New Delhi: In the run-up to the assembly elections in five states, especially West Bengal, all eyes have been on what role the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is going to play in these polls.
Thus, there was a strong buzz around the all-India coordination meeting of the RSS that was held in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, from 5-7 January. With the presence of BJP national president J.P. Nadda at the meet, the common conclusion drawn by the press and social media was that the focus of the event was on assembly polls and especially how to win West Bengal.
But the fact to the matter is the meeting primarily focused on discussing the organisational issues of the RSS and more than three dozen organisations backed by it.
Contrary to popular perception, the meeting did not discuss electoral strategy for any of the upcoming elections. In fact, political or electoral issues are never discussed at any RSS meetings.
When it comes to coordination with the BJP, there is a structured mechanism in place, which works round the year.
The BJP’s organisational secretaries and joint organisational secretaries at the national level are RSS pracharaks. These pracharaks are spared by the RSS to go and work in the BJP. The BJP’s organisational secretaries in the state units are also RSS pracharaks. They do not have a fixed tenure. At times, they are also called back to the RSS and assigned some other responsibility within the organisation.
So, these organisational and joint organisational secretaries form the key link between the RSS and the BJP.
There are also informal groups comprising senior RSS functionaries and the BJP leadership, which meet whenever an important issue is to be discussed.
In a nutshell, while the formal communication happens between the BJP and the RSS through the organisational and joint organisational secretaries, the top brass of the BJP and the RSS communicate through informal meetings and groups. And, there is no set agenda or composition of these groups. It keeps changing depending on the nature of the discussion. There is also no fixed frequency of these meetings.
The key to this coordination mechanism is ‘uninterrupted communications’ between functionaries of both the RSS and BJP at the national as well as state levels.
Thus, contrary to the common belief, no political issues or electoral strategy is discussed at any RSS meetings.
Covid related issues discussed at Ahmedabad meeting
One of the key issues discussed in the Ahmedabad event was Covid-19 and the response of the state and society, including that of the RSS and the organisations that participated in the meeting, towards mitigating the crisis.
In addition, around three dozen organisations that were represented by their top brass shared their learnings and work plans at the meeting.
Some of the prominent organisations that participated included the BJP, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, among others.
According to a senior RSS functionary, “We discussed at length the Covid-19 situation and how we have responded to it and what more needs to be done. But no political issues were discussed.”
“We don’t discuss politics, especially electoral politics in our meetings. Contemporary as well as long-term issues do come up when representatives of various RSS-inspired organisations share their feedback about the respective areas in which they work, but no political issues are discussed during the meetings,” he said.
“The core of all discussions is focused purely on the organisational aspect and we look at all national issues from a long-term perspective. This is what happened in the meeting in Ahmedabad also,” he added.
He also said that senior functionaries of dozens of RSS-inspired organisations travel continuously across the nation, meet people from different walks of life and often get feedback on various programmes and activities of these organisations.
“These learnings are shared by them in such meetings and similar things were done in the meeting in Ahmedabad also. Our top priority is to help the society to handle Covid-19 and not any political or electoral issue,” he added.
A second senior RSS functionary said, “The problem is that the media tends to look at the meetings held by RSS from the political perspective or to be specifically from the BJP’s prism. The presence of top brass of Bharatiya Janata Party in such meetings doesn’t mean that the meeting has been organised to discuss electoral strategies.”
The functionary said the “BJP is an ideological mentee of the RSS and so are other organisations of the RSS. The top brass of all these organisations are there to just share their learnings and good practices.”
“The BJP leadership presents their views as the top brass of other organisations do. There is no specific discussion on any political issue and this time also no discussion was held on polls in any state, rather we discussed the implications of Covid-19 and how to strengthen our systems to handle it,” he added.
Annual RSS meetings
There are two coordination meetings, which are held at the national level by the RSS every year. The meeting in Ahmedabad was one of them.
These meetings have been held for several decades and their structure has remained largely unchanged. These meetings are generally presided over by the RSS sarsanghchalak (chief), and attended by presidents and organisational secretaries of RSS-backed organisations, including the BJP.
In fact, the state units of the RSS also hold such coordination meetings every year. These meetings are also held twice a year, and their structure is also the same.
The top brass of these organisations share progress of various programmes and activities carried out by them. The discussion is focused on adopting good practices, when shared by any organisation, and developing a synergy amongst organisations working in the same field.
For example, when it comes to the field of education, Bharatiya Shikshan Mandal, Vidya Bharati, Samartha Shiksha Samiti, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad etc. are working in different segments.
At these meetings, the representatives of these organisations would discuss a common working plan to avoid overlapping of efforts and ensure that each organisation can leverage others’ strengths.
In addition to these national and state level coordination meetings, two more meetings are held every year, which are attended by the top brass and senior functionaries of the RSS and its ideological mentees.
The first meeting is known as ‘Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha’ and is generally held in the first fortnight of March every year. The second meeting is generally held around six months after that and is called ‘Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal’.
Both of them are key decision-making bodies of the RSS and they also pass resolutions on various issues, which can be seen as the guiding framework for RSS’ programmes and activities throughout the year.
“In these meetings also, no electoral or political strategies are discussed. The organisational issues are on the top of agenda and the focus is on developing a synergistic approach towards various socio-cultural programmes and activities that are being pursued from a long-term perspective,” said a third senior RSS functionary.
The author is a research director of Delhi-based think-tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra. He has authored two books on RSS.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.