ThePrint Opinion editor Rama Lakshmi’s article ‘All political talk in India is obsessing over 2024. The real deal is 2025’ has raised many questions regarding the functioning and vision of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Let’s take a look at some of the ‘real facts’ and the inferences that emerge from them.
To begin with, Rama Lakshmi has written, “(T)he 2024 election will pale in comparison to the celebrations and events around 100 years of the RSS. It is not unlike the grand 100 years commemoration of the Chinese Communist Party.”
The RSS doesn’t believe in grandstanding. The ‘celebrations’ for the RSS have always been an occasion to give a new and major thrust on organisational expansion. It did this on completing 60 years in 1985, at birth centenaries of its founder K.B. Hedgewar and second Sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar. The RSS is going to do the same thing when it turns 100 in 2025.
RSS plans are public
Nothing about the official plan of the RSS for its centenary commemoration has been kept under the wraps, which some analysts are trying to project as ‘exclusive’. The plans were publicly announced by RSS Sarkaryavah Dattatreya Hosabale in the recent meeting of Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal of the RSS. Here is what he said:
“The year 2025 is going to be the centenary year of the Sangh. Generally, we prepare a plan to expand the organisation every three years. From this point of view, it has been decided to take our work to mandal level. At present, out of 6,483 blocks in the country, there is Sangh work in 5,683 blocks. There is work in 32,687 mandals. Out of 910 districts, the Sangh has its work in 900 districts, 560 districts have five shakhas at district headquarter, 84 districts have shakhas in all mandals. We have thought that in the coming three years (by 2024), the Sangh work should reach all the mandals. There is also a plan to engage full-time workers during 2022 to 2025 for at least two years.” This information is available on www.rss.org, the official website of the Sangh.
It is tempting for many analysts to equate the RSS with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which is celebrating its centenary too. But that wouldn’t be a fair comparison. The RSS is a socio-cultural organisation while the CCP is a political group. The CCP has a formal membership procedure while the RSS doesn’t. The CCP conducts political activities, the RSS conducts daily shakhas where people from different ages come and engage in some physical and spiritual practices.
RSS’ thought process
There has been consistent talk by the RSS’ baiters that it wants to change ‘Desh ki Soch’ (country’s thought process). In fact, the basic philosophy and functioning of the RSS is the other way round. The RSS changes itself according to the prevailing ‘Desh ki Soch,’ as it considers the organisation to be a part of ‘Desh’ and not the other way round.
RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat had categorically said at the three-day convention at Vigyan Bhawan in 2018 that if there are certain things which are no more suitable in the contemporary era, then the RSS doesn’t stick to them, it moves ahead by adapting to the situation and the need of the society. In fact, the very fact that the RSS has been able to become stronger with the passage of time in the last 96 years, despite being banned thrice, is due to the fact that it adapts its stand dynamically to assimilate it with ‘Desh ki Soch’.
The RSS is a gigantic but dynamic and flexible organisation where the decision-making process flows from bottom to top. Readers can refer to the debates and proceedings of the RSS’ two top decision-making bodies – Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha and Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal. It is also advisable to read ‘Yashaswi Bharat’, a compilation of the 17 speeches of Mohan Bhagwat which gives a clear picture of the RSS’ stand and strategy on every issue.
RSS’ relationship with affiliates
There has been a lot of talk about RSS-backed organisations or so-called ‘affiliates’ holding a series of meetings and making big plans for the celebrations when the RSS turns 100.
This confused inference arises out of the fact that many observers do not have clarity about the organic relationship between the RSS and the organisations run by its volunteers. They are deemed as ‘one’ entity, which they are not. The RSS doesn’t have a centralised command structure. The organisations run by the RSS’ swayamsevaks aren’t controlled by the RSS as a main corporation controls its subsidiaries. As such, there is no ‘common minimum programme’ for these organisations. It is the RSS which is turning 100 years old and not these organisations, so it’s natural that the commemoration programmes would be carried out by the RSS and not by every organisation run by its volunteers.
There has been a talk about the RSS planning to double its daily shakhas as part of the centenary celebrations. No official figure has been released or fixed. Only the outreach in terms of geographical expanse, as publicly announced by Hosabale, has been planned.
Growth of RSS
The growth of the RSS is often confused with the growth of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh or the BJP. That is why it was mentioned in Rama Lakshmi’s article, “the period between 1975 and 1995 was one of rapid growth; then in 1998, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the first pracharak prime minister ….”
The rapid growth of the RSS actually started during the tenure of the second Sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar (1940 to 1973). That was the period when dozens of organisations were set up by the RSS volunteers such as ABVP, VHP, BMS, Vidya Bharati, and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram to name a few. The RSS has consistently grown since then and there has been no slow or rapid growth phase. The RSS’ inspired organisations, of course, have their phases of growth. For example, the VHP grew rapidly in the 1980s due to the Ramjanmabhoomi movement; the Sewa Bharati, which serves the poor and the marginalised, has grown very rapidly over the past couple of decades. The Bharatiya Janata Party grew rapidly in late 1980s and 1990s and then post-2014.
Dalit vs non-Dalit
Does the Sangh have a special plan to get more ‘Dalit’ influencers in its fold?
The ‘binary’ vision is typical of most Indian political parties and hence the political commentators. However, the RSS doesn’t look at the Indian society from a binary prism of ‘Dalit and non-Dalit’. In fact, the word ‘Dalit’ is not used by the RSS; it prefers to use ‘Scheduled Caste’, the word constitutionally framed for certain socially marginalised sections of the society. R.S.S. A Vision in Action by H.V. Seshadri is a highly recommended book that can help one understand the RSS’ perspective on the socially marginalised sections.
The third Sarsanghchalak, Balasaheb Deoras’ lectures in ‘Vasant Vyakhyanmala’ in May 1974, must also be read where he gave a clarion call for ‘Samajik Samrasta’ saying, “If untouchability isn’t a crime, nothing is a crime in this world.” A similar clarion call was given by Golwalkar in the 1960s with the setting up of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). In fact, one of the reasons for setting up the VHP was to get all Hindu religious gurus on one stage and denounce any kind of discrimination based on caste. The Sangh has been working on the issue of upliftment of the socially backward for decades. It doesn’t have to wait for its centenary to do something special on this.
The writer is a research director at RSS-linked think tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra. He is the author of two books on the RSS and a forthcoming book on the VHP. Views expressed are personal.