Unravelling RSS’s women wing, Rashtriya Sevika Samiti’s election strategy

Written by Sakshi Mishra | Published on: May 29, 2019
 Now that the 2019 general elections have come to an end, with an unexpected landslide victory of the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), we have tried to analyze the role of its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in BJP’s massive victory.

RSS women wing

There have been multiple debates and discussions on news channels over the strategy adopted by the BJP and RSS. Earlier, there were reports of RSS sending around 80,000 volunteers in nine states during the last three phases of the election. But what stands out this time, is the Sangh’s strategy to deploy its women volunteers in urban as well as rural areas to mobilize and influence women, albeit implicitly.

The women's wing of RSS, Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, has been actively involved throughout the elections and has played a crucial role in the positive results. Though their work wasn’t publicized much, it is a strategy worth studying! We have found that the women's wing was directed by the RSS leaders to handle the women voters, conduct meetings and discussions with them, while not directly telling them to vote for a particular political party. A RSS member along with his wife, who is a part of the women's wing, on condition of anonymity, gave us an insight into their organisation’s strategy pertaining to women voters.

Directive of RSS to the women wing:
The Rashtriya Sevika Samiti were given special instructions this time. Giving details on the instructions, the woman member said, “Before the campaigns, the members of the women's wing were given some tips on talking to the women voters. We were even provided with specialised and specific data that cannot be collected by the common man.”

While describing the instructions given to them, another woman member, again on the condition of anonymity, told us, “We were directed to hold small unofficial meetings in one household after every 10 to 12 households. Further, we were told to create awareness among women about their voting rights and appeal to them to take the decision in the best interest of the nation. However, we were advised not to directly appeal to them to vote for the BJP.”

Although the women's wing didn’t explicitly request the women voters to vote for BJP, their meetings were designed to hint towards the Modi government and its policies. They discussed the various schemes launched during Modi’s regime such as ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, ‘Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana’, ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ among others.

It is significant to note that the women's wing was also directed to visit the Muslim-dominated areas and speak to the Muslim women. However, they were advised to not enter into any scuffle with the residents.

Approach towards the urban women voters:
The woman member told us that the meetings were unofficial and were held over tea where general discussions on the welfare schemes used to take place. She then described the manner in which they used to appeal the women voters- “We are the citizens of this democratic nation and we have the right to vote. How should we exercise this right then? We then used to leave this question on them and start discussing women-specific schemes. We used to further tell them that irrespective of the religion or caste you belong to, we all will survive only if our country is secured. Who keeps our nation safe? Who is paying attention to the the needs of the women? They all then used to give one common answer (hinting at BJP).”

Further, during the evening, women used to gather in the nearby park and hold discussions on various welfare schemes. The discussions also included the Modi government’s fearless attacks on the terrorists, air strikes and surgical strikes.

Despite the Election Commission’s (EC) directive to not use the defence forces in the election campaigns, there is certainly no possibility of curbing such small scale discussions, irrespective of the huge effect they might have had.

Approach towards the rural women voters:
In what could be a very clever move, RSS strategically deployed its women voters in those rural areas where toilets were built under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. Making the beneficiary women a precedent, the other women voters were shown how they will also benefit from these schemes and how a bright future awaits them.  This way the existing as well as the potential beneficiaries were influenced.

Approach towards the Muslims women voters:
The women's wing was advised to go to the Muslim neighbourhoods in groups for maximising the impact of these visits. The woman member said, “If only one person speaks then it is less effective. However, if an entire group is together making an appeal, people tend to listen.”

However, they were strictly told to not enter into any religious or communal discussions. Instead, they used to just appeal them to vote for the nation’s security.

Unravelling Rashtriya Sevika Samiti’s strategy:
While the strategy may appear to be very simple, but it has proven to be a very smart move by the RSS.

Firstly, the women wing, on the directions of the RSS, adopted a very safe approach of not naming any particular party so as to make itself appear as a neutral body working for the benefit of the target audience as well as the nation. The women voters were just made aware about their rights and the importance that it holds for our country’s future. Simultaneously, the ideology of RSS was also promoted.

Secondly, the meetings were given a very unofficial angle in the form of general discussions so as to not make it look like a propaganda. The discussions surrounded over the welfare schemes and then were smartly diverted to the Uri and Balakot air strikes.

Thirdly, every discussion would start with the appeal of voting in national interest. In the course of the discussion, even the target audience might have failed to notice the effect it was having on their thinking.

Thus, the RSS has played a crucial and influential role in the massive victory of the BJP, apart from it being the ‘citizens choice’. However, the concerns about unemployment, rising petrol prices, poverty, agrarian distress and many other things continue to prevail. Are we then entering in the sequel of ‘acche din’? Time will tell!

(The translation from the original in Hindi is by Bhumika Jain)

Original in Hindi:
RSS की चुनावी रणनीति: सेविकाओं ने संभाली थी महिला वोट की कमान