The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was founded on Vijaya Dashami day (October 25, when Hindus celebrate the victory of good over evil) in 1925.
It is the world’s largest voluntary organisation: Over six million and counting.
Liberals demonise the RSS for their revanchist views, but they have, on occasion, performed public-spirited service and earned the praise of even Mahatma Gandhi. In more recent times, former president of India Pranab Mukherjee paid tributes to the RSS.
Glorifying the past and valorising those who divide and deliberately set out to ‘other’ is not the way forward. This was not Gandhi’s way, his singular mission was to bridge the divide; he laid down his life for that
This is a modest attempt to understand RSS’s foundational values: Some of this appeared in Gulf News recently. Its canonical texts and the fact that the RSS in its early days admired the Nazis may not be known to its ardent supporters.
Bunch Of Thoughts is a formative work written by one of RSS’s two founders: Guru Golwalkar, the other being Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. This is a seminal tract and less a book: More a polemic, a compilation of a series of lectures by Golwalkar, and he questions the patriotism of Indian Muslims and other minorities.
Sardar Patel, who was India’s first home minister, banned the organisation after the assassination of Gandhi (ironically, the RSS claims Patel as their own, these days). The ban, however, was temporary and the RSS was acquitted of the charge of having had a hand in that dastardly act.
Nevertheless, many have felt that the RSS played an indirect role. Nathuram Godse, the assassin, used to be a member of the RSS and his one-time mentor, Veer Savarkar, though never of the RSS, fervently believed that India’s natural destiny is a ‘Hindu Nation’. He was a fellow traveller of Hindu right-wing causes though there were stark differences between Savarkar and the RSS.
Records show that the RSS did not actively participate in the freedom movement — unlike Savarkar, who took part in this struggle and paid a heavy price for it. Then aged 28, Savarkar was sentenced to 50 years’ imprisonment in the infamous Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in 1911.
However, barely a month after his arrival on the islands, he submitted his first mercy petition, followed by three more similar appeals and he was finally released in 1924. Some details of his mercy petition need mention here.
He described himself as a “prodigal son” and was longing to return to the “parental doors of the government”. This is abject surrender to the occupier, but it also needs to be said that he endured severe hardship. And Gandhi, against whom he railed, worked to secure his release.
Rise of the Hindu Right
To thread this debate further, we shall restrict ourselves to two books (there is a vast bibliography on this subject and one has to perforce choose): Decolonising the Hindu Mind by Koenraad Elst and Non Nationalism by Romila Thapar, A.G. Noorani, Sadanand Menon.
Elst’s book is an exhaustive (over 650 pages) study of Hindu Revivalism and provides the ideological underpinnings for Communalism and the rise of the Hindu Right. He is critical of the RSS for not being able to recruit intellectuals of high standing to their cause except for a few names. He opines that the principal force that propels this surge is the fear that Hinduism is under siege within its own homeland.
Rights of minorities
Dominant they are in numbers, but through constitutional safeguards and a secular state that consistently protects the rights of the minorities, a majority (despite being close to 80 per cent of the population) feels victimised within it’s motherland.
Article 30 of India’s Constitution is often cited as a flagrant violation of the rights of the majority (this article permits denominational schools for the minorities, but denies this right to the majority).
This is just one peeve. There are a list of other grievances as well that drives this victimhood. Romila Thapar rebuts these arguments by questioning the very concepts of majority and minority communities.
She believes this divide was created and nurtured by colonial rulers and the RSS, by its lack of intellectual scholarship, has simply bought into the so-called, two-nation theory and caused unwittingly the vivisection of India, the very act that the RSS abhorred.
Doing more harm than good
These narratives have been part of the public space for a long time. But the fact that Narendra Modi is currently the country’s dominant leader is proof that a large swath of Indians accept RSS’s point of view.
That, however, does not make the RSS right. All that one can say is that nativism has generally done more harm than good. Glorifying the past and valorising those who divide and deliberately set out to ‘other’ is not the way forward. This was not Gandhi’s way, his singular mission was to bridge the divide; he laid down his life for that.
The past needs remembrance, the present needs our attention, but the future beckons us.
Ravi Menon is a Dubai-based writer and thinker, working on a series of essays on India and on a public service initiative called India Talks.