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Sangh's real 'Parivar' is much larger than you think

Badri Narayan | Updated on: 20 September 2015, 1:28 IST
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The links

  • RSS has emerged as a important power centre under the Modi government
  • Many believe that Modi is independent of the RSS. This is a wrong assessment
  • Modi\'s victory in 2014 wouldn\'t have been possible without the RSS
  • The main problem is that few understand what the RSS actually is

The organisation

  • RSS isn\'t just the BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal. It has a network of educational, cultural and social outfits
  • Remaining independent of the RSS, these institutions promote the RSS ideology
  • RSS uses different techniques to reach out to different sections. Main aim is promoting Hindutva
  • It\'s major mission currently is to mobilise Dalits

In the last 16 months of Narendra Modi's prime ministership, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has managed to establish itself as an important power centre.

But what are the dynamics of the relationship between Modi and the RSS? Who calls the shots between them?

One set of analysts believe that although RSS played an important role in ensuring Modi's victory in the Lok Sabha elections, he is not under much pressure from the Sangh. These analysts don't tire of saying that Modi made the RSS totally ineffective in Gujarat.

On the other side, there are analysts who believe that RSS is giving organisational support to boost Modi's popularity, particularly at the grassroots level. I am of the same opinion.

In the Lok Sabha elections, we saw how RSS cadres worked shoulder to shoulder with Modi's propaganda team. They toiled at the booth level and provided the campaign strategists with regular feedback from the ground. Thus the RSS left its close-knit shakhas and entered the rough and tumble of elections.

It must also be remembered that Modi was himself an RSS Pracharak. His psyche and worldview was formed and nurtured by the Sangh. Of course, during his tenure as Gujarat chief minister he moved beyond the RSS mould and came to be known as a business-friendly, tech-savvy administrator.

How the RSS reinvents itself

RSS as an organisation is both a reality and a myth. There can be no final word on it. One of the reasons for this is that it is continuously changing and evolving. It constantly destroys and renews its image.

For example, on one hand the RSS can be rabidly communal and it's antipathy towards Muslims is well known. But on the other hand during natural disasters, its volunteers do relief work and help people irrespective of caste or religion.

It is well known that the Sangh has many allied organisations - such as the BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal - that together constitute the Sangh Parivar. But what isn't known is that there are many small social, cultural and educational outfits that aren't allies of the Sangh but are used to spread the RSS message.

Outfits like Sewa Bharti, Vidya Bharti, Vandemataram, Katha Mandal and Vanvasi Kalyan Mandal, which are active in many states of the country, are closely associated with the RSS. Many of the organisations are named after Hindu gods and goddesses in order to make them more attractive to Hindus.

After the 90s, Rupee has become as important as Ram for RSS. It has shed its frugal ways

However, these organisations function independently of the RSS. For example, the Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools that have branches in several parts of Uttar Pradesh are not run by the RSS. But the RSS message is imparted to the students in these schools. Several schools and intermediate colleges in cities like Allahabad, Lucknow and Varanasi are heavily influenced by the RSS.

These institutions are run by people involved with the RSS and many teachers are RSS. They regularly organise activities targeting different sections and age-groups - such as workshops for children, katha mandals and keertan mandals for women and senior citizens. The aim is simple: creating a Hindu consciousness and spreading the message of Hindutva. Some of these events are on such a large scale that even top RSS leaders like Mohan Bhagwat attend them.

While conducting field work on the RSS, this unofficial and unclaimed part of the RSS left us awestruck. We realised that the RSS is like the tip of aniceberg. The part which is invisible is much larger than the part which is visible.

Political analysts who hold forth on the RSS in TV debates do not understand the real power of the RSS. The use relatively superficial aspects like electoral successes and communalism to define the RSS.

Dalits the main target

A major target group for the RSS is the large Dalit community in north India. The BJP success in garnering Dalit votes during the Lok Sabha elections was the product of a long process of mobilisation by the RSS at the grassroots level.

This includes Samrasta or social harmony campaigns and celebrating assertion of Dalit identity, but within a Hindu framework. It has also set up its Shakhas in villages, schools and even fruit orchards. It's volunteers regularly visit Dalit hamlets and tell the community that they have always been an inseparable part of Hindu society.

As I have explained in my book 'Fascinating Hindutva: Saffron Politics and Dalit Mobilisation', the aim of the RSS is to convert Dalits into 'foot soldiers in the battle to protect Hindu religion from the Muslim threat'. A clever recalibration by the BJP and RSS to woo lower castes is that they have now come to support caste-based reservations, an idea they were earlier opposed to.

Misconceptions

One commonly held belief about RSS is that all its volunteers are old, orthodox and out of sync with today's world. This couldn't be farther from the truth. RSS volunteers have become increasingly technology-savvy. They have taken to social media in a big way and use the latest mediums to spread their message.

Every volunteer who joins the RSS is given a diary in which the phone numbers of all the members are listed.

After the 1990s, Rupee has become as important as Ram for the RSS. The Sangh focusses a lot of its energy on fund raising. This could be through donations, Guru Dakshina and informal means. The impact of this is evident in the RSS, which seems to have shed its frugal ways.

Earlier, Sangh members used to go on bicycles, today move around in expensive SUVs and luxury cars.

According to a high-ranking RSS leader, new technology and new means of transport haven't weakened the Sangh, rather its way of functioning has become smoother. Thus in order to understand the RSS, we have see how it has adapted with the times and reinvented itself.

Sometimes the RSS' activities suit Modi's agenda. But the RSS is developing a new politics of Hindutva, a process that is independent of the PM. Of course, Modi's rise has also been helpful to the RSS. Therefore, Modi and the RSS are complementary to each other.

First published: 20 September 2015, 1:28 IST
 
Badri Narayan @CatchNews

The writer is a Social Historian and Cultural Anthropologist and currently Professor at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad

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