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BJP, a party made with the struggle of countless unsung activists: Here are 7 grassroots anecdotes by an unsung activist himself

"The compilation brought back memories of a series of seven anecdotes penned by my late father Vempati Satya Suryanarayana (1942-2021) who was himself one among several such unsung activists who made a lifelong ideological commitment to the cause of this movement", writes Shashi Shekhar

A recent compilation of grassroots anecdotes recounting the struggles and perseverance of the countless workers of the erstwhile Jan Sangh and present-day Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, has made much news. The compilation titled “Kamal Pushp” documents the life stories of several unsung activists whose sense of commitment to a cause was so deep and so strong that it sustained the movement through decades of winter till the early 1990s when the BJP emerged as a serious contender for power across India. The compilation brought back memories of a series of seven anecdotes penned by my late father Vempati Satya Suryanarayana (1942-2021) who was himself one among several such unsung activists who made a lifelong ideological commitment to the cause of this movement. These anecdotes originally penned in 2013 during the Mission272+ campaign been published on the then India272.com volunteer campaign portal. The anecdotes are reproduced below as written by him originally.

1. Three wall posters & a giant killer

It was February 1967, the election season. The political climate in the country is nascent of changing wind, looking beyond the ‘plough & two oxen’, the symbol of the Congress Party. Masses and middle class are on the brink due to the fatigue of standing in unending queues to get a meagre 3 kg of PL-480 wheat (!), thrown at us by the USA. Rice in Northern India is a forgotten commodity. I recall those days with a shudder, as I had once walked in the semi-forest area for about 20 km to get one kg of so-called broken rice for my mother’s sake at Rs.35 in those days!

There was no Opposition worth to talk about. But people were willing to hurt the rulers, even if only a blade of grass of Opposition is there! 

The scene is South Bombay! The fight for Lok Sabha seat looked like a butt of joke! One side, an invincible giant of Congress, who generates immense finances for the Party as treasurer, a powerful Railway Minister and a leader who always won from that posh locality of rich people. 

S.K.Patil was never in doubt, and so was the public at large! For, the Opposition candidate happened to be an urchin from far off Mangalore, who came to Bombay a few years back in search of means to fill his hungry stomach. Worked as a proof-reader in a press and a Shop assistant, he found solace in the philosophy of Ram Manohar Lohia’s Samyukta Socialist Party and also got elected to BMC from a slum locality where his socialistic harangues worked well.

The Taxi Drivers Union President ultimately readied himself to take head on the giant. 

So, it was S.K.Patil vs George Fernandes!

With no finances worth to talk and with the Party Organization unseen anywhere and the followers being Shivji ki Barat, George found only a ray of hope in people at large, who might be willing!

The only way was to talk it out to the unknown, albeit, through possible means.

So, the epic Poster war started!

The first one blazed through South Bombay’s nook and corner flashing the unbelievable message: “YOU CAN DEFEAT PATIL”.

No doubt, when it became the talk of the town, it appeared that the iron was getting hot.

Then came the second!: “IT IS PEOPLE VS PATIL”.

The iron now turning red, the third one clinched the matter: YOUR VOTE ONLY WILL DECIDE”.

The giant was maimed with comfortable margin!

2. Work at micro level? See what it meant!

It was Jaora a major Panchayat in the Ratlam district of Madhya Pradesh. It was a rural Assembly constituency. The Assembly polls were scheduled in February 1962. In the outgoing Assembly, the main Opposition Party was Hindu Mahasabha which almost faded away, yielding space to the upcoming Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The BJS was planning to enter the fray in a substantial way and make inroads into the fortresses of HMS & Congress.

But the main hurdle was the availability of candidates. Most of the cadre are youngsters and enthusiastic to test the waters. But in some areas, the cadre itself was thin and weary to take on the giants of the other side. Jaora was one such place where BJS was searching frantically for a candidate. Not because it was dreaming to win the seat even in its wildest dreams. But it was a chance to popularize the Deepak symbol among the folk, which it could not afford to lose. It was a VVIP seat and giving a symbolic fight was a must. 

The search ultimately ended up when they found a Parivar (RSS) Karyakartha reluctantly agreeing to bear the mantle after due approval from the parent body. 

He was Dr.Laxmi Naraian Pandey. 

Who was he? He was an RMP and also a homoeopathic doctor. A simple personality, with an endearing characteristic of winning over the hearts of those who come into contact. His medical service was spread over 30 to 40 villages in and around Jaora. He was known for his generosity and service-oriented approach and liked by one and all that he served. Thus, there were hundreds of his loyalists in the villages.

When he was selected by BJS, there were hardly two months left before the election and there was no party cadre worth the name. Laxminaraianji went on a cycle to every village and met his acquaintances and BJS sympathizers and sought their approval of his candidature. After a positive and enthusiastic response, booth-wise and village-level groups were formed. As there were no funds coming in, they mobilized small amounts and conducted symbolic canvassing. Door to door approach was the only viable method and was religiously done.

So, the fight was between a giant Kailashnath Katju, the reigning Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, who was also a close relative of Jawaharlal Nehru and a humble Swayamsevak Dr Laxminaraian. Nehru made it a point to visit Jaora during the campaign just as a goodwill gesture to Katjuji, but it made no difference. Katju lost to Pandey by a margin of exactly 1500 votes, an unbelievable result in those Nehru days.

Note: Laxminaraian Pandey never lost a single election from that day till 2009, be it Assembly or Lok Sabha. He held ministerial posts in the State. He called it a day in 2009 when he retired voluntarily.

3. Oh! Koi Mumbai ka Sethji Ayaahai Bori Bhar Paisa lekar!  

Of course, we can not blame them for getting such an impression. When you look at the person in news, who was short and hefty with a kurta and dhoti and in his late fifties gets on the scene, anybody will get the same feeling! Somebody in the group corrected the other “oh! He is not from Mumbai but from the South”. 

“Then, what for he came all the way into this Hindi heartland? To contest and win”? The group laughed heartily. But the so-called Bori was nothing bigger than a hand-carry bag and the paisa consisted in it were, two more sets of dhotis and kurtas with a towel and napkin! The one-thousand-strong gathering was there attending the first public meeting of JanaSangh during the 1967 General elections at Bhopal. The audience consisted of well-educated young engineers, young technicians and artisans almost all of them in their twenties. The venue was a shopping centre in the Piplani area of HE(I)L (Later renamed as BHEL).

The meeting began with an introductory speech by a local leader and then the main speaker, the candidate for Loksabha got up from his seat. His very first sentence in chaste Hindi of Madhya Pradesh style sent loud and pleasant approving noises from the audience. And, the listeners, when looked at their watches at the end of the speech, it was one and a half hours over! More, the numbers have gone up and the crowd was well over 1500 who heard him talk about national and international issues for the first time.

While returning, one engineer said “Oh! He is not a Seth but the Organizing Secretary of Jana Sangh for South India, but how he mastered Hindi in such an eloquent way? Another commented innocently, “if people hear his speeches, they would be bound to vote for him and he may even win”!

Winning? Hear! the seat was a stronghold of Congress. Out of 8 Assembly seats, Congress had 7 and the eighth one was a CPI seat, a Muslim MLA, twice won. And, who was the Congress candidate? The sitting MP, the glamorous Mrs Maimoona Sultana, a 34-year-old niece of Bhopal Nawab. She also happened to be one of the Directors of HE (I) L, nominated by Govt. Remember, the Muslim voters were about 40%. And you imagine that Jagannatha Rao Joshi a non-local, a pauper-like, may just scrape through? 

Exactly he put this same question to the young cadre like us sitting around him. “But Bhai Saab, we want it to happen! “Then, boys, you have to go and organize yourselves silently at Booth level. And I am ready to address the public as many times as you desire, which may do the rest!” And the result was already in our pocket when we were told one week before the polling date by our friends from Kerala who were ardent devotees of Marxism and EMS.

“Ok, for once we will vote Jagannatha Rao Joshi, despite our strong opposition to his Party’s philosophy, as we strongly feel that such sincere and honest social activists shall be in the Parliament irrespective of their Party labels.”

Jagannatha Raoji defeated the beautiful and resourceful young lady by a margin of 43,000 votes. 

In the bargain, BJS could also win two Assembly seats out of eight.

4. Galvanizing the cadre? Who is the candidate?!  

Berasia, a rural Reserved Assembly seat was part of the Bhopal Parliament constituency. It was a Congress stronghold and never entertained even a shadow of Opposition. The ruling party representative enjoyed the honour of a Ministerial post and was very influential at that. The Jana Sangh candidate lost his deposit in the 1962 poll getting a few hundred votes!  

Then came 1967 elections, with Jagannatha Rao Joshi becoming the Jana sangh’s Parliamentary candidate.

Berasia became a General seat. An intensive search began for a candidate for Assembly, a person who could galvanize the rural youth as there was no party cadre as such. The theme at work was that the Lok sabha candidate should get a good percentage of votes in Berasia, to ensure a victory. A committed Sangh Swayamsevak, hard-working, with a frugal lifestyle, Laxmi Narayan Sharma happened to be an elementary school teacher with a limited source of income. Can he be a candidate for the Assembly seat? In fact, what should be the criteria? Substantial finances? Belong to the right caste? Good connections? The leadership of a powerful local gang? Or TINA factor?

Sharma would draw a blank on all those counts.

But, those who mattered in taking decisions were very clear in their mind. None of the above factors would work in reality, to establish a party with a difference! All of them noted that L.N.Sharma had one USP. It was his personality, character and his ability to win over anybody with whom he comes into contact. This gentleman regularly used to visit villages in Berasia for a number of years and in almost all major villages, he had a band of youngsters who adore him to the hilt.

The matter was settled and Sharma started his campaign in right earnest and with ease. The Party supplied wall posters and pamphlets and locals managed sundry expenses. The fight was between prince and pauper literally for both Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha! And the paupers held the day! Laxminarayanji won with a majority of more than 9500 votes for the Assembly and fetched a similar lead for Jagannatha Raoji also.

The story does not end there. Sharma fought and won each and every election from 1967 to 2003. He became a minister in the State and represented the Lok Sabha also. 

Laxminarayan Sharma and Laxminaraian Pandey (of Jaora) remain those candidates, who were never affected by either favourable waves or adverse storms in their political careers, just because they always remained with the people, whom they served with humility and sincerity.   

5. Whom the VVVIP voted for? A classic example of booth level management! 

The New Delhi Lok Sabha Constituency consisted of not only VVIP voters but also a substantial number of refugees from Sindh, western Punjab, NW frontier, East Bengal, Kashmir etc. The winning candidate with a refugee background represented this seat both in 1952 and 1957.  

The candidate for both times happened to be Smt. Sucheta Kripalani, wife of J.B.Kripalani, a veteran freedom fighter and erstwhile Congress President (early ‘50s). Suchetaji, who herself was a freedom fighter from East Bengal, won handsomely both times with Sindhi voters solidly behind her. In 1957, her opponent was Prof. Balraj Madhok of Jana Sangh, who was left far behind her in the race.

Then came a time, when Nehru thought of bringing a rank outsider as Chief Minister of U.P in order to subdue the warring factions of both C.B.Gupta and Dr Sampurnaanand and he chose Suchetaji for that unenvious job! Incidentally, she not only became a CM of the largest State but also, the first-ever woman Chief Minister in the country. The inevitable bye-election for New Delhi Seat was conducted in January 1961 and the Congress chose a powerful local leader who was also a Sindhi refugee. The BJS had put up Balraj Madhok again.

For Nehru, it was a very prestigious seat as the whole ruling class, both political and bureaucratic bigwigs live there and also his Teen murti residence, Parliament Bhavan, Rashtrapathi Bhavan etc. were covered in that constituency. So, no effort should be spared in winning back the seat. As usual, all election techniques and gimmicks were employed to keep the small opposition Party at bay. 

While BJS stuck to its unique method of door-to-door canvassing, its star attraction happened to be its 4-member Parliamentary party leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee! He used to address the Central Secretariat employees during their half-hour lunch recess. Congress Party’s star campaign leaders included Sucheta Kripalani who had the best rapport with the voters and spared no efforts to get the seat to Congress kitty.

The bye-election was over and Balraj Madhok won this most prestigious seat with comfortable margin of 10,000 votes.

Here comes the most interesting part of the episode – The voting was through ballot papers and the counting was done booth-wise. There was no jumbling of votes, which was introduced much later. Of course, with the present electronic voting machine, we are now back to booth-wise counting. Rashtrapathi Bhavan had one Polling Booth exclusively for its residents. In this Booth, the Janasangh candidate polled 235 votes and the Congress got 67. One innocent soul had a doubt which could not be answered till now. ‘Whom the President of India might have voted for?’

6. Periakulam! Saffron flag on the shoulders of Dravidian Champions!

Periakulam is a town in the Theni Dist. Tamilnadu, adjacent to Madurai and is known for its famous mango fruits of rare variety. But this ‘mango city’s name became famous for some other reason in 1982. Periakulam is a Parliamentary constituency with a few hundred villages and small towns covering its area.

In 1980 General elections, Indira Gandhi was raiding a high wave after the fall of Janatha Govt. and the DMK candidate Mr.Natarajan won this seat against AIADMK with a margin of about 16000 votes, in alliance with the Congress. The other alliance of AIADMK, CPM, and CPI etc. could not cut much ice with people and ended up winning a paltry 2 seats out 39 in Tamilnadu. 

The Indira wave was still at its peak when a bye-election was necessitated due demise of a DMK member. The bye-election was held in mid-1982 and the ruling Party put up a kith of the deceased leader as its candidate who was expected to romp home comfortably. But the bye-election was won by AIADMK by a whopping margin of 80,000 votes over the DMK. The Congress, which had a daydream of making it on its own, ended up losing its deposit, with a hopeless 28900 votes in its kit. 

How such a transformation took place within a short time of 18 months? There lies a story of sorts!

It was on 19th Feb’1981, in Tirunelvelli district.

It was on 14th June 1981, in Ramnad  district.

It was on  25th July 1981, in Ramanathapuram district.

It was on 29th July 1981, and 12th&13th August 1981, in Tanjavur district.

It was on 1st March 1982, in Kanyakumari district.

It was  on 8th June 1982 in Tirunelvelli district again!

It went on and on for a one and half years! Yes,  be it Meenakshipuram, Attiyyuttur, Kooriyoor, Mannargudi, Gudiyattam, Mandaikkadu, or Puliangudi the same ominous pattern of seizing the Harijan and weaker sections of the Hindu community and forcibly converting them to Islam through unethical means. 

The Hindu backlash was unprecedented! Scores of Sadhus, Sanyasis and Hindu intellectuals came out of their self-made preserves and landed amongst the masses awakening them to the impending danger to their faith, culture, tradition and to their places of worship.

In the middle of this turmoil, the bye-election came and the leaders of the Hindu community gave a clarion to the voters to vote only the person who condemns mass conversions and commits openly to the protection and preservation of the traditional Hindu faith.

The spectacular scene of thousands of Saffron flags with the ‘OM’ symbol flying high and high on vehicles, housetops, and public places in the constituency made it looks like a saffron sea. The Dravidian political Parties vied with each other to own the people’s cause and the AIADMK candidate, a devoted Hindu himself openly came against conversions and himself vouched to stand for the Hindu legacy.

P.S. The Congress, which always makes appeasement its policy, put up a minority candidate against the Hindu wave and ended up with 28900 votes!  

7. Want to win 272? Then hear the story of those two!

These two constituencies are side by side within a district. Both were strongholds of Congress till the advent of TDP. Since 1984, these have changed the hands of the two parties, but no other party could come anywhere nearer to them. Even in the anti-congress climate of 1996, TDP and Congress shared these two seats winning one each.

The BJP candidates got mere 12,750 and 10,770 votes respectively (which are less than 1% of votes) and promptly lost their deposits which was not a surprise in the state AP.

Then came the elections of 1998 (within two years). There was no wave in anybody’s favour. Also, it was nobody’s case that any other parties have suddenly become strong in the State where the two-party syndromes fully manifest.

However, a miracle did happen. These two seats (out of the four in the district), suddenly threw a wonder of wonders by electing BJP candidates. In a stretch of a total of 30 parliament seats in that region, BJP lost miserably in the other 28 but won these two, Kakinada & Rajahmundry by majorities of 68,000 and 10,000 respectively in the most fierce electoral battle with the powerful stalwarts of TDP and Congress.

How could it happen? How the political novices of BJP could become giant killers? There lies an interesting story.

The district East Godavari is the heart of the rice bowl of the country. It had powerful and rich caste leaders politically rooted deeply, apart from a substantial percentage of Dalit Christians. The long coastal belt has a large number of hamlets of fishermen communities, which became the hunting ground for the conversions.

To put it in simple words, it is not a conducive atmosphere for a soft BJP to penetrate into the well protected political empires of TDP and Congress. 

Then, what happened between 1996 and 1998? It was a totally non-political occurrence, a devastating hurricane, followed by non-stop heavy downpours and heavy winds for a week, which devastated the entire division of three districts with flooding of Godavari waters.

East Godavari was the worst affected district with the total destruction of poor peoples’ dwellings, washing off of standing crops ready for harvesting and ruining of vast coconut fields etc. For about ten days, there was no government existing there, nor any leadership to come forward to see what was happening! There was no water to drink, no electricity, and no functioning hospitals. 

On the other side, there were hundreds of volunteers, doctors and daring young men risking their lives in gushing waters and saving thousands of lives in those darkest days, coming from nowhere. Their helping hands provide succour to each and everybody without any discrimination. The Sangh-led relief set-up worked like a well-oiled machine with perfect cohesion in wiping out the tears of thousands of families for almost a year both with short time relief and long time rehabilitation.

In the minds of the people of the Konaseema belt, the Sangh has become a household word and its selfless service is gratefully remembered by the coastal people for a long time. They exhibited their gratitude in their own way when the occasion came in the form of the Loksabha elections! 

(The prologue of this article has been written by Shashi Shekhar and the article that details the 7 grassroots anecdotes has been written by his late father, Vempati Satya Suryanarayana (1942-2021), written in 2013)

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Vempati Satya Suryanarayana
Vempati Satya Suryanarayana
Late Vempati Satya Suryanarayana was a lifelong Swayamsevak of the RSS having served in various capacities at the District, Vibhag and Prant level in Telangana. He dedicated himself to the Sangh after a long stint at Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, BHEL the PSU enterprise from which he retired in 2002. The dedicated Swayamsevak that he was he breathed his last on Rakshabandhan day in 2021 after delivering a boudhik at a Sangh event.

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