New Delhi: For the first time in its history of 97 years, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has invited a woman — mountaineer Santosh Yadav — to be the chief guest at its annual Vijayadashami programme that is traditionally held at its Nagpur headquarters on the day of Dussehra. And there is a key message behind it.
According to RSS functionaries, as the organisation approaches its centenary year, it intends to systematically bring women to the forefront, including in its organisational set-up.
The decision to invite a woman, who “excelled in a field and achieved supreme success”, therefore, should not be seen as an isolated event, a senior RSS functionary asserted.
Speaking to ThePrint, Sunil Ambekar, Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh (media chief) of the RSS, emphasised this point too.
“The Sangh has earlier also had celebrated women as chief guests for some of our programmes. But this is the first time that we are getting a woman chief guest for our Vijayadashami event,” Ambekar told The Print.
“Representation of women has increased manifold in the organisation as the Sangh believes in matrushakti and the supreme power. We now have many women office-bearers, too, holding substantial charges in the organisation,” he added.
Nevertheless, a woman as chief guest for Vijayadashami has particular symbolic importance.
It was on the Vijayadashami of 1925 that the RSS was founded, and it is on this day that its Sarsanghchalak (chief mentor), currently Mohan Bhagwat, delivers an annual address that serves as a guiding framework for the organisation for the months ahead.
This year’s chief guest, 54-year-old Santosh Yadav, who climbed Mount Everest twice in two consecutive years (1992 and 1993) and was the first and youngest woman in the world to do so, will become part of a distinguished club.
While there were no chief guests for Vijayadashami in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid protocols, previous invitees have included Nobel winner Kailash Satyarthi (2018) and industrialist Shiv Nadar (2019). A former President of India, the late Pranab Mukherjee, was also a chief guest at another major RSS event, the Sangh Shiksha Varg, in 2018.
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Women essential to RSS’s vision of ‘Naya Bharat’
Gender “equality and inclusiveness” are important components of the Sangh’s vision, said a second senior RSS functionary who did not wish to be named.
“There are many affiliated organisations which have women in crucial and important positions. The Rashtra Sevika Samiti (women’s wing of the RSS) has been expanding a lot,” he said.
“In our samanwaya baithak (coordination meeting) in Raipur early this month, there were 26 women office-bearers who represented their respective organisations. We were expecting 30, though. The awareness is there and this is part of the Naya Bharat (New India) that we talk about,” he added.
The functionary named women who are in leadership positions in RSS-affiliated organisations — “Nidhi Tripathiji in (Akhil Bharatiya) Vidyarthi Parishad and Renu Pathakji in Seva Bharati” — and explained that there had always been a place for women.
“One needs to understand the Sangh structure. There is the Sangh and the Samiti — these are two separate entities. There are some organisations where we have men and women working together too,” he said. The Samiti started in 1936, he added, 11 years after the Sangh was founded.
The first RSS functionary quoted earlier emphasised that women have been invited as chief guests before to RSS programmes and have also assumed “leadership positions” across affiliate organisations.
He added that this should give pause to the “Congress and Communists” to take pause and think about who was doing better for women.
“There are opponents, like the Communists and the Congress, who criticise us and call us patriarchy driven. They should introspect. We are reforming and evolving with generations and with the changing world,” he said.
“How many women are in the political bureau or central committee of the Communist party? How many women politicians in the Congress held crucial ministries in the union government… apart from the members of the family?” the functionary added, pointing out that women hold (or have held) several important portfolios in the BJP government, including in the ministries of finance and external affairs.
‘Woman power’ high on RSS, BJP agenda
The leadership of the BJP as well as the RSS, which is its ideological fountainhead, have of late stressed on the themes of gender equality and inclusion.
In August, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, while addressing a book release event organised by the Sevika Samiti in Nagpur, said that barring some biological differences, men and women are equal in every aspect of life. Urging men to abandon patriarchal mindsets, Bhagwat had said: “We kept [women] confined for so long. Now let them be enlightened and empowered.”
Days before this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi too had made similar points during his Independence Day speech, where he paid homage to “nari shakti” (women power) and the “countless brave women” of India. “Women’s pride is going to be a huge asset in fulfilling the dreams of the nation. I see this power and therefore I am insistent on it,” he had said.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
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