Raipur/Jashpur/Bastar: Until the early 1980s, Madhvi Joshi was a junior college teacher in Nagpur. Her husband Nishikant Joshi also had a government job and, when a baby came along in 1981, their life seemed complete. But just as their son turned one, the couple resigned from their jobs and left for Assam as full-time workers of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA), an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that works among tribal communities across the country.

It was the calling they had been waiting for.

“We did not have a mission in our lives until then,” Madhvi, now in her 70s, said, speaking to ThePrint in Chhattisgarh. “Working for the janjati samaj (tribal society) gave us that.”

After 10 years in Assam, the Joshis were sent to Bastar in Chhattisgarh — then a part of Madhya Pradesh. A hub of the Maoist insurgency, the district has a tribal population of over 70 percent.

It’s not just Bastar. Chhattisgarh is home to approximately 7.5 percent of India’s tribal population, and tribals constitute about 30 percent of the state’s population.

Members of the VKA and RSS say the organisation’s work was crucial to the BJP’s victory in the 2023 assembly election, as also its defeat in 2018. That election, VKA cadres had refused to campaign for the BJP as they felt it had done little to stop conversions of tribal communities to Christianity in its tenure from 2003 to 2018.

“The dharmantaran (conversions) continued unabated, and all they (the BJP government) would do is come up with bureaucratic excuses,” said a senior VKA functionary.

For a party that makes no bones about its stand on conversions and Hindutva, this was seen as unacceptable.

Raman Singh, who was the chief minister throughout those 15 years, was known for his policies like his widely-emulated public distribution system or the Chhattisgarh Health Service, but he was seen to have failed on this count.

Singh, VKA leaders said, was no Yogi Adityanath (Uttar Pradesh CM) or Himanta Biswa Sarma (Assam), two leaders who are lauded in the Hindu Right for walking the talk on conversions.

When 2018 came around, the sentiment in the Chhattisgarh-headquartered VKA was: “Let them lose this time.”

It was a telling sentiment from an organisation that calls itself apolitical.

This story was originally published in Read the full story here .