Title: RSS: A View to the Inside
Authors: Walter K. Andersen & Shridhar D. Damle
Publisher: Penguin Random House India, 2018
Pages: 405 [256 without Appendices and Notes]
The authors wrote another book on RSS 30 years ago. This new book takes a look at the organisation as it stands today in a different India which has catapulted it from the grey sidelines to the limelight. The book reads almost like an apology for the RSS.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh emerges in the book as a great organisation with some very noble objectives the primary of which is to “create a cadre of men who would unify a highly pluralistic country, using their own perfected behaviour as a model for other Indians” [xii]. The authors go to the extent of drawing some parallels with the Luther-led reformations that rocked the Roman Catholic Church. Even as Luther’s dramatic actions were rooted in his ‘crisis of identity’, “the RSS and its affiliates have also sought to provide messages that appeal to those searching for a new identity in a new world” [xvi].
Narendra Modi’s rise to power has altered the public image of the RSS so much that the organisation doesn’t hesitate to involve itself in policy matters openly now. Mohan Bhagwat’s 2017 Vijayadashami speech, for example, expresses much dissatisfaction with some of Modi’s policies which have adversely affected the small business owners and small-scale farmers.
Soon after the Gujarat riots in 2002, the number of RSS shakhas witnessed a steep decline from 50,000 to about 40,000. However, when Modi emerged as the unrivalled hero of the BJP in 2014, the RSS shakhas rose to 60,000. Modi knows that the country’s Hindu population is with him by and large and the RSS knows how to reap the benefits of that popularity.
The organisation has about 40 affiliates today like the Bajrang Dal and the Durga Vahini. The Hindu Swayamsevak Sena [HSS] is the foreign counterpart of the RSS and is very active in many countries. There are 172 shakhas of the HSS in America alone and the number is rising steadily. Some of these shakhas are very influential too so much so that even the American textbooks have had to make certain changes in their contents about the Hindus.
The history of India is being rewritten too by the affiliates of the RSS. One of these affiliates, Vidya Bharati, runs about 13,000 schools in the country with 3,200,000 students and 146,000 teachers making it “the largest private school system in India”. Ekal Vidyalayas is another organ of the RSS which runs schools in the remote rural and tribal areas and they have about 1,500,000 students though they are single-teacher schools.
In short, the RSS is a great organisation doing wonderful things in India as well as abroad. The book has entire chapters dedicated to discussing the Muslims in the country, the Kashmir problem, the meaning of Hindutva, the Ghar Wapsi exercises, cow protection and the Ayodhya issue. The RSS is presented in all these chapters as a benign organisation that struggles to uphold the country’s great ancient culture.
Is the organisation so benign after all? What about the mounting crimes perpetrated in the name of cow protection and other things? The authors conveniently ignore the dark side of the RSS and its affiliates. They seem to assume that the crimes are not significant enough to pay any attention to. The RSS has noble objectives and it will ultimately succeed in keeping its “sometimes fractious ‘parivar’ together by working out a consensus on contentious issues and keeping differences within the ‘family’” .
One wonders whether all Indians will accept the premise that the objectives of RSS are indeed noble. Why should all Indians accept the culture upheld by the RSS, for instance? The authors brush aside that question remarking that the contemporary leadership of the RSS has redefined the meaning of Hindu to include Muslims and Christians as well. How many critics of the Sangh Parivar are willing to accept that facile answer? I wonder.