Best of times for the RSS, it aims for makeover at 90

  • Kumar Uttam and Prashant Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 12, 2014 10:46 IST

When Doordarshan recently telecast live Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s Vijaya-dashami speech, it brought the organisation — the BJP’s ideological parent--into the sort of spotlight it has historically sought to avoid.

But with former pracharak Narendra Modi as PM, the RSS is closer to the corridors of power than it’s ever been. And the Sangh has made its choice: Dynamically embrace change rather than continue to lurk in the background.

So expect the Sangh’s new avatar to communicate more aggressively, adopting the sort of rhetoric that appeals to the young. It will also use innovative ways to recruit, engage with newer social groups, work closely with research institutes and expand its global footprint.

All this without compromising its ideological agenda: the ‘unity and organisation’ of Hindu society on strong Hindutva lines.

HT has learnt of plans to revive Hindustan Samachar, a news agency affiliated to the Sangh. Retired journalists are being hired, and government agencies may soon buy its news.

The Sangh’s campaign arm Vishwa Sampark Kendra is being equipped with the latest technology and infrastructure to disseminate information. After the Bhagwat telecast, expect far greater coverage and attention to Sangh activities in the private as well as official government media.

The Sangh embraced new technology early. And while there is no official membership in the RSS, it uses the web as a mode of recruitment. Manmohan Vaidya, chief spokesperson, told HT how the join RSS link on its web draws close to 7,000 responses every month. “We pass on the name to the area-in-charge; he goes to the house of the person who has shown interest and explores how best he can contribute — either by coming to a shakha, or joining service activities, or through the social media.”

All this needs some explaining even to insiders. An RSS pracharak recently asked a member of the Sangh’s publicity cell, “Sangh does not need any publicity. What is the point of this cell?” The member could see where the ambivalence stemmed from, but he explained: “It is not for publicity of the Sangh, but for national issues, Sangh’s work, and to remove misperceptions.”

He then gave an anecdote involving a person who was a regular critic of the Sangh on television shows. The publicity cell invited him to attend an RSS camp. The guest came across the city to the camp at 4am. He was impressed, and toned down his criticism.

As the supplier of the ruling government’s ideology, the new Sangh attaches importance to its research links. The Vivekananda International Foundation — which has provided top officials to the Modi PMO — is one such institute close to the RSS.

But there are others too. The India Policy Foundation is run by Professor Rakesh Sinha, and its recent activities have included a seminar on Integral Humanism to commemorate Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s 98th birth anniversary.

Another think-tank is the India Foundation, which has on its board BJP general secretary Ram Madhav and national security adviser Ajit Doval’s son Shaurya, and works on strategic and foreign policy issues.

BJP vice-president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe heads the Public Policy Research Centre, which has been asked to pass on inputs to various ministries.

The Sangh also sees the need to attract newer social groups beyond Brahmins and traders to expand its support base.

The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has already been working with tribals for decades; there is also now an aggressive outreach towards Dalits. Indresh Kumar, a senior RSS official, heads a minority outreach unit which worked during elections to mobilise Muslims to support Modi.

Kumar is also the Sangh’s link to the Tibetan community in exile, with the Sangh believing that Buddhism is but a part of the larger Hindu Parivar.

And to reach out to the urban young, the Sangh relies more on the language of nationalism and cultural pride, rather than on issues like Ram temple.

For IT professionals, weekly shakhas and IT milans are organised. There has been a debate on whether to shed the khakhi shorts but for now, the decision is to stick to the traditional uniform. HT reported last week how the RSS was now eyeing an expansion in Europe.

Agree or disagree with the Sangh worldview, for a 90-year-old organisation, the RSS is changing fast with the times.

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