Realising the importance of cooperative societies in growth of the communists, the Sangh Parivar is strengthening its chain of cooperative supermarkets

 

New Delhi: Even as the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala has got a reprieve, it seems the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is stepping in to mobilise the Hindu vote following the failure of its political wing to widen its base in the state.

Though there were widespread rumours that there would be a thorough overhaul of the BJP’s Kerala unit following the  party’s dismal performance in the last Assembly elections, the central leadership of the party chose to bestow its confidence in the current president K. Surendran and company.

This is at a time when Surendran is facing state vigilance investigations into allegations of money laundering in the Kodakara, Manjeswaram and Bathery election fund deals. He had also come under severe criticism from his rival group in the party headed by P.K. Krishnadas for contesting from two constituencies and hiring a helicopter for campaigning in such a small state. Surendran belongs to the faction led by Union Minister of State V.Muraleedharan, who is close to the central leadership in Delhi. Surendran had lost in both constituencies of which Konni in Pathanamthitta district was the most humiliating. The famous Sabarimala Ayyappa temple is situated in Pathanamthitta district and Surendran had come into prominence as the firebrand leader of the BJP during its Sabarimala agitation in 2018, which drew national and international attention.

It has been pointed out that whatever changes—a few DCC presidents have been appointed—effected by the central leadership is not going to help improve the sagging image of the party in the state. The main issues plaguing—factionalism and organisational weakness—the party in the state remain unaddressed. The NDA headed by the BJP in the state is itself farcical.

Interestingly, a couple of leaders opposed to Surendran have been sidelined in the “reshuffle”, noted being the exclusion of Sobha Surendran (no relation of president Surendran) a virulent critic of the official faction, from the national executive of the party. Krishnadas has managed to retain his position, albeit as a special invitee to the national executive.

It is in this context that certain moves initiated by the RSS gather importance, though perhaps not in the shortterm.

Despite the RSS, which has over 5,000 sakhas, the highest in the country, propping up the BJP in Kerala, the party leadership has not made any headway in the state politically except for a brief period during the Sabarimala agitation post-September 2018.Even then it was more of a consolidation of Hindu forces opposed to the proposed entry of women of all ages to the hill shrine. Whatever advantage BJP gained out of the agitation was short-lived as was evident in the 2021 state elections where the party lost even the one seat it had in the Assembly.

Realising the importance of cooperative societies in the growth of the communist movement at the grassroots level in the state, the Sangh Parivar is strengthening its chain of cooperative supermarkets, Samrudhi, in a big way that aims to involve the Hindu population at ground zero.Samrudhi was first thought of during the height of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act across Kerala. At that time the traders had, especially in north Kerala, downed shutters the days BJP took out pro-CAA rallies, provoking the Sangh Parivar to threaten traders in some parts of the state with “repeat of 2002 Gujarat”.

The professed idea is to “deepen cooperatives as a true people-based movement reaching up to the grassroots” as was envisaged by the Centre when it constituted a separate ministry of cooperation with Home Minister Amit Shah in charge early this year.However, it was clear to the opposition parties, which saw the ministry as a threat to the very basic federal structure of the country, the aim of the Central government was to break their stranglehold in the cooperative sector, especially in states such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and help BJP make inroads into rural India.The Samrudhi retail outlet under the patronage of Sahakar Bharati, one of the umbrella organisations of the RSS, currently has 38 stores in Kerala.

Apart from basic business, the RSS strategy is to consolidate at a socio-political level—to connect with producers, farmers, traders, and consumers, mainly house-makers, who are Hindus, thereby bringing the community closer to the BJP. This, in a way, will counter CPM cadres’ rapport with households in their respective localities.Under the Sahakar Bharati, three organisations—self-help groups run by Akshayasree Mission, Hindu Economic Forum (HEF), and Bharat Agro Processing and Marketing Cooperative (Bamco)—are the key players spearheading the push.According to The Intersection [thesignaldaily+the-intersection@substack.com], Sahakar Bharati will oversee setting up of 1,500 stores in the next five years in Kerala, surpassing even urban retail giants such as MarginFree, Reliance Fresh and Big Bazaar.

“The idea is to build a well-knit community of Hindu businesspersons across the state,” S.Padmabhooshan, a member of HEF’s executive council was quoted by The Intersection as saying.

The HEF already separately runs 16 supermarkets in the northern districts of Kannur, Kasargode and Kozhikode that are branded differently such as Orange and Green Apple.

The forum currently has about 5,000 members, majority of them businesspersons and professionals. The organisation holds weekly meetings. “We try to solve various issues that our members have. It could be anything ranging from GST-related issues to financial assistance,” Padmabhooshan said.

Where large investments are needed, HEF tries to bring together various groups of businesspersons to set up joint ventures such as Samrudhi supermarkets. The forum also encourages youngsters to set up their own businesses instead of waiting for a job. “A young person may earn a few lakhs working for a company, but if he becomes an entrepreneur, he would earn much more and be able to provide jobs for many,” says Padmabhooshan.