70 years of uber Hindutva on cheap paper: the story of RSS Organiser
Take this test and see if you can, on the basis of a few hints, guess the name of this Indian publication.
- The first editor of this publication had Left-of-centre political views. He who worked in the Hindustan Times and later went on to join the The Hindu.
- It was published by the same printing press - Latifi Press - that published Dawn, one of the leading dailies of Pakistan, after partition.
- This publication was among the first to be silenced after the then-Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, imposed the Emergency in 1975.
- Senior political figures like Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, SA Dange, and later, leading Left leaders like Sitaram Yechury have written for it.
- In 2016, this publication turned 70.
If these hints aren't enough, this final clue - a quote from a recent issue - could help.
"...Therefore, a dweller of India does not acknowledge Her as his Motherland if he hates Kashi and loves Kaaba. All his civic rights depend on this point...It does not require a magnifying glass to discern that those who are opposing 'Vande Mataram' and 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' are first rate traitors and progeny of those who aggressed this holy land and subjugated the Rashtra."
[From an opinion piece 'Opinion/Bharat Mata Ki Jai: Bharat as the 'Motherland', 24 April 2016 issue]
The Organiser, which is popularly referred to as the RSS mouthpiece, turned as old as independent India this year. And just like India, it has survived some contradictions, hardships, and its own share of highs and lows.
But unlike India, the Organiser began with a militantly pro-Hindu political view, and that hasn't changed in the last seven decades. It is also a reason perhaps why Organiser has never really been accepted by the majority living outside the shakhas.
The publication, which is a weekly newspaper-turned-tabloid-turned-magazine, has more or less raised its voice over the same issues since its conception - 'Akhand Bharat', Hindu supremacy, Bangladeshi immigrants, Kashmir, the 'alarming' rise in the number of Indian Muslims, and recently 'love jihad'.
But despite all this, the Organiser has always remained relevant, and continues to be more so at the moment, when the BJP (and, as some would argue, the Sangh as well) commands its greatest-ever influence over the country.
The magazine regularly publishes interviews of the senior-most ministers in the Narendra Modi cabinet and functionaries of the Sangh, and gives an idea about the issues that interest the RSS and affect its policies.
For instance, the BJP and RSS's recent change of policy on, and an open embrace of, Dr BR Ambedkar, could be sensed first through pieces published in the Organiser which lavishly praised him.
How does it function?
"The idea behind Organiser was to come up with a weekly issue that allowed a non-Congress viewpoint to be raised. Remember, at that time, after independence, criticising the Congress was difficult," Prafulla Ketkar, the current editor of Organiser says.
He adds: "Yes, we have a certain ideology, as all publications have, but the difference between us and them is that we are not backed backed by a business house or run by a family. This is an organisation backed by a trust. We have fought censorship, the Emergency, the displeasure of ruling governments and stood for professional journalism. Our journalists have sacrificed a lot and worked on meagre salaries to give voice to the voiceless."
Ketkar's words elicit three questions about the magazine - how serious is a Hindu supremacist magazine about empowering the weak? How hard is it to work in the Organiser? And how seriously does the Organiser take journalism?
On the question of giving voice to the voiceless, the magazine has just one female staffer and, unsurprisingly, no Muslim journalist. But are there any Hindus from backward sections? Any Dalits?
"There are people from various backgrounds...Frankly, this is the first time someone has asked me the profile of my team," Ketkar says.
And how many from the RSS? "There are six members in editorial and seven in thee production team. Only four or five have directly come from the RSS."
This could explain, for instance, why the magazine hasn't talked about the historic Dalit rally in Gujarat.
Now the second question, how hard is it to work for, or run, the Organiser? Ketkar is perhaps correct here. The magazine is barely able to make ends meet.
Despite the great influence the BJP enjoys at the moment, Organiser still comes out on cheap paper and doesn't get many advertisements. A person working with the magazine said government ads have never come its way, and private companies don't offer their advertisements, to avoid being branded as Sangh sympathisers.
For the same reason, journalists with similar Hindu supremacist views, and there is no dearth of them, avoid working with the Organiser.
"It's tough running the show this way," a staff member admitted.
Thirdly, is Organiser really serious about journalism as a profession? Why, then, does it publish cover stories like the one on 'love jihad'? Isn't it harmful propaganda?
"Absolutely not," says Ketkar. "We talk on the basis of facts. You can challenge us only if our facts are wrong," is all he says.
The question of govt bullying and intimidation
Is the Organiser serious about saving this profession from government bullying and intimidation?
Catch reached out to Seshadri Chari, a former editor of Organiser, to get his opinion on the government's eagerness to regulate the media, and about his position and that of the magazine on the manner in which governments have pressurised media by denying them advertisements.
Does the Organiser stand in solidarity with other media outlets who've suffered in their own ways?
"Certainly. I support the media's rights and so should Organiser. Trying to discipline the media by disallowing advertisements is bad policy. We should together protest against any action that harms the media. We may not agree with what someone publishes, but it does not take away from the fact that the media is an important institution and cannot be muzzled," Chari says
Chari was the editor of the Organiser during the Ramjanmabhoomi movement from 1990-92, which may have been the highest point in its existence. However, everyone working in the magazine pays obeisance to only one person - its former editor KR Malkani.
Chari doesn't remember how the Organiser covered the demolition of the Babri Masjid, in December 1992, but he remembers how he felt about it.
"I remember writing an article saying that the structure had to go, but it need not have gone the way it did. But it, undoubtedly, was a historic moment in our times. The former editor of Times of India, Girilal Jain, wrote for us, and called it a historic day for the Hindus of India," he says
Chari was an RSS pracharak, who, incidentally, had been to Ayodhya the previous year as a kar sevak.
Pros and cons of being its boss
Interestingly, for many years, the future Deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani, was a film critic for this magazine, who later went on to become its editor.
Being the editor of the Organiser has its own advantages. An RSS pracharak suddenly gets access to all levels of the Sangh and the BJP and, once in a while, gets to interview the Sarsanghchalak himself.
But the job also has its own hazards. Maintaining a balance between the priorities of the RSS and that of the BJP is not an easy task. For example Narendra Modi, who has 'blow hot and cold' relationship with the RSS, is a tricky subject for the editor of the Organiser to deal with.
In 2013, a year before general elections, the editor of the Organiser is said to have lost his job for writing articles in praise of Modi before the RSS had taken a stand on him. His speech on Dalit atrocities, where he called 80% of gau rakshaks fake, made perfect political sense to the BJP, but little sense to the Sangh. The Organiser, in the end, decided not to give it any space at all.
"There are also times when, being an RSS pracharak and the editor of the Organiser, you have to write against a BJP government. Issues like BT Cotton and GM seeds, which the Vajpayee government was seriously considering, are prime examples. Disinvestment, of which I was not in favour, but the then government was, was another example," says a former editor of theOrganiser.
This editor added that the US pressure on the Vajpayee government to send Indian soldiers to the Iraq war was another instance when the line of the RSS diverged from the view of the government. "But it wasn't too much pressure, because we never got Vajpayee government ads anyways," the editor says, laughing.
Is it really a 'mouthpiece'?
There's one more question that needs to be asked: is or isn't the Organiser really an RSS mouthpiece?
None of the people who work for the Organiser denied their association with the Sangh, but they didn't like it being called an 'RSS mouthpiece' either.
"I don't believe in this 'mouthpiece' business. The only criteria for a publication being called a 'mouthpiece' is if the top boss of the associated organisation is also the publication's top boss. This isn't the case here. I'd much rather you compared me to Frontline [a magazine run by The Hindu group] than with an actual mouthpiece like People's Democracy [weekly newspaper of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)]," Ketkar says.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
More in Catch