New Delhi: Kuppahalli Sitaramayya Sudarshan, the fifth Sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), will always be remembered in the Sangh fraternity for laying ideological foundations of at least three key issues whose journey ultimately culminated decades later in the form of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) and renewed focus on the Northeast by the Narendra Modi government ever since it came to power in 2014.
On his 89th birth anniversary, which falls on 6 June, it is interesting to take a look at his legacy as it seems to be getting manifested in many crucial decisions of the current government at the Centre. (Although Sudarshan was born on 18 June, 1931, according to the Gregorian calendar, the RSS adheres to the Bharatiya calendar, according to which his birth anniversary falls on 6 June this year.)
It was during Sudrashan’s stint — first as the sarkaryavah (general Secretary) from 1990 onwards and then as the sarsanghchalak from 2000-2012 — that the RSS-backed Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) often hit the headlines for challenging successive governments over key economic decisions such as allowing Foreign Direct Investment in non-priority areas and succumbing to pressures of World Trade Organisation, especially on the issue of reducing subsidies for agriculture, and facing pressure from a more stringent patent regime.
Along with senior RSS pracharak Dattopant Thengadi, a co-founder of the SJM, it was Sudarshan who clearly put forward the ‘swadeshi’ model of economics that favoured a ‘self-reliant’ India, which is being reflected today in Modi government’s ambitious plan of making India atmanirbhar.
Sudarshan was a strong opponent of the western model of economic development and favoured a ‘self-reliant’ India.
He had said, “The root cause of poverty and unemployment in India is this specific Western model of development as it is centralised, high energy-consuming, urban-centric, capital-intensive, promoting unemployment and destroying nature. We need to replace this model with an economy, which is decentralised and based on rural India.”
“Instead of walking into the trap of globalisation and foreign debt, it would be better if we promote rural development with the resources we have at our disposal. It should consume least energy and it should be less capital-intensive while creating more jobs and conserving the environment,” he had stressed.
According to Devendra Swaroop, an RSS ideologue who worked very closely with Sudarshan since 1950s, “When Rajju Bhayya (the fourth sarsanghchalak) handed over the charge of the sarsanghchalak to Sudarshanji because of the former’s frail health, the latter himself studied swadeshi science and technology very closely in every part of the country. He used to explain them with very minute details.”
CAA, illegal migrants and Northeast
During his tenure in the Northeast as an RSS pracharak, which began in 1977, Sudarshan played an important role in identifying several key issues such as illegal migration from Bangladesh and mass conversion of tribals into Christianity.
The current government has passed the Citizenship Amendment Act and taken up the development of Northeastern states as top priority since 2014, spelling it out openly.
The BJP, an ideological mentee of the RSS, has also become a strong force to reckon with in the Northeast as it has scored significant electoral victories there.
The bugle for the need of many of these initiatives, which are being initiated by the Modi government, was first sounded by Sudarshan who spent considerable time in the Northeast as a pracharak.
Former national president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and ex-Union minister Murli Manohar Joshi puts it aptly: “I was in-charge of the Northeast when Sudarshanji was working there. I was deeply impressed by his in-depth study and thought process … At that time, we prepared several programmes, which were executed in future. The agitation on illegal migrants was one such issue. Sudarshanji had prepared an intellectual and emotional ground for this agitation much before it was launched.”
Within the RSS also, Sudarshan was one of the first ones to flag the issue of illegal migration of Bangladeshi Muslims to Northeast, specially Assam. He considered illegal migration to be an ‘attack’ from across the border. He travelled extensively to states like Tripura, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, among others, to study the issue of illegal immigration and its impact. He prepared a detailed plan to counter this influx and resolve the issue.
Ashok Singhal, another senior RSS pracharak, who passed away in 2015 and was a key figure in the Ram Temple movement, had worked and interacted closely with Sudarshan.
He remembered Sudarshan fondly in one of his articles.
“As a pracharak (whole-timer) in the Northeast, first he learned Bengali and Assamese. He could deliver lectures fluently in both these languages. He studied in-depth the activities of the Church and exposed them … Later, he sent a number of ‘pracharaks’ from all over the country to work there in view of the gravity of the problem.”
Singhal further added: “He studied the tribes in the Northeast in detail … He suggested ways and means to protect tribes from the influence of Christian Missionaries. Several schools and hostels for students were set up. The Bangladeshi Muslims were migrating illegally to Assam, West Bengal and Bihar in a planned way; simultaneously, the Hindus from Bangladesh, unable to protect themselves, were also migrating.”
“At that time, it was Sudarshanji who told the countrymen and especially the Assamese people, that while the Muslims coming from Bangladesh were illegal immigrants, the Hindus coming from there were refugees. So, the latter should be sheltered by the Hindus in the rest of India. Meanwhile, the illegal Muslim immigrants who have settled in West Bengal, Bihar and Assam should be deported back to Bangladesh. The six Northeastern states gradually understood his argument,” Singhal said.
Kolkata-based senior journalist Asim Kumar Mitra, who attended the third year training camp of the RSS at Nagpur in 1959 along with Sudarshan, had the opportunity to watch him from close quarters when the latter was given the responsibility of ‘Purvanchal’ region in late 1970s.
Under the Sangh’s organisational structure, ‘Purvanchal’ was quite a big region covering Northeast as well as Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha. Prior to him, RSS stalwarts like Rajju Bhayya and Bhaurao Deoras had been appointed at this position.
It was a region that faced many complex socio-economic issues and it was a formidable challenge to spread the RSS work there.
Mitra underlined the fact that Sudarshan played a key role in “ensuring that the movement started by Asom Gana Parishad against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh did not turn against Bengali Hindus”.
“The Muslims in Assam tried to make it an anti-Bengali agitation but Sudarshan could not only see through this conspiracy, he also realised the long-term adverse impact of an anti-Bengali movement. This would have affected Hindus severely while skirting the real problem,” he added.
Life sketch of Sudarshan
Born in Raipur, (now in Chhattisgarh), Sudarshan had his early studies in Raipur, Damoh and Mandla.
In 1953, Sudarshan finished his four-year degree course in telecom engineering. One of the long-lasting influences on him was of senior RSS pracharak Eknath Ranade, who was a regular visitor to his hostel during his intermediate days.
He inspired Sudarshan to take up RSS work full-time. After taking his final examination of the engineering course, he finished his four-month practical training and instead of picking up a coveted and well-paid job, chose to become an RSS pracharak. He was formally appointed as an RSS pracharak on 23 June, 1954 in Raigarh district as a tehsil pracharak looking after three tehsils — Champa, Janjgir and Bilaspur.
He worked there for a little less than two years and was then appointed as the Nagar (town/city) Pracharak in-charge of Sagar in 1956. He was elevated to the post of Zila (district) Pracharak. From 1957-64, he looked after Vindhya Vibhag as a Vibhag Pracharak. He was given the responsibility of Prant Pracharak of Madhya Prant in 1964 and was based in Indore.
He played an instrumental role in the launch of daily newspaper ‘Swadesh’ in which he wrote extensively. While he was the Prant Pracharak of Madhya Prant, he was also given the responsibility of ‘Akhil Bharatiya Sharirik Pramukh’ (All-India in-charge of the physical activities in the RSS).
When former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared emergency in June 1975, Sudarshan was arrested and he was in Indore jail for 19 months.
After the emergency was lifted and he came out of jail, Sudarshan was made the in-charge of ‘Purvanchal’ (East India). Thus, apart from Hindi, Marathi, Kannada, Tamil and English, he also developed fluency in Assamese, Bengali and Odia.
While holding the charge of ‘Purvanchal’, he was given the additional responsibility of ‘Akhil Bharatiya Bauddhik Pramukh’ (All India in-charge of the intellectual activities of the RSS).
In 1990, he was given the responsibility of ‘Sahsarkaryawah’ and in 2000, he donned the mantle of the RSS Sarsanghchalak.
It was Sudarshan himself who handed over the mantle to the current RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, nine years later. He passed away in Raipur on 15 September 2012.
(All the quotes used in the article have been taken from the book ‘Hamare Sudarshan ji’ edited by Baldev Bhai Sharma.)
The writer is CEO of Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra, an RSS affiliate, and author of two books on the RSS.