The misunderstood Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)

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By Kishore Asthana

We are used to reading irreverently flippant and derogatory comments about the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh. However, few, if any, of the commentators bother to find out anything about the RSS. These commentators also ignore the fact that the Sangh is an organization that has evolved significantly from its inception onwards.

Very often, evil-doers are identified in the media as ‘RSS men’ even when they are not – for example, the dismaying murder of Graham Staines and his two children was blamed on the Bajrang Dal. Later, the Wadhwa Commission and the murderer Dara Singh both denied involvement of Bajrang Dal. On Feb 3, 1999, the infamous ‘nun rape case’ in Orissa was also blamed on Bajrang Dal. Rape was not established in the medical investigation. The police found the allegation false.

Then there is the accusation that RSS killed Gandhi ji keeps getting repeated even now, despite there being no evidence. An example from 2003 is The Statesman’s apology: ‘(In the Statesman 29-30 May 2000), we had described the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh as “the organisation that killed Gandhi”. This was incorrect, and unsupported by both facts and the record.’

There are a large number of such cases. Once the damage is done, the correction does not reach everyone.

Had these criminal activities been the true face of the RSS, it would not have survived and flourished for 91 years.

Those who have been impressed by the RSS span a wide range. Gandhiji visited the winter camp in Vardha and offered his salute to Bhagavadhwaj. Subhash Chandra Bose visited Guruji when he was ailing. Jayprakash Narayan was impressed by the selfless service of the Swayamsevaks during the 1966 drought in Bihar. The Saudi Government, wrote a laudatory letter when RSS volunteers helped after the horrific plane crash at Charki Dadri in 1996. These are just some examples.

Those promoting motivated misinformation about the RSS do not stop at attributing hate crimes to it. Some commentators keep mentioning that RSS sided with the British during our independence movement. This is despite the fact that when Congress passed a resolution proclaiming complete independence in 1930, the head of RSS instructed all shakhas to celebrate 26 January 1930 as Independence Day. Subsequently, when the Congress launched ‘Quit India’ agitation demanding that the British must leave India several Sangh workers took active part in it. Dr. Hedgewar was jailed.

In 1954 Swayamsevaks liberated Dadra and Nagar Haveli from Portuguese control on August 2 and handed these to the Central Government. In 1955 swayamsevaks took a leading part in the all-party struggle for the liberation of Goa from the control of Portuguese.

An idea of the appreciation of RSS by even the Congress party can be judged from the fact that the Nehru government invited the RSS to march in the Republic Day Parade in 1963. 3,000 swayamsevaks with full uniform and band participated.

Over the years, the Sangh has been very active all over India, in helping the victims of flood relief, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis or human violence since its formation. At the time of partition, the RSS helped thousands of refugees displaced from Pakistan. During the Bangladesh war, RSS volunteers were amongst the first to offer all kinds of help, including blood donations.

In 1984, after the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi, hundreds of Sikh families were given protection in Swayamsevaks’ homes. A large number of Swayamsevaks offered karseva for the reconstruction of the Golden Temple in Amritsar after Operation Blue Star. These are just some incidents. Over the last 91 years, the RSS has been involved in more social work than any other NGO in India.

Despite the above, the RSS has been banned thrice. In 1940 the British Government banned the Sangh uniform -ganavesh – and route march. Then the Interim Government blamed RSS for Gandhiji’s murder & banned the Sangh on February 4, 1949. This ban was lifted unconditionally on 9th December 1949 when it was found that the allegations were not true.

Finally Mrs. Gandhi banned the Sangh on 4th July 1975 during the emergency and many RSS leaders were jailed. The ban was lifted after the Janata Party came to power.

The three resolutions passed by the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha of the RSS, in March 2016 at Nagaur indicate the Sangh’s present priorities. These deal with the need for easy access to affordable medical services, accessible, affordable & quality education for all and Social Harmony.

For the RSS, these are not mere slogans. It is actively working in different fields to make them a reality. In the field of education, the Ekal Vidyalay movement alone runs 52,599 schools, with 1,458,843 students out of which 720,178 are girls. Then there are other wings – Vidya Bharati, Shishu Mandirs etc. doing excellent work.

Hygiene and good health are emphasised at its Ekal Vidyalas. Many other initiatives in the field of public health have also been taken by the Sewa Bharati, which has 897 Service organizations affiliated to it. They working in all aspects of Indian life from Rural Development to Old Age Homes, Women’s Welfare Program, Hospitals, Adult Education, Disaster Management etc.

The Muslim Rashtriya Manch and the Sikh Sangat are just two examples of RSS’s desire to promote social harmony. RSS’s work with the tribals and Dalits is another example of this.

Despite all this, the Sangh the target of so much criticism. There are a number reasons:

The first and foremost is the Sangh’s unequivocal aim of looking after the interests of Hindus. The Sangh defines Hindus as all who reside in Bharat and is committed to the welfare of all. However, many journalists and Christian and Muslim organisations, view this as mere sophistry. They think the RSS wants to convert everyone to Hinduism.

The second reason lies in the actions of some of its fringe elements. When Bajrang Dal members attack couples peacefully sitting in parks or some organization with a Hindu sounding name attacks or murders alleged ‘beef-eaters’, or a hue and cry is made in the name of ‘’love jihad’ by someone, the RSS is immediately deemed guilty, regardless of its involvement.

The third is ignorance. Most educated Hindus take their cue from what they read in the media. They do not bother to personally check the facts though these are easily accessible. Thus their mindset is only based by the criticism they read.

The fourth is the fact that keeping the bogey of ‘communalism’ alive suits some elements. The irony is that very evidently communal organisations are in the forefront of calling the RSS communal.

Politics, too, has much to answer for in this vilification of the Sangh. Most opposition parties are convinced that the Sangh is the anchor of BJP and, if they can demonize the Sangh, the effect will tar BJP’s image, too.

I have not mentioned the education policy of the RSS currently creating so much controversy. The reason for this is that till now leftist historians have had a field day feeding our children their version of history and emphasizing that theirs is the only true version. Now the RSS is intent on setting the record straight. If they veer too much in the opposite direction, they will be as guilty of misleading our students as the leftists have been. However, the jury is still out on this one and I have no intention of joining the shrill chorus of the wounded leftists or the crowing of those opposed to them.

So, what should the RSS do now?

For one thing RSS has finally realized that perception is important. A start has been made on social media. RSS’s Facebook page and Twitter timeline are very popular. However, even more needs to be done if they have to take control of the discourse. For this, it is important to let some things go – countering everything that opponents of RSS do or say, only gives them more legitimacy and keeps the discourse alive in social media. The RSS has to be selective in what they vocally oppose.

Then, the RSS needs to control the fringe elements more strictly. Prompt and strict investigation and firm disciplinary action on those who tend to say and do things that give the RSS a bad name, is essential in the present context.

The last but most important point that the RSS must keep in mind is concerned with communalism. In its own view, given its definition of who is a Hindu, the Sangh is not a communal organization. However, this must be conveyed properly, in no uncertain terms, to both its followers and its opponents.

Many of the Sangh’s followers, especially those on the fringes, are usually ill informed and are prone to take things literally. This tends to make many of them jingoistic. RSS has to make perfectly clear to them that it does not stand for such jingoism and that its agenda is to make a strong and unified India where all Indians can live in harmony. All should know that there is no place in the RSS for anyone who believes in a divided India. Its third resolution says exactly this and it cannot afford to let a false sense of communalism amongst some of its followers color its avowed objective. That will be bad for the Sangh and worse for the India, which it loves.

There are 50,000+ shakhas in India and the RSS inspired Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh is registered in 39 countries where they work under local laws. Perhaps, through more strategic planning, proper media management and appropriately phrased and timed responses, the RSS will find the place it deserves in the hearts and minds of the majority of Indians of all persuasions.

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  • V Ramesh

    Every Indian, a must read !

  • Pashchiema Bhatia

    The recent statement of RSS on supporting reservation on the basis of financial status also confounded many people and change their views about RSS.