New Delhi: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and more than three dozen organisations backed by it have moved all their activities online amid the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, which has helped them expand outreach, especially among the young.
The success of working in cyberspace can be gauged from the fact that a special programme to hold online RSS shakhas at 5.30 pm on 19 April was attended by more than 48 lakh people from all over India, including women and children, according to Sangh estimates.
Over 40 per cent of the attendees, inputs from units around the country suggested, had never attended an RSS shakha before.
Even RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat chose YouTube for his address Sunday. All RSS shakhas and functionaries were asked to ensure that those who haven’t been associated with the Sangh so far should be encouraged to attend this online ‘Baudhik (intellectual)’ discourse of the sarsanghchalak.
Going by the stats for the 19 April event, the RSS has made deep inroads into cyberspace. According to initial estimates of the RSS, the special online RSS shakha on 19 April was attended by 12 lakh families at 1.15 lakh locations.
The attendees included 26 lakh RSS swayamsevaks, and 22 lakh people who had not attended any shakha before.
The RSS holds around 70,000 daily shakhas, where its volunteers (swayamsevaks) gather for an hour, in a playground or a park, to execute a set regimen of physical, mental and spiritual activities. Since the beginning of the nationwide lockdown, most of these shakhas have been held online with swayamsevaks connecting through various online platforms.
Meanwhile, several RSS affiliates have launched a series of webinars, Facebook lives and online discussions.
The Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal (BSM), an RSS-backed organisation that works in the field of education, has already organised more than a dozen live chats on Facebook, including sessions with Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari and Union Minister for Human Resource Development (HRD) Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’.
In fact, after the session with the HRD minister, the RSS-backed thinktank Research for Resurgence Foundation and the BSM announced a competition for building an India-based digital platform to host video conferences and webinars.
The official communiqué released to announce the app called for an indigenous platform “working on the basis of data pooling with no or minimal dependence on large server, beta version demo for minimum 50 users”. The competition has been jointly organised by the Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal Yuva Ayam, the Research For Resurgence Foundation and IIT-Ropar.
Winners have been promised a prize of Rs 5 lakh and development support. Three runner-ups have been promised internships at IIT-Ropar. The last date for proposal submission is 15 May 2020, with a 31 May deadline for the submission of a beta version demo”.
Meanwhile, another RSS affiliate, the Suruchi Prakashan, a publication house, has uploaded more than 230 books online for free download during the lockdown period, which can be accessed through their website and Google Books. There have already been around 25,000 downloads in March-April 2020 .
“These books have been downloaded not only in India but in around two dozen countries, including the US, Canada, Italy, the UK, Spain, Japan, South Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Argentina and Brazil. We believe it is the Indian diaspora that has shown keen interest in this,” said Rajiv Tuli, one of the trustees of Suruchi Prakashan.
“We are uploading new books twice a week and the response has been quite good. The response is quite encouraging and we intend to carry forward this initiative in the post-lockdown period also,” he added.
Six helplines for six causes
In yet another digital initiative, the RSS has set up a number of virtual call centres for relief work during the lockdown across the nation. In Delhi itself, the organisation has set up six helplines, for medical care and ration supplies, blood donation, domestic violence, students and youth from other states, people with special abilities (divyang), and for citizens from north-eastern states.
“We have more than 200 volunteers working in these virtual call centres, including 40 doctors. The details of callers are shared through a software with the RSS volunteers on the ground who reach out to them to provide the required help,” said Anil Gupta, the sah prant karyavah (deputy in-charge) of the Delhi RSS.
“We receive around 4,000 calls every day. We have already distributed 1.2 million (12 lakh) dry ration kits and 3.4 million (34 lakh) cooked food packets in Delhi so far,” he added.
One of the first online meetings held by the RSS Delhi unit, on 22 March, was meant for its ‘elders unit (praudha vibhag)’ that comprises people above 40 years of age.
“We hadn’t expected such a good response but the attendance was 95 per cent and since then 11 different departments or initiatives of the RSS are holding daily meetings in cyberspace regularly,” said Gupta.
The most interesting part of the daily virtual shakhas is the ‘e-saffron flag’, said Gupta. The flag, he added, is mounted digitally at the beginning of the virtual shakha and then mounted down at the end of each session.
The writer is CEO of Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra, an RSS affiliate, and author of two books on the RSS.