Sangh and Generational Change
If there is one organization that is presented by the Indian media as rigid, with its thinking cast in stone and no potential for flexibility, it is the RSS. It is amusing that the same media can even sing praises for the leaders Of noted Islamic jihadi organizations or praise a known anti-national and terrorist sympathizer like Mr Imran Khan, now Prime Minister Of Pakistan, as God’s gift to humanity, but singularly attack RSS in the name Of actions it has not even committed!
Which is why it is only those who have known the Sangh know of its egalitarian ways, the importance given to debates and discussions, no matter how charged, and who know that it is a continuously evolving organization that has grown in keeping with the generations.
“Hindu Rashtra does not mean there’s no place for Muslims. It is not at all so. The day it is said that we don’t want Muslims, it won’t be Hindutva “
-Sarsangchalak Shri Bhagwatji speaking to a packed halt during RSS Lecture Series in New Delhi, 19 September 2018
When Sarsangchalak Bhagwat ji said these words and when he said that the words of Shri Guruji Golwalkar (Who became Sarsangchalak in 1940) in A Bunch of Thoughts calling Muslim as “shatru” (enemy), were relevant to the times then, and were not of relevance now and so are not included in recent edition of the book, the media and many politicians and members of the public were stunned. That book doesnot pertain to Guruji’s entire tenure as Sarsangchalak but is from 1940-1965, when India was tragically divided on the demand of Musfims for a separate country called Pakistan and the post partition trauma of Hindus and Sikhs caused grief to and loss to the nation. But those who know the RSS, were not surprised by Bhagvat ji’s comments because they know the RSS as an organization that believes in responding to changing times and arriving at solutions the reof.
RSS Founder Dr Hedgewar was clear in his view that a small British administration was able to rule over a large country like India because Hindus were disunited, lacked valour (pararkram) and a civic character” Hence, the focus in the early days was on organizing and uniting Hindus along with training in martial arts and use of weapons. Those were dangerous times and in the run-up to Independence, with the mass attacks called for by Muslim League and the murder of Hindus, this cadre was necessary for the safety of Hindus. Guruji Golwalkar also continued on similar lines with a focus on strengthening the cadre. All along though, the issue of untouchability was not highlighted.
We must remember that in the early 20th Century, India was a casteist society and even top leaders like Gandhi ji did not support inter-caste marriages as he believed in the varna system. The Indian National Congress was started in 1885 and was always seen as an upper caste Hindu party. It was only in 1917 that INC even considered passing a party resolution to prevent the practice of untouchability; here too, Dr Ambedakar and other leaders felt that it was mere semantics and none of the leaders did any work on the ground to fight against untouchability.
But the RSS, as it grew in strength and due to its non-discriminatory practices, the cadre too reflected a multitude of castes including the scheduled castes and tribe. Always evolving with the times, in May 1974 then Sarsangchalak Deorasji denounced the practice of untouchability saying, “ If untouchability not wrong, nothing in the world is wrong,” in one of his landmark speeches in Pune. He exchorted the Swayamsevaks to work towards removal of caste based untouchability from Hindu Society. Under Seva Bharati, outreach was going on with socio-economically depressed communities and Swayamsevaks started schools and vocational training for resident of slums and untouchables. Hindu cultural training was imparted to them. The outreach to untouchables was also highlighted when Deoras ji said in 1985, Hindu unity is the main purpose of RSS and that the organization believes all citizens of India should have a Hindu culture.
EVOLUTION FROM FOCUS ON SHAKHA TO SEWA
RSS was started in 1925 by Dr Keshav Balirao Hedgewar, also called Doctor ji. He was a medical doctor and staunch nationalist and the stirrings of concern within him of the future of Hindus in an atmosphere of belligerent Muslims and the lack of organization among Hindus in the country sparked the idea of RSS. It was begun with just 17 persons in his simple home in Nagpur, Maharashtra. He was the first Sarsangchalak (head of the RSS) and incidentally also an active Congressman. (The Indian National Congress (INC) party of today is NOT the party it was in the 20th Century and this fact is not known by many. It is important to note that INC was the only representative national party advocating for independence from the British and had a mix of members in it of varying ideologies like socialists, Hindu cultural revivalists and those leaning to the economic right.)
In the early days of the RSS, with increasing separatist activity from Muslims and riots in several areas in india in which thousands of Hindus were brutally murdered, raped and forcibly converted to Islam (like the moplah riots in Malabar, Kerala), the aim was to organize a Hindu society that had been mostly divided by caste and was unable to withstand the onslaught of the more organized Muslim.
The SHAKHA was the focus, and marked the genius of Dr Hedgewar – as a meeting place where young men at village, district or state level could meet and be trained in the martial arts, gain an understanding of India’s Hindu spiritual heritage and the need for freeing India from British rule.
A shakha is a daily gathering of swayamsevaks (volunteers) across age groups at a meeting place or ground for an hour. Daily routine programs include physical exercises, singing patriotic songs, holding group discussions on varied range of subjects and a prayer for our motherland. It was these shakhas that enabled the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of swayamsevaks who were able to help millions of refugees from West Punjab and East Bengal who had flooded into India in the horrendous aftermath of Partition and the creation of Pakistan as a nation for Muslims in 1947. The shakha was and is an exceptional brilliant organizational unit as it gave no monetary remuneration to swayamsevaks but gave them all a spirit of such involvement unmatched by any other activity. This is true till today and has no parallel anywhere in the world.
Though Sewa was always a part of RSS, the transition in RSS from a Shakha orientation to the focus on SEWA in an organized manner happened over the decades after Independence to address the problems faced by Indians at the grassroots on account of poverty and social discrimination. This generational change was led by Sarsangchalak Shri Balasaheb Deoras ji. Though the RSS swayamsevaks had been doing Sewa in all their activities since inception and the affiliate organizations like Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and others had been doing remarkable work with tribal communities, there was no formal structure to activities done by RSS and its affiliates. In April 1978, Shri Deoras ji addressed swayamsevaks in large numbers in Delhi, where he asked the swayamsevaks to raise the self-respect of the socio-economically deprived communities of India. He spoke about the need for doing service through a formal structure and this led to starting Seva Bharati that year. Seva Bharti is the official organization under whom are all RSS’ and affiliates Sewa-related activities.
This transition itself marks a classic case of evolution in an organization viz. society where it is responsive to people’s needs. Affiliate organizations have been constituted as and when a felt need from communities is perceived. These organizations function as independent bodies in themselves. A good example of a neglected community need that the RSS responded to a few years after Independence is the Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram that was formed in 1952 to serve vulnerable tribals who number an estimated 104 lakh-plus in India today This affiliate organization was formed to prevent tribal exploitation on economic and hence religious grounds by vested interests especially conversion to religions like Christianity whose missionaries are active in these regions and whose community service is an inducement done to convert the communities to Christianity.
A Flexible Organisation Till the Date
Deoras ji, the third Sarsangchalk from 1973-1994 had, akin to veer Savarkar’s view said: “we do believe in the one-culture and one-nation Hindu rashtra. But our definition of Hindu is not limited to any particular faith. Our definition of Hindu includes those who believe in one culture and one nation theory of this country. They can all form part of the Hindu-rashtra. So by Hindu we do not mean any particular type of faith. We use the word Hindu in a broader sence.”
Anyone who claims the RSS is rigid and obscurantist in its ideology is clearly misinformed. As the RSS evolved from Shakha to Sewa, it was the third Sarsangchalak, Deoras Ji, an iconic leader who charted a different path for the RSS and differed on some of Guruji Golwalkar’s previous views. Deoras ji as third Sarsangchalak publicly denounced untouchability in 1974 and this gave an impetus to swayamsevaks to work sincerely for all Indians. The focus on Sewa for the communities in need led to an increase in the membership of the Sangh and strengthened the organization at national level. Its footprint expanded in South India and North East India in the 1980s. The cohesive functioning of all RSS affiliate organizations with the same apolitical identity of the RSS and committed work with the socio-economically deprived has struck a chord with even the most cynical of Indians.
As the RSS expanded nationwide through Sewa, politically too there was an energy that took shape in response to the need of the time. Again, Deoras ji showed a different mindset by offering RSS support to the JP Movement (named after anti-Indira Gandhi social activist Shri Jayaprakash Narayan). JP led millions of students and activists to fight the blatant misrule of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the mid- 1970s that had led the nation to rampant corruption by ministers and government employees and economic despair in the nation (this eventually frightened Smt Indira Gandhi into imposing an unjustifiable Emergency across India). Though Shri Jayaprakash Narayan was a staunch socialist, Deoras ji believed in the cause he led as it represented the genuine outrage of the people of India and the RSS supported it. Such flexibility is rare in organizations as most tend to be comfortable in their insular world view.
- The Bharatiya Jan Sangh founded in 1951, was envisoned by the exceptional Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee who had served in the first Cabinet of Prime Minister Nehru but fell out with him on policy issues. He, all of a sudden, passed away at the age of 52, in Srinagar, on 23 June 1953. The Jan Sangh had allied with the Janata Party when it came to power in 1977 after defeating Indira Gandhi following the draconian Emergency But after a fallout with the Janata Party alliance, the Jan Sangh reconstituted itself as the Bharatiya Janata Party in 1980′ This too marks a generational change – from Shakha to Sewa to a political party to fulfill the legitimate political aspirations of all nationalistic Indians.
- The RSS in its very origins was not an organization founded by elderly leaders but by a 36-year-old Dr Kesav Baliram Hedgewar ji. Likewise, Shri Guruji Golwalkar was also just 34 years old When he took over as Sarsangchalak. This was the time when the Muslim demand for Pakistan was gaining ground and was striking at the security of the nation. Many swayamsevaks who participated in the Quit India Movement had been arrested and some were executed by the British: Guruji’s views which are always taken as the defining views of the RSS were due to the threat to the existence of India and Hindus at the time. As the decades passed, views of the RSS also changed with the times.
- While top leadership in RSS progressed to 50 plus years subsequently, the leadership at various levels has been younger and in keeping with the communities it represents. Shri Bhagwat ji himself was 59, when he became Sarsangchalak in 2009, and his appointment marks a generational change. He set 75 years as the age limit for officers across the Sangh Parivar. Across the board, there has been a keen interest to attract more young members and leaders. In 2016, the RSS’s khaki shorts uniform that had been inspired by that of the British constabulary, was replaced with trousers. Shakha timings were made more flexible, so that office-goers and students could also attend.
CHANGE IS ORGANIC IN THE SANGH
Often people think the RSS is a dictatorial organization with a personality cult of leaders when it is anything but. Change and evolution is organic to the Sangh which believes that new people should come in bringing fresh ideas. Sarsangchalak Bhagwat ji recalls that when he was entrusted with the responsibility of Sarkaryavah, it was very sudden. There were many karyakartas who were senior to him and it looked like there were no serious reasons for a change of responsibility. But Shri Seshadri ji, who was Sarkaryavah then, said that he had held the post for four terms, so there must be a change. This points to the uniqueness of the Sangh in that every individual swayamsevak is important, and it is the organisation’s responsibility to take care of them, but the organisation is not personality based.
A significant change has been that in the Shakhas, previously organisational issues used to be the focus but now issues of social importance are gaining centre stage. In an interview to the Organiser, Sarsangchalak Shri Bhagwat ji said, “This is not a change, this is a natural expression. Thengadi ji used to call it “progressive unfoldment”. In ‘Sangh Prarthana’ when we say, ‘Samartha Bhavatva … “, it means increasing the evolutionary strength. Sangh is instrumental in that process. The swayamsevaks are one as a collective whole and at individual level they work as an element of the Sangh and work for the cause with sincerity, dedication and purity. Earlier also it was the same. Then we were few in numbers so our work was not noticed.”
Shri Bhagwat ji said that since the inception of RSS, swayamsevaks have been working at rescue and rehabilitation during national calamities. In 1926 itself, swayamsevaks had worked hard to prevent any disorder during the famous religious fair that takes place at Ramtek near Nagpur. Dr Bhagwat said that it is because the swayamsevaks have increased in number that the work is being noticed now while earlier they are fewer in number.
Swayamsevaks are told that communities whom they work with consider the work of the Sangh as pure and true, and so have high expectations, which all who are in RSS should work towards fulfilling. Shri Bhagwat ji narrated an anecdote of Dr Hedgewar ji saying that a person who goes to office on time and returns home after doing his work sincerely, without bothering about what is happening around him, is considered as a straightforward and good person and a gentleman by society. But actually, a gentleman is one who thinks for society and is conscious of what is happening around him. Doctor ji exemplified this in his life. Shri Bhagwat ji said due to the fact that India was under British rule, it was not possible to effectively contribute in social transformation then but now it is possible hence swayamsevaks are able to work on social development issues all across India.
RSS’ new initiative to focus on environment conservation
A three-day annual meet of RSS Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS) was organised in Madhya Pradesh’s Gwalior from March 8 to March 10. RSS Sarsanghchalak Dr Mohan Bhagwat and Sarkaryavah Suresh Bhaiyaji Joshi along with other senior 2000 swayamsevaks participated in this meet.
On March 10, RSS Sarkaryavah Bhaiyya ji Joshi said that the three day meet of Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha reviewed various activities of the organisation and discussed contemporary issues.
Addressing a press conference on the third and final day of the ABPS, Bhaiyya ji Joshi said, the RSS has decided to take up a new initiative in the field on environment protection and conservation. He said there will be a greater focus on ‘Samajik Samrasta’.
“The RSS’ work has reached at a certain level and now we feel that it is time to take a big leap in terms of expansion of the work,” said Joshi.
The ABPS has also passed a resolution on ‘Need to Protect the Traditions and Beliefs of Hindu Society’ in context of the Sabarimala issue, he added.
Bhayya ji Joshi also made statements on ‘550th Prakash Parva of Shri Guru Nanak Dev ji’ and ‘Centenary of the inspiring martyrdom at Jalianwala Bagh’.
Elaborating upon the new initiative of the RSS, he said that the Sangh will take up various activities along with the society in the field of Environment protection and conservation through initiatives in three key areas- water conservation and water management, planting trees and eliminating use of plastic and other non-biodegradable material like Thermocol.
Replying to a question, the Sarkaryavah said the RSS’ stand on Ram Temple is clear. It should be built at the place where it has been decided to be built. The movement on this issue will continue till the temple is constructed. On the issue of appointment of a mediation panel by the apex court, he said the RSS welcomes any initiative that can help resolve this issue to construct the Ram Temple. The RSS expects that the government and the Court would remove the barriers in the path of constructing the temple at the earliest. It is also expected from the mediation panel that they would understand the Hindu sentiment. Those in power are not opposed to the Ram Temple and there is no doubt over their commitment regarding this, said Joshi.
Sarkaryavah appreciated the government’s response in terms of carrying out air strikes at Terror camps in Pakistan in wake of Pulwama terror attack. He said that the fearless nations reply to the terrorists in similar language.
Replying to another question on Article 370, he said the case related to Section 35A is in Court. It is expected that the government of the day will keep the viewpoint firmly. After a decision on this case is delivered, the issue of Article 370 will be discussed in light of this decision.
On the issue of Sangh’s role in elections, Joshi said, the RSS’ role is clear. We will work for creating awareness to ensure 100 per cent voting. Our society has started thinking more clearly over the period time and the common people know who works for the betterment of the nation.
Replying to another question regarding Court’s decisions on Hindu traditions in wake of its decisions on Jallaikattu, Deepwali crackers and Sabarimala, Joshi said that along with the Constitution, one cannot ignore the importance of traditions and culture. Giving a decision according to the law is one thing and its acceptability in the society is another thing. So such issues should be dealt in the light of of our values and culture. And the guidance of those who are experts in these spheres should be sought.
Resolution: ‘Need to Protect the Traditions and Beliefs of Hindu Society’ “The actions of the CPM-led Government in Kerala have created severe emotional disturbance amongst the Ayyappa devotees. The attempts of the State Government to sneak in the atheist, ultra-left women activists from the backdoor have hurt the sensitivities of the devotees. This is being done to further CPM’s petty political gains and open an another front of ideological battle against the Hindus. This is the reason why devotees, more so the women devotees, spontaneously took to agitation on an unprecedented scale to safeguard their religious beliefs and freedoms.”
Statement 1: 550th Prakash Parva of Shri Guru Nanak Dev ji “It is our responsibility to follow in our life and propagate the message of Shri Guru Nanak Dev ji which is relevant even today. We appeal to all swayamsevaks and whole society to celebrate this 550th Prakash Parv of Shri Guru Nanak Dev ji at all places and all levels with mutual cooperation and coordination.”
Statement 2: Centenary of the inspiring martyrdom at Jalianwala Bagh “This is the centenary year of the historic event of Jalianwala Bagh. It is our duty to see that the immortal story of this sacrifice reaches the nook and corner of the country. We appeal to the entire society to organize maximum number of possible events at this historical juncture.”
By Uday India Bureau
In Sync with Technology- E SHAKHA AND MORE
The RSS has never been interested in publicity of its work, a distinction that sets it apart from other NGOs. Around a decade ago, RSS cadre realised that Internet technology could be effectively utilized to expand the organisation’s scope of work. In 2009, the e-shakha was begun to connect with those interested persons who wanted to join but could not take time out for attending a shakha. A pracharak is online at a fixed time every day Iike a regular shakha, to provide an opportunity to people across India to interact with him and learn more.
In order to reach out to Information Technology (IT) personnel, RSS holds weekly shakhas instead of daily shakhas so that the professionals can easily take time out for this shakha as against a daily shakha. This is a sign of how the organization responds to needs of the times. Such sessions are operational in Noida, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Pune. RSS has also been connecting with educational institutions to reach out to school and college students.
Today the RSS has an active website, rss.org with information on the organization making it easy for people to connect with the organization’s work. Its affiliate organizations too have well managed websites. RSS office bearers are active on social media (on Twitter @rssorg) and ensure they always maintain decorum in their social media messaging. Sarsangchalak Shri Bhagwat ji in 201 7 had said RSS does not support trolling and aggressive behavior on the Internet as it amounts to “hitting below the belt.”
Shri Bhagwat ji believes social media applications are useful instruments and should be used as per their utility but that we should also understand their limitations and side-effects and should not be slaves to technology. He has rightly pointed out in an interview that social media apps can make one egoist and self-centred. “Social media means me, my, mine and I have to express my opinion on each and everything. Even after knowing that my opinion is part of a collective whole, still without waiting for the collective opinion, I post my opinion. Many a times it leads to misunderstandings, sometimes with our own people, and then you have to delete the same. This happens with many people including swavamsevaks. Self-projection has its limited importance at individual level but not at the organisational level.” The RSS has its Facebook page and Twitter account, but not of the Sarsangchalak.
Such is the interest among young people who wish to contribute to the work of the RSS that in 2016, a team of 15 young professionals from reputed business schools and engineering colleges was selected to assist the RSS in adopting a “data-driven, analytical approach” aimed at enhancing its outreach. The new initiatives mainly involve using “disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology, and brainstorming sessions analyzing case studies. It was reported in the media that a number of initiatives were initiated under the “Six Sigma approach of sanskriti (culture), sanskar (values), swabhiman (pride), swawlamban (self-help), sewa (service) and satya (truth). The 15-member team of professionals was inducted as part-time members for a few months.
The measures rolled out so far include reaching out to college students to draw them towards Sewa. This will help young Indians connect with the concept of nation-building and get involved in working with underprivileged sections of society. As per their preferences and skills, youth are encouraged to work for the nation. The Sangh believes that once young people experience the Sangh and are convinced about its thinking and working, they will automatically become active members and contribute to society.
EXPANDING IN FOREIGN COUNTRIES
It was only natural that the large Hindu diaspora in countries outside India would want to have an organization with the same philosophy and mission that the RSS does. The first Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) was established in around 1947 in Kenya and is now active in 39 countries with 570 branches. A subsidiary of RSS, HSS works to support and mobilise Hindus living outside India.
In countries outside India too, the shakha, is the basic unit With the practices followed based on the country it operates in. The US has the second-largest number of shakhas outside India – in 2016, there were 172 shakhas in the US, the largest shakha network outside India. HSS members have strong links with India and contribute to their homeland during national disasters and calamities as well as for developmental work.
In what can be seen as a clear example of generational change, way back in 1953 Guruji Golwalkar, while speaking to Pracharaks from the states, had spoken about overseas Hindus and their philosophical connect with India. He had said then that the RSS had a “World Mission” to propagate the Hindu notion of the world as a single family- “Vasudheiva kutumbakam.” (World is One Family)
The start of the HSS was when two Swayamsevaks who had settled in Kenya in the 1940s started a shakha, As they could not use the term “Rashtriya” since they were not in India, they decided to call it Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. Subsequently, Pracharaks like Shri Bhaurao Deoras ji and others spent some years abroad to develop the organizations there. The British wing of the HSS was established in 1966 and in the US in 1971.
The RSS, unlike what media would like us to believe, does not shy away from any interaction with external agencies. Shri Bhagwat ji spoke to over 50 foreign diplomats in New Delhi in September 2017 at an interactive session where he underlined that Hinduism is a universal philosophy, it is not a religion but a way of life that does not discriminate against anyone and invited them to visit an RSS shakha. Whether in India or outside of it, the RSS has demonstrated its flexibility in adapting to circumstances without diluting its core values.
Excerpts from the book ‘RSS building India through Sewa’, published by Har-Anand publication
By Sudhanshu Mittal