Know the RSS 

RSS members taking arms training

By Dr Ghulam Nabi Falahi,

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, better known as the RSS is a group of a extremist Hindu organisation. It is an ideological source of various Hindu groups. It came into existence in 1925 in the Western Indian city of Nagpur with an affirmed objective to make India a Hindu nation. Its main motto is Hindu, Hindi, and Hindustan. Present ruling party of India Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is its political wing .


The ‘Sangh Parivar’ means the family of the Sangh that is the family of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). RSS is the last avatar of a series of Hindu militant movements ranging from the Arya Semaj to the Hindu Mahasabha Born in 1925, the RSS has drawn most of its ideological inspiration from Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who was to take over the Hindu Mahasabha in 1925. Savarkar considers that the Indian national identity is embodied in the Hindu culture, which encompasses not only Hinduism- as religion but also a language, Sanskrit (and its main dialect derivative, Hindi) the worship of Hindustan as a sacred land and the cult of the Vedic Golden Age. His motto was ‘Hindu, Hindi Hindustan. ‘In Savarkar’s views the religious minorities are requested to pay allegiance to this dominant identity and to hold back the manifestations of their faith within the private sphere. Today it has more than 10 million active members across Indian and over 100 affiliate bodies. Some RSS members take part in military drills and exercise a guiding principle of the organisation  that ‘India should be Hinduised and militarised.’

The RSS was founded by one of Savarkar’s admirers, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar in a very specific context. Indeed, the 1920s were marked by a pan-Islamic mobilization, the Islamic Khilafat movement, which aimed at vindicating the status of Caliph held by the Ottoman Sultan. This movement targeted first the British-who were among the victors of the First World War and who were eager to punish Turkey for its role during the war-but it affected whole India. Hindu-Muslim riots took place in different places, including today’s Kerala. Hindu nationalist leaders then proclaimed that their community needed to organize itself in order to resist its invaders: they cashed in on a new Hindu feeling of vulnerability and Hedgewar reacted to it and exploited it by launching the RSS.

At early stage, the RSS keep it self away from politics and power, it preferred to hide its agenda from the political arena for decades, it even resisted the attempts by Savarkar to enroll its activists in the electoral campaigns of the Hindu Mahasabha during British Raj. For its first Sarsanghachalak (supreme leader), Hedgewar, and his successor, M.S. Golwalkar who took over from him in 1940, the priority work was to change the Hindu society from below-not from above through the state power. In order to achieve this objective, Hedgewar initiated a very specific modus operandum epitomized by the ‘Shakha’

(branch)’: in the RSS arrangement it still designates the basic unit of the whole network. Members of one Shakha meet every day at the one place for physical exercises and to listen to ideological sermons. Children and youngsters are the main targets of the RSS because they like to exercise and they are intellectually soft. To attract them towards the Shakhas the physical part of the daily programme is given more importance and includes many games many Swayamsevaks have joined the RSS to play Khokho or Kabaddi. Gradually, these games prepare the ground for more muscular activities-including the plying of the lathi-and then to more disciplined drills, marches, and the ceremonial saluting of the flag, the ‘saffron dhwaj’ (flag) that the RSS regards as its guru. Now RSS is organizing arms training camps across the country.

As long as the ideological propaganda is concerned, daily sessions in the Shakhas are marked by oriented commentaries of the most topical issues and historical perspectives ranging from recollections of the Vedic Age to the heroic deeds of Shivaji or other Hindu warriors who fought against ‘Muslim Invaders’. The Shakhas are intended to include Hindus from all castes and classes. They are the Hindu Rashtra in small, the crucible of the ethnic nation. According to the RSS’s annual report 2019, the organization holds nearly 59,266 daily meetings (referred as Shakhas), 17,229 weekly meetings and 8,383 monthly meetings across 37,011 locations in India, with an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million active participants.

First, it spoke the language that the RSS regarded as the national language par excellence. Second, it coincided with the birthplace of the Aryan civilization-the Aryavarta-according to the Hindu nationalist ideologues. The third, the Hindi belt was also the region where the upper casts Hindus  live in large number.

The partition of India enabled the RSS to make further inroads in north India in 1948. The organization used this mass Muslim migration as an opportunity to intensify its campaign for India to become Hindu nation.

It suffered from a severe setback in 1948 because of the assassination of Mahatama Ghandhi by one of its former members, Nathuram Godse. It was banned and its 20,000 Swayamsevak were arrested. In 1950 after the movement adopted its own Constitution that was supposed to avoid such extreme acts of violence in the future. The new party mainly drew its support from Hindu refugees who had come from Pakistan.

The RSS network continued to grow in the 1950-60. During the Janata Party government, Hindu nationalist leaders including late Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani were part of the Union Government, was marked by a vigorous growth. The number of Swayamsevaks then crossed the one million landmarks.

The RSS is a very rare example of an organization which remained faithful to the same method for 90 years. In 2000, its Joint General Secretary, Mohanrao Bhagwat reasserted this stand in explicit terms: “Our endeavour is to reach out to each and every person in the society, widen our approach and raise the level of consciousness of the common man. And for this man-making nation-building mission we have chosen Shakha as the instrument […] we believe that individual is the best instrument to effect change in society. Shakha is the best medium to create such individuals.”

On the advice of Hedgewar a parallel organization for women were founded. This is how the Rashtra Sevika Samiti was born in 1936, and was based on the RSS model. The creation of the RSS on the same pattern 11 years after that of the RSS is revealing of Hedgewar’s obsession with the establishment of a network covering the whole of the Indian society. In his last speech he urged his followers to continue the work he had started in unambiguous terms: ‘Remember, we have to organise the entire Hindu society from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas’.

RSS activist, Balraj Madhok, launched in Delhi the first front organization of the RSS in July 1948, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP). In contrast to the ‘Leftist  Unions’ the BVP was not formed to foster student power but to bring about collaboration between all those involved in university education since ‘the teachers and the taught are both wheels of the same car, (Organiser; 6 Nov. 1948, p. 5).

In December 1949, KR Malkani wrote in the RSS mouth piece Organiser  that Sangh must take part in politics not only to protect itself against the greedy designs of politicians but to stop the un-Bharatiya and anti-Bharatiya policies of the government to and to advance an expedite the cause of Bharatiya a through state machinery side by side with official’s effort in the same direction. Sangh must continue as it is, an ‘ashram’ for the national cultural education of the entire community, but it must develop a political wing for the more effective and early achievements of its ideals. (Organiser, 1 Dec. 1949, pp. 7-14).

In this case, however, the RSS did not create a party alone. But co-founded one with Shyama Prasad Mookerjii, the president of the Hindu Mahasabha (1943-1946) (HM). Keeping in mind that he was a politician, and Minister in Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet. After falling out with Nehru, Mukherjee quit the cabinet, due to the differences of opinion with Nehru led government on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir. He was more than happy to receive the support of the Sangha for launching a more dynamic political organisation? The Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) was established in 1951. After Mookerje’s death   in 1953 Deendayal Upadhyaya-immediately took over power and marginalized the old lieutenants of Mookerjee.

Upadhyaya gained most of the power within the party and appointed RSS-trained party members at key posts, at the national and state level. These Swayamsevaks usually occupied the position of Sangathan Mantris (SM).

The seventh major component of the Sangh Parivar, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), was founded in 1964.

RSS leaders observed that the Hindu sects represented innumerable rival schools of thought. And this division was perceived as the root cause for the weaknesses of Hinduism vis-à-vis other religions, including Christianity, whose missionaries were described as converting Hindus. The VHP was therefore created to endow Hinduism with a church-like centralized structure and to use this new religious apparatus to counter Christian proselyte activities. The RSS cadres worked hand in hand with notables-former Maharajahs, businessmen, and politicians-who formally presided over the organization as prestigious patrons. What was new, of course, was the involvement of a third group, the religious heads of several Hindu sects and hermitages who were bridging the ideological world of the Sangh Parivar and the religious world of the ashrams. In the 1980-90s these saffron-clad religious figures were to be at the forefront of the VHP’s battle for the building of a Ram Mandir (temple) at Ayodhya.

The Rashtray Sevika Samiti (RSS), the ABVP, the Saraswati Shishu Mandirs (SSM), JS (the Jana Sangh), the  Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram    (VKA), the Bharatiya. Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), and the VHP (Vishva Hindu Parishad) were the first components of the Sangh Parivar and have considerably developed gradually. India Today 11 Nov. 2002, reported that, ‘in the 1980s-90s BJP leaders like L.K. Advani and K.N. Govind Acharya had ‘fashioned the idea of the Parivar as a harmonizer of divergent though not always conflicting interests. What’s meant by a Parivar? That there is a head who can impose his will. We can’t thrust our decisions on anyone, we can only suggest. Our Swayamsevaks decide where the suggestion is valid and get it accepted by the particular organisation. They try and ensure that this balance and cooperation is maintained’.

To sum up: for years the RSS played down the existence of a ‘Sangh Parivar’ in order to conceal its special relationship with the BJP. The bad memory of the dual membership controversy largely explains this tactic. But in reality, the RSS is not reducing, but strengthening its links with the BJP. It has also close ties with Israel and it reaches its new highs whenever a BJP (a political affiliate of the RSS) government comes to power. Five RSS leaders have successively occupied the post of Sarsanghachalak: K.B. Hedgewar (1925-40), M.S. Golwalkar (1940-73), Balasaheb Deoras (1973¬94), Rajendra Singh (1994-2000) and K.S. Sudarshan (2000), at present Mohan Bhagwat (born11 September 1950) is the (Chief) of the Hindu nationalist organisation.



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