Understanding RSS


The ‘misinterpretation’ of what RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said in Bihar about ‘army’ and ‘war’ is not the mistake of the world outside the domain of people affiliated to the organisation; the art of communication has rarely been a forte of the Sangh

A war of words between the usual suspects — volunteers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and self-styled liberals — has ensued on micro-blogging site Twitter following the comment by sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat that his organisation can prepare an army in three days in the event of a war. At the ‘liberal’ end, people are outraged by the idea of a private mercenary force in a country that has always had a regular army and regular police forces in all States and Union Territories. News agencies have seized the opportunity to declare the RSS as a “paramilitary” outfit, exaggerating the sight of stick-wielding men in shakhas ( training camps). Swayamsevaks insist, however, that the reports are a result of a misinterpretation; they say Bhagwat meant nothing more than preparing the citizens in general and his volunteers in particular for the eventuality of a war in three flat days. Wasting no time, Manmohan Vaidya has issued a clarification to the same effect — even as Bhagwat’s words and Vaidya’s do not exactly match. Tweets are, meanwhile, pouring in describing the scouts-and-guides style of intervention by the social workers during instances of India’s war with or China. With the experience of smarting from their intemperate remarks for ages, one may give them the benefit of the doubt. To begin with, their intention is often lost in translation. When the West describes the RSS as a “Hindu nationalist” outfit, for example, the Sangh turns self-congratulatory, believing that “nationalist” is a compliment — ignorant of the negative connotation the term has been carrying in European languages since the Second World War. No less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said to Reuters in an interview during the first year of his rule that there was “nothing wrong” in being a nationalist. Little did he understand that the European journalist did not imply he was a patriot; the scribe was likening the Prime Minister of India to supremacists like Italy’s Benito Mussolini or Germany’s Adolf Hitler.

But eminent members of the RSS alone do not have this issue with words; journalists affiliated to it are no less ham-handed. When the sarsanghchalak’s remarks cost the Bharatiya Janata Party the Bihar election in 2015, for example, the editor of its mouthpiece , which had carried the interview at an ill-advised time, Prafulla Ketkar was equally responsible. If an editor among them is not media-savvy enough, what can be expected from the rest of the flock? Reportedly, nobody other than Vaidya is authorised to represent the RSS before the media, and yet just about anybody masquerades as its spokesperson on television. After much cajoling when the Sangh launched its internet outreach initiative, its Facebook page carries nothing more than video clippings and excerpts from speeches by the sarsanghchalak and a few other members of eminence from the Sangh. They had initially distanced themselves from tweets of @RSSorg, only to get the Twitter handle authenticated later. After miscommunication comes lack of communication. There are 50 odd undertakings of the RSS that are capable of projecting its benign image, but there is hardly any effort on its part to let the rest of society know about its contributions in elementary education, mainstreaming the tribal population, promoting indigenous culture, coming to the aid of victims of natural disasters, etc. In the absence of adequate information, which is not a mistake of the people not associated with the RSS, when Bhagwat talks “war”, frowns are inevitable. There is no point choosing words prone to misinterpretation and then issuing clarifications galore. Much as the Sangh defines itself as a cultural organisation dedicated to “character-building”, that it dabbles in political affairs every now and then cannot be denied. And in politics, immoderation of words is unaffordable.

Given that the RSS is the world’s largest non-governmental organisation, the left-liberal snigger does not help. Even when the libertarians in the right wing are embarrassed by some of the stands the organisation takes, they cannot wish it away. Since the polity is now divided between the BJP and anti-BJP parties, if the Congress-Left policy does not suit the country, the only viable alternative hinges on the RSS’s philosophy. Efforts should, therefore, be made to mould the Sangh’s thinking. The odd utterances like urging for a review of the reservation policy or preparing an army — while meaning preparing the people — despite the merits of the case are a result of a vacuum on top and poor grooming in public speech. Since the death of the proponent of integral humanism, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, and the demise of Dattopant Thengadi who made the economics of the cultural right wing organisation take a left turn, they have not seen a towering bauddhik (the term RSS uses to refer to an intellectual). And they don’t take advices from outsiders. It is in the interest of India that the quasi-Hindu institution revisits its chapters on history, science, social anthropology and economics, and relieves the nation from the overbearing, flawed, crony-bearing that affects policy decisions of all major political parties including the ruling BJP — without being comical. The choice for the voters cannot remain between the devious left and the frivolous right. Study your subjects, measure your words, and communicate well. You wouldn’t have to blame others for failing to understand you.

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