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Sedition, quota, caste: what all kept RSS busy at the Nagaur meet

Sameer Chougaonkar & Panini Anand | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:54 IST

The RSS seems determined to keep the debate on "nationalism" raging. The issue of "anti-national activities" on university campuses dominated the first day of its Akhil Bhartiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Rajasthan's Nagaur Saturday.

The Pratinidhi Sabha is the Sangh's highest decision-making body and its annual meeting is called for reviewing the Hindutva organisation's work over the year and chalking out the future plans. It's also a platform for the RSS to reiterate and fine-tune its stand on several issues.

Read- For appearance sake: RSS may finally be ditching its khaki shorts

As always, the meeting is being attended by the entire top brass of the Sangh, including its chief Mohan Bhagwat, as well as leaders of its various affiliates such as the BJP president Amit Shah.

Nationalism rhetoric

The annual report of the Sangh, which was read out at the meeting Saturday, addressed the issue of "nationalism" in detail.

Calling for "strict action" against "the anti-social forces in our universities", the report said "slogans calling for breaking up and destroying the country" cannot be tolerated.

"Reports about anti-national activities in certain universities have become a matter of concern for patriotic people. How can the guilty who had hatched the conspiracy to blow up parliament be honored as martyrs," the report continued. "Such subversive elements have made the universities the centres of their activities for long. When we find certain political parties supporting such anti-national elements, the concern grows further."

We'll highlight the social evil of caste discrimination and ask people to help curb it: Manmohan Vaidya

The report alleged that "those who indulge in such anti-national activities" have no faith in the Constitution, the judiciary and parliament. It noted with satisfaction, however, that "the moment reports about these incidents became public, there was all around condemnation from everywhere."

Dalit conundrum

While it was unequivocal on its stand on nationalism, the discourse on caste triggered by the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula and the Jat agitation in Haryana has visibly caused unease within the Sangh.

At its meeting last year, the Akhil Bhartiya Pratinidhi Sabha had passed a resolution for the eradication of caste discrimination. A similar resolution is set to be passed this year as well.

"Caste discrimination in our country should be abolished. There should be harmony in our social conduct. Our resolution will highlight this social evil and call upon people to play a constructive role in curbing it," the Sangh's spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya told the media before the meeting.

This issue is especially crucial for the Sangh given that impending assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, where caste equations decide the outcome. In fact, to woo the lower caste voters, the Sangh has gone out of their way in recent times to claim the legacy of Dalit icons like BR Ambedkar.

Also read- RSS and Ambedkar: a series of interviews with Dalit leaders

But its ambitious "one well, one temple, one crematorium" for all Hindus plan has been a non-starter, despite last year's Pratinidhi Sabha in Nagpur passing a resolution for its implementation.

This year's meeting "will consider ways to give the plan a fresh impetus", with the Sangh leaders likely to assign this responsibility to local shakha functionaries.

Reservation unrest

The meeting also took up the issue of reservation in the wake of the Jat agitation. Incidentally, Nagaur, where the meeting is being held, is a Jat dominated area.

The issue of caste-based quotas has for long been the Sangh's bugbear. Although Bhagwat's controversial remarks on reservation were widely considered to have damaged the BJP's prospects in the Bihar election last year, the RSS hasn't softened its tough stance against reservation.

The Pratinidhi Sabha's report stated, "Violent agitations in Gujarat and Haryana for reservations are not only a challenge to the administrative machinery, they also weaken social harmony and trust. There mustn't be injustice towards anybody, but the society has to remain vigilant and the administration should take strict action on the persons and organisations engaged in anti-national activities in a planned manner."

Gender, religious freedom

Another issue that kept the Sabha engaged on the first day was women's entry into certain temples and communal clashes.

According to the report, women demanding entry into some temples "is an unsavory controversy" raised by "elements inimical to the well-being of the society". The row should be resolved, the report added, by bringing about a "change in mindsets through proper discussions".

Read more- RSS's new mission: Bhagwat's ATMA eyes Hindu temples

The report also alleged that "communal incidents like in Malda" have become "endemic" and several cases of "looting and burning of business establishments, especially of Hindus, have taken place" in recent times.

Ideological subjects

A key issue to be discussed during the meeting is "the state of education". It has already passed a resolution calling for "affordable and quality education for all". It's aimed at conveying the RSS' priorities to the government before the announcement of the new education policy.

This could ruffle a few feathers as the Sangh stands accused of influencing the country's education policy to suit its ideological agenda of saffronisation.

Indeed, the resolution states, "The Akhil Bhartiya Pratinidhi Sabha believes in a value-based, nationalistic, career-oriented and skill-enhancing education for all. The teachers of government and private schools need to be trained accordingly. They must be paid better salaries and a sense of duty must be inculcated among them."

"The society has traditionally played a key role in imparting a cheap and qualitative education to the masses. All socio-religious groups, corporates, academicians and eminent personalities must take up this responsibility."

RSS divides India into 60,000 10-village blocks, plans to set up a shakha in every block by year-end

Another important resolution is expected to call upon the Narendra Modi government to "ensure access to healthcare facilities for all, especially the deprived sections".

The meeting is also likely to discuss the strategy for the upcoming assembly elections in five states.

Other key agendas include the celebration of the 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar on 14 April, the centenaries of Hindutva icons Balasaheb Deoras and Deen Dayal Upadhyay and the 1000th birth anniversary of the South Indian saint Ramanujacharaya.

Expansion blueprint

The Pratinidhi Sabha is also taking stock of the RSS' expansion plans in various parts of the country. The Sangh claims to have presence in nearly 95% of India's districts. According to its senior leader Krishan Gopal, the RSS has increased its shakhas from 40,922 in 2012 to 51,335 in 2015. The organisation is currently running 56,859 shakhas.

Also read- Bharatiyakaran: RSS' 8-point guide to saffronise education

The plan now is to have a shakha in every village of the country. For this purpose, the RSS has divided the country's nearly 6 lakh villages into 60 thousand blocks of 10 villages each. The immediate goal is to set up one shakha in every block by the end of this year.

The Sangh elders believe the political environment is favourable to undertake such a project as the BJP is in power at the Centre as well as in several major states.

The proposal to change the uniform for its cadre - replacing the Khaki shorts with blue trousers - is in keeping with this strategy, aimed as it's to attract the youth to the organisation.

Translated by Deepak Sharma

Edited by Mehraj D. Lone

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First published: 13 March 2016, 10:04 IST