Understanding the RSS
Author: Sudheendra Kulkarni
Until some three years ago, I was a strong critic of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Like all young people influenced by communism, I too considered the RSS to be a communal. obscurantist and reactionary organisation which needed to be fought resolutely for the sake of India’s peace and progress. My antipathy for the RSS also owed to my strongly-held view that the RSS and its political offshoot the Bharatiya Janata Party, were the protectors of the upper caste hegemony in Hinduism Since my own Brahmin background had led me to develop a deep revulsion for Brahminical domination and the harm it had visited upon Indian society, I considered “those khaki knickerwallas” to be a major roadblock in the march of Indian revolution.
How wrong I was!
When an individual is exposed to a major intellectual influence, or when he experiences a deep-going inner transformation, the revelation often comes in the least expected, most commonplace moments. The transformation itself may be the result of a number of disparate influences spread over a period of time but the realisation that you have arrived at a major turning point is almost always illumined by an ordinary Sight, a casual sentence in a newspaper or an ordinary conversation So it was In the case of my rethinking on Ole RSS.
Disillusionment with Marxism Leninism, realisation of the ideological and organisational bankruptcy of the dalil and labour movements, reading of Gandhi and Vivekananda, and encounters with Muslim fanaticism on big and small issues alike - all these had forced me to re-examine my understanding of Indian history, society and nationhood. They also created a desire in me to study the RSS and its philosophy afresh.
In December 1990, I had gone to Nagpur on an assignment for the Sunday Observer, for which I was then working. After completing the story which had brought me to Nagpur, I thought of utilising the brief time I was left with to visit the RSS headquarters there to gather in formation about the “Who after Balasaheb Deoras?” story which was then, as now, pretty high on the media agenda
I was directed to meet M G. alias Baburao Vaidya, he Baudhik Pramukh (Chief of the ideology wing) of the RSS and the only too functionary of the organisation then available in Nagpur. “But right now he has gone to a near by village for a programme. You can meet him at his residence at night I was told at Hedgewar Bhavan, the RSS headquarters. A long and circuitous rickshaw drive brought me to Vaidya’s house in an old middle-class locality at 8 p.m. but he wasn’t home yet I waited it turned out to be a long wait
When you want to know an organisation of which you were highly critical earlier, but which criticism has now given way to an eagerness to look afresh, then you want to look afresh at everything about it - Including, or especially, how their leaders live. The long wait at Vaidya’s house, therefore, had its uses, What caught my attention most was the utter simplicity of the place and the family it housed it was not even middle Class, it was lower middle class. The only thing the house had in abundance was the old-world charm or a Maharashtrian home and, yes, lots of books. Now, Baudhik Pramukh is not an orc------lly office in the RSS – it ranks among the top five In the organisation’s hierarchy. Thus, even in his absence, Vaidya’s house conveyed a lot to me about the person and his organisation
Vaidva, a sixtyish man in an ordinary dhoti and shir1, I finally came at 10, and apologised “I had a day-long programme at a village. And you know how it is with public transport,” he said. Over a simple dal-bhat meal we talked - about Hindu-Muslim relations, rich-poor divide, caste, injustice in Hindu society, Gandhi and about internal democracy in the RSS
“The RSS is not against Islam We heve the same respect for it as a faith as we have for other faiths.” Vaidya explained “Muslims are free to practise their faith in India All we insist is that they must have an emotional attachment to their motherland and cherish all of India’s rich cultural heritage as their own. What we are against are the concerted effects by ----- Islamic fundamentalists to pull the Indian Muslim away from his cultural and civilisational roots.”
Vaidya also expressed another thought which has since haunted me as of immense importance in tile study of the Hindu- Muslim question in the post Independence period. Had India not come under the yoke of the British colonial rule after weakening of the Moghul rule, he said. “Hindu- Muslim relations in this country would have developed in a harmonious and syncretic way.”
The RSS leader emphasised that the rich-poor divide must be bridged, “but it cannot be done by borrowing foreign formulae - either communist or capitalist - but onty by reviving the Indian ethos about work and entrepreneurship The Indian ethos reminds US that the goal of economic activity is not personal enjoyment but attainment of all round social happiness Also, economic activity is not only about satisfaction of unending material wants; it must promote, not hinder, the process of the individual’s character –building. That is why, I think Gandhijis idea of trusteeship and his rest of economic philosophy is very relevant it for India.
It was a pleasant surprise for me to hear praises for Gandhi from the leader of an organisation which is even today made to bear the cross for the Mahatma’s assassination, by its motivated critics. And I would have perhaps disbelieved the words of praise had I heard them from a less credible sounding person but Vaidya confesed. “We In the RSS had not understood Gandhi properly, Now, however, we see how similar were the ideas and values cherished by both Gandhi and Guruji (Golwalkar, RSS’s second and longest - serving chief). Despite his mistakes,
About the caste system In Hindu soctety, Vaidya said, not without a little annoyance. “To say that the RSS believes in perpetuating Caste Inequalities is a malicious propaganda for the village programme I had gone today, people of all castes had come In fact. I had my meal In the house of a dalil In the RSS, no one is a Brahmin or a Chamar, all are swayamsevaks”
BAN, A SICK JOKE
“It is also a lie that the RSS does not believe in democracy.” Vaidya asserted. “There is complete freedom of expression inside the organisation. But we also have something called the organisational discipline. It Is this discipline, coupled with the commitment to a noble ideal, which gives us strength and confidence. That is why the question who after Balasaheb? does not worry us when the time comes, we will find the right answer I am recalling this two and a half-year-old conversation not merely to record how it was a turning point in my own perception of the RSS. but to show what kind of an organisation was made the victim of a ban before the government undemocratic and unlawful action was struck down by the Bahri tribunal last week. Every word of what vaidya said goes to show that the RSS is a patriotic organisatin which is serving the cause of social transformation while at the same time being committed to protection. Of India’s national identity and ethos In fact it can be said Without any fear of being proved wrong that the RSS is the only nationwide organization which, is simultaneously engaged in guiding the task of nation building at the macro-level and character- building of Individuals – the building blocks of a nation – at the micro-level
Such an organisation was sought to be muzzled and immobilised by a government which consists of people who have no character, no scruples, no firm principles and, who have reduced governance into a dirty game of deception. That such a government should seek to ban an organisation like the RSS, and that the self-styled “secular” Opposition parties should egg the government on to enforce a stricter ban, is a sick Joke. It is nothing but a pathetic admission of their failure to confront the RSS in the arena of ideas and activism
Unable to counter the growing appeal of the RSS, its critics have been spreading lies In order to demonise it in the people’s eyes. Some of the famous lies.
• The RSS Is communal. - Is it communal to say that Indian Muslims must defeat the attempts by their fundamentalist leaders to keep them away from the nation's socio-cultural mainstream? Is it communal to say that Indian Muslims must not look upon the Gazni Mohammeds, the Babars and the Aurangzebs as their historical heroes?
• “The RSS is casteist and wants to replace Ambedkar’s Constitution with Manu’s Constitution,” - If the life examples of thousands of Vaidyas across the country do not convince the critics of the RSS, they should read what Ambedkar him self found at a RSS shakha.
• The RSS I, fascist. - Only those who believe that banning the country is biggest mass Organisation is democratic, and those who know nothing about - Or choose to forget - the RSS workers role in the struggle against Emergency. Can think that the Organisation is fascist.
Clearly, it is high time its critics changed their understanding of the RSS. My own study of the RSS literature and my interaction with its leaders and grass roots workers has convince me that most of the criticism against the RSS owes to either ignorance or prejudice.
It is possible to have healthy criticism of many aspects of the RSS philosophy and activities. And RSS is by --- means the only patriotic and socially committed organization around India has thousands of them small and big Unfortunately the relationship between the RSS and many of them is marked by mutual distrust the RSS and many of them is marked by mutual distrust and acnmony Hoe much more how immensely more would the interest of India be served if only mutual understanding and dialogue look the place of mutual distrust and name calling