Though the RSS has not been entirely appreciative of the style of functioning of PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, it has allowed them a 'free hand' to ensure smooth functioning of the government. A senior RSS leader, who preferred anonymity, said: "It is like love-hate relationship between the RSS and the Modi-Shah duo."
The latter's widely perceived "autocratic" style of functioning without taking senior functionaries of the party and government into confidence and their "pro-corporate" image has been among the sore points for the RSS, a sizeable number of RSS swayamsevaks here said. However, senior swayamsevak Virag Pachpore says the BJP, the Modi government and the RSS share a good rapport. "It's purely media's figment of imagination of chinks in the saffron relationship. RSS knows the limitations of the government as it has to function under the constitutional framework. It would not insist on things that are unconstitutional," he said. RSS insiders here in Nagpur say the Modi-Shah duo has been given a free hand to allow them to perform and carry forward the RSS agenda.
Another senior swayamsevak pointed out that it was Bhagwat who had announced the end of the Atal-Advani era in the BJP in Kolkata on June 30, 2004, after the BJP's defeat in the general elections and underscored the need to push young blood in the party.
The "free hand" to the party and government by the RSS was visible at the three-day pratinidhi sabha in Nagpur last month, which did not pass a single resolution against the government - despite its reservations regarding some of the decisions.
When there was some discontent among the RSS-affiliated bodies like the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and Swadeshi Jagaran Manch on issues like the amended land acquisition bill, labour law reforms and vigorous pushing of economic reforms, RSS general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi intervened and arranged for a separate meeting of these leaders with senior BJP functionaries like Shah and Ram Lal. On behalf of the RSS, its joint general secretary and Modi's trusted RSS aide Suresh Soni, was present at the meeting and served as the moderator.
Though the RSS has not been able to get the BJP to implement many issues on its agenda, it has succeeded in changing school curricula and yoga has become a government-sponsored programme. The union government has initiated an exercise to formulate a new education policy. The RSS education wing is also silently working to assist the government to formulate the new policy. A Shiksha Niti Aayog, set up under the leadership of educationist and former RSS pracharak Dinanath Batra, is holding parallel, nationwide deliberations to seek suggestions from "right-minded" citizens of the country.
It has also succeeded in getting Baldev Sharma, former editor of Panchajanya, an RSS mouthpiece, appointed as chairman of prestigious National Book Trust of India. "The RSS never forces itself on the government or the BJP. It only makes suggestions. If a senior RSS leader puts something to the government or a BJP leader just once it should be interpreted as a suggestion. But if the same thing is repeated, it's an order," says Dilip Deodhar, an RSS observer who was once a senior swayamsevak.
He claimed that Bhagwat and Modi enjoy a cordial relationship which was amply clear when, in a virtual digression of protocol, Bhagwat was invited for the function to confer Bharat Ratna on the former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. "The RSS is likely to ensure that if the BJP enjoys majority, Modi would be the PM till 2025 when RSS celebrates its centenary year," he further claimed.
Timeline: A brief overview of the evolution of the RSS since its inception in 1925
1925: Founded in Nagpur. Believed in consolidating Hindus to make them a powerful community. Basic unit shakha, aimed at "character building", uniting Hindus through ideological discourses and physical training.
1936: Rashtriya Sevika Samiti founded by Lakshmibai Kelkar to train women in the RSS ideology.
1948: ABVP founded by Balraj Madhok, RSS pracharak, to counter communist influence on campuses.
1951: Offered its young leaders to help found the Jana Sangh set up by Hindu Mahasabha leader Syama Prasad Mookerjee. Jana Sangh was formed after the RSS was banned for over a year after Gandhi’s assassination. It felt the need for a political affiliate to stand by it in parliament. The jan Sangh had a narrow social base of Hindu upper castes and middle classes.
Hindu Mahasabha leader Syama Prasad Mookerjee.
1952: RSS pracharak Nanaji Deshmukh, started the Saraswati Shishu Mandir initiative to inculcate Sangh values in young minds.
1955: RSS-affiliated trade union BMS set up by pracharak Dattopant Thengdi, to counter left trade unions. Thengdi called communists "enemy number one" and decided to oppose class struggle.
1964: VHP founded by Shiv Shankar Apte, an RSS pracharak, to forge common ground among multiple Hindu sects that sometimes had doctrinal differences.
Mid 70s: Took part in the JP movement against the Indira Gandhi government. Got banned. First participation in a civil libertarian movement, leading to an acceptance even beyond core Hindutva circles. Jana Sangh joined the JP movement, dissolved itself into the Janata Party at JP’s call. When Janata Party split, BJP was formed with Vajpayee as president in 1980.
80s, early 90s: The RSS lent its weight to the movement for a Ram temple in Ayodhya in place of the Babri Masjid. This movement catapulted the Sangh’s political arm, the BJP, onto the national stage.
Babri Masjid demolition.
2000s: The Sangh now has a Muslim outreach forum called Muslim Rashtriya Manch. It has continued to push its core agenda including the protection of cows through endeavours like the Vishwa Mangal Gau Gram Yatra. The efforts of the RSS cadre contributed to PM Narendra Modi’s 2014 electoral victory.
The RSS Constellation
There are about 35 RSS affiliates that promote its ideology and work in different sectors. Here is a list of some organisations that share the RSS worldview
Bharatiya Janata Party: The Jan Sangh was set up in 1951. Just before the 1977 elections, it was merged with the Janata Party. RSS loyalists left the party on the issue of dual membership and the BJP came into existence in April 1980. It celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.
Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad: The RSS students' wing was set up on July 9, 1949. Almost all senior BJP and RSS stalwarts, including PM Narendra Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, have served in the ABVP in different capacities.
Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh: The largest trade union organisation in the country strongly opposes Modi's labour law reforms and pushing of economic reforms. RSS leader Dattopant Thengdi founded the BMS in 1955. It has over 94 lakh members.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad: It was founded in 1964 to "organise, consolidate the Hindu society and to serve and protect the Hindu dharma". It has been involved in the dispute over the Ram temple issue for over 40 years. Bajrang Dal is its youth wing while the Durga Vahini is its young women's wing.
Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram: It was founded in 1952 at Jashpur (Chhattisgarh) to counter Christian missionaries. It focuses on indigenous tribes in remote areas of the country. It has around 11,800 branches across India
Samajik Samrasta Manch: Set up in 1983 mainly to eradicate the caste system within Hindu society that had led lower caste Hindus to embrace other religions, particularly Christianity and Islam.
Vidya Bharati: An educational wing of the RSS, it runs over 13,000 schools with 35 lakh students across the country. It started from Gorakhpur, UP with Shishu Mandir (nursery).
Adhiwakta Parishad: An organisation of RSS loyalist lawyers that works among lawyers, jurists and law academicians. It was set up in 1992
Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana: Set up to re-write history by proving that aspects of Hindu mythology are factual. Established in 1973 at Nagpur.
Swadeshi Jagaran Manch: It is an economics wing of RSS started in 1991. It is strongly against multi-nationals and advocates Swadeshi.
Bharatiya Kisan Sangh: The farmers' organisation opposes the BJP-led government's proposed land acquisition bill. It was set up in 1979 under the guidance of veteran trade union leader Dattopant Thengdi.
Sewa Bharati: Set up in 1980, Sewa Bharati provides service to the underprivileged by providing healthcare, food, and education.
RSS in numbers
51,330: The number of RSS shakhas spread across the country by 2015.
33,222: Number of places where these shakhas are held.
10,413: An increase in the number of shakhas as compared to that of last year's figures.
5,161: The number of places where the shakhas are held saw an increase in the last one year.