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Internal Challenge to BJP in Goa

THE decision of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leadership to “relieve” the Goa state in-charge Subhash Velingkar has set off an unprecedented reaction in the RSS ranks in the state. Never in any state have RSS office-bearers quit en masse to form a separate state unit. Velingkar’s contention is that he is fighting for the RSS cause of promoting Indian culture and languages. He and his supporters have vowed to fight for the cause, regardless of their non-recognition by RSS central leadership. What is surprising is that Velingkar’s Goa RSS will have no affiliation with the RSS Konkan district organisation. The decision to replace Velingkar was believed to have been taken after a meeting between BJP President Amit Shah and the second in command of RSS Bhayyaji Joshi. Shah, who sounded the bugle for BJP election campaign in Goa some days ago, was reported to have been briefed by the state BJP leadership on the threat posed by Velingkar’s association with the Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch (BBSM) that was stubborn on its demand for withdrawal of special grants to English-medium schools. The die was cast when the BBSM announced formation of a new party to contest the BJP in the upcoming general elections to the state Assembly.

If the top RSS and BJP leaders believed Velingkar’s removal would force him to retreat and take the wind off the sails of the BBSM they were in for a surprise. Rather than cooling things off it has led to escalation of hostility between the BBSM and the BJP. The hostility had its roots in a decision the BJP government led by Manohar Parrikar took soon after it came to power to continue the grants to 130-odd English-medium primary schools. The confrontation grew over years with no solution in sight, with the BBSM accusing the BJP of going back on its promise and deciding to take it head-on by forming a political party of its own.

While the BJP reaped benefits from its association with the BBSM on the emotional issue of medium of instruction in the last Assembly elections, it was compelled to take a broader political decision on continuing the grants to English-medium primary schools in the state. To ensure that the BJP, which hardly had acceptability from the Christian community till the last Assembly elections in which six Catholics were elected on the BJP ticket, continued to get support from the community, Parrikar as  chief minister decided to continue the grants to English-medium primary schools to reap greater electoral benefits as part of a political strategy. The move yielded results with the BJP doing very well in the parliamentary elections in 2014 in areas with substantial Catholic population.  With the elections to the state Assembly scheduled early next year, the BJP central and state leaders are very keen to expand the support base among Christians built by Manohar Parrikar. They had serious fear that the intransigence of Velingkar and BBSM was coming in the way of the BJP expansion.  It was spoiling the atmosphere and could alienate the Christian community from the BJP. The party leadership was upset also because it felt that while the opposition was fragmented and the main rival Congress was not posing a very serious threat, the “internal confrontation” set up by Velingkar and BBSM threatened to divide BJP votes.

For months, the RSS and BJP leaders had probably hoped that Velingkar-BBSM’s fireworks would die down and they would be marginalized. There were political pundits who also believed that language was not going to be a major issue in the elections. The BJP leaders expressed doubts about how many in the RSS would go behind Velingkar in his campaign on the MoI issue. With the majority in Goa RSS rallying behind Velingkar, the central leaders of RSS and BJP will have to reformulate their strategy vis-à-vis BBSM. For Goa RSS (Velingar group) can cause major damage to the BJP election campaign. Many in the BJP might be wondering if the party leadership could have avoided this by taking conciliatory steps on MoI issue. Now, the lines have been drawn. The BJP has to gird up its loins to fight the erosion of vote owing to Velingkar’s revolt. It is common knowledge that RSS workers play an important role in BJP election campaign. Without RSS support, the BJP will find itself handicapped in the campaign. The trouble is that Velingkar and his supporters would openly call upon voters to defeat the BJP. In every village and town, there would be groups of “estranged brothers and sisters” canvassing support, one to re-elect the BJP and another to defeat it. Perhaps the BJP cannot avoid it. It has to work out a strategy to fight off the internal challenge.

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