(The following is an extract from the book ‘Sanghi Who Never Went To A Shakha’, and is being republished here in wake of some social media debate happening over RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwant’s statement about Hindu-Muslim unity and common ancestry)
Since I have self-identified myself as a ‘Sanghi’ and even titled this book as such, I thought I should specifically clarify that I hold no brief for the RSS, and my views or commentary in this book may or may not match with the worldview of an average RSS swayamsevak (volunteer) or ideologue.
Even though I had put this disclaimer in the beginning of the book itself, let me expound it a little more and also share my views on the RSS.
First of all, I am yet (till the point of finishing this book in August 2020) to attend any shakha even though I’ve been vocal about my ideological beliefs for a few years now. I still have no idea about the daily or even weekly activities an RSS member undertakes inside or outside a shakha.
Yes, I’ve been to a couple of gatherings of RSS members and sympathizers to understand the RSS and their beliefs, and to be honest, I can’t say that I agree with all of them. And surely, even the RSS doesn’t expect everyone to agree with them on everything.
From my limited interactions, I have come to the conclusion that the RSS is not ‘Sanghi’ enough! Obviously, I am using the term ‘Sanghi’ as understood or imagined by people in the popular narrative—both by those who like the term as well as those who hate it.
The aggression and belligerence that one may imagine or desire in a Sanghi were hardly there in any senior RSS member whom I met. Most of them preferred an unhurried and persuasive approach towards problem-solving.
I could be wrong in my assessment, but I don’t think the RSS believes in bringing ‘radical’ changes, either in the society or polity. They want things to change at their own pace, without disturbing too many things or people.
If someone brands the RSS as a group of Hindu ‘radicals’, that will be as inaccurate as it can get. Unfortunately, that’s how the RSS is often branded. I actually know a couple of former RSS members who left the organization in frustration, as they found the RSS to be just ‘too soft’ and slow to their liking.
It’s true that there are organizations like the VHP or the Bajrang Dal—they have members who could also be RSS members, but they are not technically ‘RSS-affiliated’ organizations—which are aggressive in comparison, but the RSS in itself talks about ‘vyakti nirmaan’ (development of an individual’s character) and ‘samajik samrasta’ (social harmony, which includes all Indians). It doesn’t really talk exclusively about the Hindu society as such.
And this is where the Sangh often comes under attack by those Sanghis who have never been to any shakha. Not that I agree with all such criticism, but one of the most common criticisms of the Sangh, especially of its leadership, is that it has got its priorities all wrong, and can’t see the existentialist threats the Hindu society faces. When an RSS member is killed in Kerala or Bengal, such Sanghis get angry and start attacking the leadership for not doing enough to protect their own.
The statements and thoughts that tend to include everyone born in India, regardless of his religion, as a Hindu—and such statements have come from no less than the RSS chief himself on occasion—are cited as proof of ideological confusion within the RSS, which makes it blind to the existentialist threats.
For example, during his 2019 Dussehra address, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat said, ‘Those who belong to Bharat, those who are descendants of Bharatiya ancestors, those who are working for the ultimate glory of [the] nation & joining hands in enhancing peace, respecting and welcoming all diversities; all those Bharatiyas are Hindus.’
Ironically, such statements should have impressed me in my pre-2012 days, but then I thought that being branded a Sanghi is similar to ‘character assassination’. I am a pragmatist and not an idealist, so I don’t really know what purpose it serves by having such an inclusive and conciliatory approach when no one is really willing to trust or embrace you.
Under no stretch of the imagination could everyone born or living in India be seen as a Hindu, even culturally. I personally would categorize Indians in five broad different categories, based on their approach towards Hindutva, that is, Hinduness. These are:
Hostile : Those who are hostile towards it and openly talk about annihilating Hindutva or Hinduism—they are honest enough to not create a fake distinction between the two terms—such as the Periyarites, neo-Ambedkarites, Islamists or Evangelists. They simply want to eradicate this identity. They see Hinduism either as oppressive or a fundamentally inferior idea, and thus worthy of being eliminated.
Condescending : Those who are prejudiced against Hindutva or Hinduism, but are willing to ‘tolerate’ this identity for various reasons. Most of the so-called liberals fall in this category, who would tolerate Hinduism only when it’s deracinated to their heart’s content. For instance, when all Hindu festivals are either heavily regulated or secularized, such as Onam—which is ‘a festival of harvest and has nothing to do with Hinduism’.
Indifferent : Those who are indifferent towards Hindutva or Hinduism, primarily because they are not aware of the challenges or they are just too busy or motivated by mundane things in life—mostly, the ‘Congressi Hindus’, whom I have mentioned earlier in the book. Their thinking is influenced more by the above two groups than the below two groups. Many non-Hindus can also fall into this category.
Supportive : Those who are conscious of their Hindu identity and also support the Hindu causes. They may or may not be vocal, but they are definitely not indifferent. Many self-identifying Sanghis—not the actual Sanghis—fall in this or the next category. Statements such as those by the RSS chief that I pointed to earlier suggest many non-Hindus fall in this category too, which I hope is true, but I’m not really sure.
Assertive : Those who are not only conscious of the identity, but are willing to take that extra step, including some risks, to celebrate, propagate and defend this identity. However, it’s not a homogenous group. How they defend it, and what exactly they aim to propagate and defend may vary from one sub-group to another.
In my opinion, the RSS should provide clarity and leadership to the last two groups (Supportive and Assertive) and try to convert the middle group (Indifferent). One may have a conversation with the second group (Condescending), but on its own terms (i.e., on the Assertive group’s terms), and defeat the first one (Hostile) without any attempt at reconciliation.
I personally am almost paranoid about the future of Hindus. I think that the Hostile and Condescending groups together account for at least 30% of the Indian population; this can turn into a tipping point quite soon. Furthermore, as I have mentioned at one place in this book, I see eerie similarities between what’s happening now and what had happened in the few decades leading to the Partition of India. I see history repeating itself unless Hindus wake up.
Further, Hinduphobia has been normalized and intellectualized to frightening levels, where a Hindu talking about any injustice against him is branded a bigot. Anything that celebrates or propagates Hinduism will increasingly be argued as being detrimental to creating ‘safe spaces’. This has already started happening both in India and abroad, aided with the rhetoric around ‘Brahminism’.
I feel that Hindus are nicely being fed and fattened for the ceremonial slaughter—that’s how paranoid I am right now. Any attempt to wake them up and show them the civilizational dangers is ironically termed as ‘attempts to distract from the real issues’.
My paranoia may or may not be justified, but owing to that, I feel that Hindus need community leadership that can lucidly and logically explain the threats the community faces. It should be done quickly, before more people turn paranoid like me. I am not really happy being this way!
And I feel that the RSS is best placed to provide such leadership to the community, owing to its size and legacy. But, the organization itself wants to continue being a ‘nationalist’ outfit, focused on character building, rather than a Hindu outfit focused on community-building. That’s where I am not too happy.
Actually what I’m suggesting is not at all different from what Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of RSS, had said. The following quote of Dr Hedgewar is mentioned as the vision and mission of the RSS on their own website:
“The Hindu culture is the life-breath of Hindusthan. It is therefore clear that if Hindusthan is to be protected, we should first nourish the Hindu culture. If the Hindu culture perishes in Hindusthan itself, and if the Hindu society ceases to exist, it will hardly be appropriate to refer to the mere geographical entity that remains as Hindusthan. Mere geographical lumps do not make a nation.The entire society should be in such a vigilant and organized condition that no one would dare to cast an evil eye on any of our points of honour. Strength, it should be remembered, comes only through organization. It is therefore the duty of every Hindu to do his best to consolidate the Hindu society.”
Then, has the RSS lost its way or self-declared Sanghis like me can’t see how the organization is still on track and following their founder’s vision? I need answers there.
(The book ‘Sanghi Who Never Went To A Shakha’, authored by Rahul Roushan, was published by Rupa Publications and released on 10 March 2021. The link to buy the book is here.)