Shiv Sena candidate Baburao Mane, a former MLA.
RSS members admit that all these years, they worked with the Shiv Sainiks towards a common goal but are confident of their singlehanded efforts this time. “People say the BJP doesn’t have ground level workers in Maharashtra. They forget till we have the blessings of RSS, we will always have the reach with households,” said Vivekanada Raja.