My tryst with RSS- 1
With more than 96 years of its inception, RSS still remains a paradox for many. For some, it is a holy cow, for some a strong socio-political force, for some a very revolutionary organization that is devoid of the cultural and civilisational ethos of this land(i.e Bharat) and for others it is a fascist organisation that is leading India backwards. Part of this paradox has to do with the very late entry of RSS in media and academia. The discourse overall is still tilted towards anti-RSS diction. Despite this, there is a lot of RSS’ own literature available although it is far from the mainstream yet. All in all, confusion relating to RSS persists and is even getting more aggravated due to the advent of social media platforms.
I, as a swaymsevak, have the privilege of knowing RSS from within. I started at an early age and slowly got to know the strengths and weaknesses of this organization. My life in a nutshell was sports, school and doing local rituals once in a while. The essence of Ram-Dhuni in my village did leave an impact on me. Talking to elders of the village and knowing how the shakt tradition influenced my native place was amazing. My great-great grandfather wrote a very rigorous history of my village and nearby areas. I happen to read it again sometime back. Interestingly he mentions the barbaric massacres of Bakhtiyar Khilji and his men in his book. I could feel the pain and agony with which he wrote the whole chapter. All this going on at a very early age of around 15 or so led me to the books of Swami Vivekananda and his idea of the nation. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Swami Ji’s book. I, naturally, got associated with Ramakrishna Mission in Patna and was a frequent visitor to RK Mission Delhi while I was in my college. When I landed in Kolkata, Belur Math was the first place I visited and bowed down to. I have utmost respect for all such organisations. They are playing a very important role in our society.
Having said this, my viewpoint and conscious connection with my nation were still minuscule. It was for me on 15th August and 26th January plus HOLIDAY. Somewhere, after reading Swami Ji continuously for over years, I wanted to jump into the ship of the nation-building process. I hated staying outside and commenting. Teenage energy is such that you want to act desperately. RK Mission(the Patna branch) was a very soothing place but lacked any daily thought-provoking engagement towards the nation. Looking back I appreciate the RK Mission and recognize their role in society. But coming back, with all these thoughts crossing my mind, I one day happen to consciously choose to go to my nearby RSS Shakha. Initially, because of my desperation, I ranted in open against the RSS as I thought it was too slow. I got into very heated discussions with seniors but a sense of calmness prevailed on Veerender Singh’s face(He is a retired Prof and was heading the Shakha which I went to). He harnessed more curiosity in me. It was only in my 3rd year of college that I jokingly asked him how he handled me then. He with his calming expression replied- ‘The fact that you were concerned about the nation and therefore criticising us was enough for me to remain happy. It was up to my devotion that I can show you some truth or relevance in what we do.’ Needless to say this time I was quiet and calm while listening to him. This is not a one-off incident or my personal journey alone, This has been the journey of many many Swaymsevaks. People interested should go through the book written by our honourable PM Shri Narendra Modi titled- Jyotipunj. The book was launched by Saadhvi Ritambhara and Sarsanghchalak Shri Mohanrao Bhagwat. If time permits, one should go through Saadhvi Ji’s speech in that event. She reiterated what Swami Chinmayananda Ji said long back- Sangh has given sanyasis in white uniform to the society. That book describes how the so-called ordinary people of RSS shaped Narendra Modi. In Modi Ji’s own words- ‘Point is not that RSS people are ordinary or non-intellectual, but these ordinary people with their devotion and commitment achieved extraordinary things is the most pressing point’.
Coming back to my own journey, over the years I went through the RSS training camp. The camps are layered- the first camp happens in your own district, the second outside your district but same state, the third outside your state and the fourth in Nagpur. It is rigorously designed and not all people go through the four layers of training. It’s not compulsory at all, people pursue this with their choice. I have done three of the four training camps myself. This is one opportunity to interact with people coming from diverse backgrounds, states, cultures, castes and financial statuses. Amongst other activities, there are informal sessions in smaller groups. Organisers make sure that the group is as diverse as it can get. With those constant discussions, you forge a relationship forever. Listening Kannada bhajans to Awadhi bhajans, Ram to Krishna, Jagannath to Sabri Devi- It’s like witnessing Bharat in totality to some extent. You get to know the local culture and cuisines. More than all of this- This divine oneness amongst all of us, Hindus, is witnessed in all its glory. We are distinct but still in tandem. From the theoretical understanding to a very experiential understanding- You start appreciating the land and its culture much more than ever before as you clearly recognise the oneness. No doubt why Dr Hedgewar Ji referred to such a gathering in 1940 as the mini portrayal of Bharat and her energy. A small glimpse of it is seen if one attends regular Shakha as well. Bhajan, discussions and sports are the key elements of Shakha and it is tailored as per the local needs.
Despite all this, some shallow remarks are made on RSS and its understanding of culture. Few go to the extent of saying that RSS doesn’t understand the culture and it is at best a social organisation. This argument has been resonating with quite a few people nowadays. This is not new, RSS has been vehemently criticised for decades on precisely this point- RSS doesn’t understand the culture of this land. Faces behind this criticism keep on changing- from the Nehruvian to the Hindu traditionalist. They do back up their argument with some instances.
A Lot of it has to do with the lack of knowledge on RSS working style. If one is not aware of the working style then they will get confused and to be aware of it needs some time and energy. It cannot be known theoretically alone. In all this what the critiques miss is the very foundation on which the Hindu society acts and reacts. Hindu society cannot be seen as a mere societal force. Hindu society by definition comes along with the culture and tradition of their place. It is not an artificial construct that can be worked upon. It has centuries of culture, history, tradition and polity along with it. Deendayal Upadhyay Ji defined this very nature of Hindu society’s continuum as flowing Ganga- Pure and pristine, changing every moment yet similar. There were many organisations that existed and tried political + social unity alone. Those organisations(Hindu Mahasabha being one of them) were headed by very renowned personalities and had all fundings in those days but yet they failed to sustain. This again explains that Hindu society is not only an artificial social or political construct. Any organisation which needs to sustain itself has to tailor their approach according to the tradition of the local populace.
With all the years in RSS, I have been fortunate enough to travel to as many as 12–13 states where the approach of RSS(or allied organizations) were very localised. Just to quote one instance- In Amravati, Maharashtra, Late Sunil Deshpande Ji lived along with his family(unlike the myth that RSS is run by bachelor Pracharaks. Jyotipunj book also busts this myth) in the tribal region. Unfortunately, he passed away in covid. He was also a member of the centre governments Tribals welfare body. His work speaks volumes about the basic tenet of RSS. Curious people should visit that beautiful place with exquisite cuisine.
Coming back to the point, even the missionary organisations had to use cultural symbols of this land to intermingle with our society. The Niyogi Committee which was formed back in 1956 by the government reveals the crooked agenda of missionaries using such symbols. It is still ongoing. RSS for that matter has been working all across the country and has constantly increased its reach in masses both urban and rural. Can an organisation devoid of cultural essence run successfully for 96+ years? There may have been instances that suggest RSS doesn’t understand the culture but then to paint the whole organization with that brush is very narrow and emotional outrage. All in all, it is not merely a socio-political organisation. The basic tenet of Hindu society is such that it will not accept them. RSS would have been rejected like other socio-political organizations as well. But that is clearly not the case. For RSS Rashtra Dharma comes first- Social and political mobilisation is sometimes(not always) the manifestation of it. Rashtra Dharma is in itself a wide term which encompasses our history, tradition and culture. For us, universal brotherhood is incomplete or rather painful without the territory of Bharat. Our ancestors and gods have walked this land and therefore the sacredness of this land is supreme. Rashtra Dharma, therefore, is an apt word that entails Rashtra as well as Dharma. As Sri Aurbindo in his Uttarpara speech said- ‘I spoke once before with this force in me and I said then that this movement is not a political movement and that nationalism is not politics but a religion, a creed, a faith. I say it again today, but I put it in another way. I say no longer that nationalism is a creed, a religion, a faith; I say that it is the Sanatan Dharma which for us is nationalism. This Hindu nation was born with the Sanatan Dharma, with it it moves and with it it grows. When the Sanatan Dharma declines, then the nation declines, and if the Sanatan Dharma were capable of perishing, with the Sanatan Dharma it would perish.
The Sanatan Dharma, that is nationalism. This is the message that I have to speak to you’.
Rishi Aurbindo sums it up well enough and I will leave it here and take it forward in the next part of the write-up.