The quaint uniform is not the only thing that will make way for a more modern version in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The organisation has recently said that the well-off don’t need quotas, citing this practice as a deviation from the thoughts of BR Ambedkar and the Constitution. It also recently called for equality of women and men, even going as far as to say that restrictions on women in temples are unfair. Whether due to necessity or conviction, these are welcome thoughts from an organisation that has been rigidly patriarchal and largely brahminical in its leadership hierarchy. The call for a rethink on caste-based quotas comes not a moment too soon. Relatively well-off castes like the Jats in Haryana and the Patidars in Gujarat have been agitating, often violently, for a slice of the employment and economic pie when there is clearly no justification for such demands. On the issue of women, the RSS has not been known to espouse the cause of gender equality. This is clearly a plan to create a more inclusive Hindu society, but whatever the motive, these are steps in the right direction if seen through.
The criticism that the RSS faces is not just based on its caste and gender philosophy, it is that it has increasingly acquired a commanding influence in politics today. The RSS, by its own admission, is a cultural organisation engaged in social work across the country. But when many ministers of the NDA government submitted performance reports to the organisation earlier, the lines between the RSS and the political establishment were openly breached. This ambivalence has been talked about much more after the Narendra Modi government came to power, since many of its luminaries are members in good standing of the RSS. It would serve both the government and the RSS to dispel the fears that an extra-constitutional authority wields disproportionate influence on the government. The RSS has so far shown little inclination to move with the times and is known to adhere to an ideal of a Hindu rashtra, something the government of the day cannot espouse under any circumstance.
Along with its revamp, it would be useful for the RSS to revert to its stated mandate of being totally apolitical. But old habits die hard and it will take a good long time before the RSS can totally change its somewhat antediluvian mindset. It has already run into trouble with its sartorial makeover. A large chunk of the rank and file wants to stick to the brown shorts. Hopefully, the mindset change will come about somewhat easier.