RSS targets youth in Punjab ahead of 2017 Assembly polls

After Haryana, the Bharatiya Janata Party is eyeing Punjab. The state will hold Assembly polls in 2017, and the party is gearing up to penetrate into the rural areas – the bastion of its ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal).

And for that BJP is banking on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In recent times the Sangh has increased its activities in Punjab’s rural areas, running shakhas and organising camps to attract youths. 

Moreover, the RSS has revived the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, its unit for the Sikh community. Observers say all of it will ultimately benefit the BJP during the Assembly elections. 

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (centre) during a function organised by Madhav Rao Seva Trust in Amritsar. Bhagwat visited the state four times in recent times in the hope of reaching out to the youth 

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat (centre) during a function organised by Madhav Rao Seva Trust in Amritsar. Bhagwat visited the state four times in recent times in the hope of reaching out to the youth 

According to sources, even though the BJP has enough support in urban areas, its presence in rural areas is not that strong.

However, the BJP’s ally Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) has a strong presence across rural Punjab. 

Even the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have a good support base in the rural areas. Keeping that in mind, the BJP has finalised its strategy to win the support of the rural electorate. 

“The party has recently appointed separate office bearers for rural and urban areas. The rural wings have been asked to start working for party’s ‘mission 2017’. 

“Rural party workers are meeting people. They will survey the supporters of other parties, besides seeking feedback about the working of Modi Government,” a party source told Mail Today. 

The party – which has a strong base in Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Amritsar, Jalandhar and Ludhiana districts – wants to spread wings in other districts as well. 

Sources said activities of the RSS have increased in about 200 villages of the state. 

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat visited the state four times in recent times. A 20-day training camp was organised in Mansa in May this year. 

More than 400 frontline RSS activists, trainers and instructors attended a training camp. They came from Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, and Jammu and Kashmir. 

Navjot Singh Sidhu

Capt Amarinder Singh

Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu (left) may become the BJP’s unit leader in Punjab, while Captain Amarinder Singh (right), has warned against RSS holding shakhas in rural areas of Punjab over fears of divisive politics 

RSS chief Bhagwat addressed the trainees aged between 18 and 40. It was for the first time when RSS organised a training camp in Mansa, which is the traditional bastion of Akali Dal. 

On May 30, Bhagwat also met the head of a popular sect in Mansa. Sources said the RSS wants youths of Punjab to join the outfit. It is especially targeting those who are facing problems like unemployment and drug addiction.

The RSS is organising shakhas in the rural areas where no such activity was noticed earlier. It even organised a camp in Malerkotla, where a sizeable population of Muslims live.

The organisation has also chosen border areas to promote its activities. According to observers, the RSS and BJP are leaving no stone unturned to please the Sikh community. It has already appointed two Sikh leaders in Delhi unit of the Sangat.

Sidhu likely to be party’s Punjab face 

Sikhs and Navjot Singh Sidhu are an integral part of Modi’s Punjab mission. While Sidhu is already close to him, efforts are on to woo the community. The announcement of Rs 5 lakh relief to each family affected by 1984 anti-Sikh riots is seen as an effort to express solidarity to the community. 

Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu who was denied party ticket from Amritsar during the 2014 general elections, has suddenly become indispensable for the party. 

There are speculations that Sidhu can be made the Punjab unit BJP chief. Sources said, he is also being touted as the next Punjab Chief Minister. A social media campaign by Sidhu’s supporters has been launched to project him as the CM candidate. 

The growing clout of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Punjab has set off alarm bells for the political parties here, including the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). 

While SAD leaders are tight-lipped about the developments, the Congress party has already expressed its displeasure. 

Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Captain Amarinder Singh, has warned against RSS holding shakhas in rural areas of Punjab. 

“The RSS leadership must reconsider its decision to hold shakhas in the rural areas. This move has a potential to threaten peace in Punjab as it can lead to communal polarisation,” Singh said. 

He also said the BJP in Punjab cannot wriggle out even if it parts ways with the Akalis because they have been partners for a long time. 

The former Chief Minister said the people of Punjab are disillusioned with BJP and the Akalis. 

“Their leaders have been accused of corruption. It is immaterial now whether BJP fights along with the Akalis or separately. People of Punjab will teach them a lesson in the next elections,” Singh said. 

“The people of Punjab are not going to buy the communal and sectarian agenda of the BJP because that will vitiate the peaceful atmosphere,” senior Congress leader O.P. Soni said. 

Meanwhile, BJP national secretary Tarun Chugh said: “It is strange that some Congress leaders are objecting to RSS shakhas. The Congress leaders are not aware that RSS has been holding shakhas since its inception in Punjab.”