BJP which is trying to get a firm foothold in South India is finding the prospects of a tie up with NSS, organization of upper caste Hindu Nairs tantalizing; It is so near yet too distant. In fact it is natural for centre-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to tie up with NSS which supports interests of middle class forward caste Nairs who have always been flag bearers of Hinduism in Kerala. But NSS is found to be reluctant to openly support BJP.
Possible benefits for both NSS and BJP
The benefits of such a tie up are many for both to dismiss. It will definitely give more acceptability to BJP and pave way for BJP to Kerala assembly. It may even result in a formation of a new political coalition in Kerala with a prominent role to BJP, and Perhaps lead by BJP. For NSS which currently finds itself neglected by traditional ally Congress, a tie up with BJP will help a great deal. Congress is becoming more dominated by minorities and so NSS needs to find an alternative political ally. It may help NSS to bargain more benefits for Nairs in the state and at national level. Yet it is unlikely that NSS may come out with open support to BJP in any near future.
Let us examine this complex relationship. To begin with let us examine the role of Nairs in BJP. It is generally accepted in Kerala that Nairs form the backbone of Sangh Parivar organizations in Kerala at present. The work of RSS in Kerala was initially confined to urban areas and migrant communities like Goud Saraswat Brahmins, Tulu Brahmins and other groups lead it. It was confined to Migrant communities, especially business communities. RSS did not have much influence in the society then.
RSS gains foothold in rural Kerala
It was in the early eighties that Sangh Parivar , especially the RSS, began to gain a foothold in rural Kerala and Nair youths were in the forefront to give strength to RSS. A section of middle class Nairs, especially farmers who worked with the Congress found that at many places Congress has become unable to protect their interests. It was their clash with CPM that inspired many middle class Nairs to align with a cadre based RSS rather than clash with minorities.
During the period, groupism in the Congress had intensified and the party had split into opposing groups lead by A.K Antony (current union defense minister and former CM K Karunakaran) Helpless and disgruntled Congressmen, mainly from Nair community, found a new hope in RSS with its discipline and committed cadres. 1980s saw RSS sakhas mushrooming in all parts of rural Kerala. The period also saw violent fights between RSS/Sangh Parivar cadres and CPM. Scores of youth were killed on both sides. In several places in central Kerala, like Kottayam, Idukki and Parts of Alappuzha district, a small section of upper caste Syrian Christians who were friendly with Nairs also covertly and overtly supported RSS.
But even as Nair youths began to join RSS, NSS (organization of Nairs) during the period remained firmly allied with Congress. In fact, NDP the political party of NSS had been an ally of Congress lead United Democratic Front (UDF). Many Congress and UDF leaders were leaders of NSS also.
Thus it is clear that the spread of RSS/BJP in Kerala in 1980s was linked to anti-CPM feeling. This was evident in the fact that during the period votes won by BJP in assembly/Lok Sabha elections do not reflect the strength of Sangh in Kerala then. It had been alleged by CPM at that period that many RSS workers used to vote for Congress in the elections. There were reports that many BJP leaders used to sell votes to Congress, especially K Karunakaran. There might have been some truth in it as some RSS/BJP leaders might have been forced to offer support to Congress in order to save its workers who were charged with cases following RSS-CPM clashes. The former Congress sympathizers who newly joined Sangh Parivar were not averse to voting for Nair Congress candidates.
Three things are to be noted about this complex political situation. 1. RSS/BJP grew in Kerala and their mass base was constituted by middle class Nair youths who were formerly Congress sympathizers/workers. 2. Though these Nair youths joined RSS they did not completely sever ties with Congress. 3. Even as some of the Sangh Parivar leaders managed to rise to leadership of NSS they either did not try to take control of NSS or failed to get the control because of the complex situation. Thus NSS generally remained with Congress till recently.
Congress stranglehold on NSS
When NDP (political party of NSS which was powerful in 80s and disbanded by 90s) was disbanded by NSS, NDP leaders were rehabilitated in Congress. NDP MLAs later contested as Congress candidates. At this point NSS leaders became mentors of Nair leaders in Congress and thus a new relationship was formed. Congress made certain such leaders ministers in Kerala and union cabinet and this ensured that NSS-Congress relations is entrenched at many levels. Thus it is clear that Congress has strangled NSS in many ways and it is not easy to break out. Nair leaders of congress used to ensure that NSS supported Congress.
NSS has many educational and other institutions and need to interact closely with the governments. It gets influence in ministries through certain ministers belonging to the community. Heads of different corporations, universities etc are appointed by different fronts that rule Kerala taking into consideration views of NSS also. Thus it is clear that ruling governments in Kerala always take care to protect the interests of NSS to some extent. So it is difficult for NSS leaderships to come out with open support for BJP which does not have any chance of forming government in Kerala in near future.
However despite all these, NSS is being forced to change its age old political stand because of changing socio-political conditions in Kerala. It had formally severed ties with Congress recently. Now how will this redefine relationship of NSS with BJP? We will discuss it in another article.