When a swayamsevak (volunteer) enters the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), there is no membership register that records the ‘entry’.
It is deemed to have begun the day the volunteer first attends the shakha (branch) in his locality, and offers Dhwaj pranaam (salute to the saffron flag) and adhikari pranaam (salute to the shakha Karyavaha or manager).
No receipt, no register: it is just the local face-to-face interaction in the one-hour morning shakhas — with exercises and bauddhik (ideological discourse) — that defines a Swayamsevak.
This is because the RSS sees itself not as an organisation in society but the organisation of society. The issue of who is a current or former RSS member, has once again come into sharp focus with reports on ‘Hindutva terror’ investigations.
The RSS has faced such accusations earlier too — it was alleged that Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse was also active in the Sangh in the 1930s.
“The RSS aims at vyakti nirmana (character building of the individual). Anyone can come to the shakhas and discontinue whenever they want. If any such a person later commits a crime, it can only mean that there was a failure in his character building. To blame the Sangh is a motivated political campaign,” said Vagish Issar, media cell general secretary, RSS Delhi. He said that investigations against known functionaries such as Indresh Kumar was “motivated”.
But the identity of a Swayamsevak can be established only at an informal, local level, unless the person gets a larger responsibility such as pracharak (full-timer), or holds a responsibility at any level in the hierarchy (going from shakha to mandal, nagar, zilla, vibhag, praant, kshetra, to the national level). Close to 50,000 daily shakhas make up the Sangh’s informal network.