March of the saffron brigade: RSS reaches out to corporates, technocrats

  • Vikas Pathak, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 12, 2015 13:18 IST

For four years now, the Sewa Dham school run by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-allied Sewa Bharati in north-east Delhi's Mandoli Saboli village has had the support of an unusual group - a dozen techies from the city's corporate sector. As part of the Rohini chapter of the Sangh's nationwide 'IT Milan' initiative, one of the volunteers has set up the school's website, a few others have been involved in sourcing funds, and the rest are taking care of the school's information system. The 'IT milan' is the RSS' weekly initiative to connect with the corporate sector. In Delhi alone, its numbers have seen a steady rise. Currently, there are 37 such meetings being held in the city - up from 32 in December 2014, and 22 in 2013.

For the RSS, these initiatives serve to bring people who work for the IT sector into its sphere of influence and to involve them in social work. There is also an allied benefit: the Sangh believes it can check the 'erosion' of traditional values among these 'new-age Hindus' by influencing them. "At these meetings, we talk about themes such as the basic distinctions between Indian and western values," said Manu Taneja, 39, who heads the IT-milan initiative in the capital. An RSS volunteer, Taneja works in the corporate sector. "We also have an app for these IT milans to connect more people," he said.

Besides the IT milans, the larger sampark (contact) activities of the Sangh also help in this outreach. "As part of the Sangh's Sampark initiative, there are 36 activities. Through these activities, we reach out to engineers, doctors, chartered accountants and many such professionals. This is an area of interface with those who aren't already swayamsevaks," said an RSS leader, who did not wish to be named.

(From left) Subhash Chandra of the Essel Group, G Mallikarjuna Rao of GMR Group, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Azim Premji of Wipro at the Rashtriya Seva Sangam meet on April 5. (Photo: Hemraj Gupta/Panchjanya)

These aggressive moves to woo corporate professionals point to a gradual shift in the composition of the RSS, which has generally drawn its membership from more traditional circles of the Hindu community. This shift, however, doesn't mean the RSS is jettisoning its core values. "The idea of expansion is not that the organisation changes. We want to ensure that people stay connected to Bharatiya culture even as they keep pace with a changing world," another RSS functionary said. Many of the Sangh's social initiatives tap into universal anxieties about the break up of the family and the alienation brought on by the disintegration of the old certainties to do with language, class, caste, religion and sexual roles as a result of modernisation. The certainties offered by the traditionalist RSS world view perhaps ameliorate those anxieties. So the RSS' Parivar Prabodhan seeks to "reunite" the Hindu family "torn" by changing lifestyles, to promote the use of the mother tongue for people increasingly "taking to English" and other foreign languages, and to spread the practice of yoga.

Unsurprisingly, the recent Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS) - the Sangh's highest decision-making body - passed a resolution on the need to promote yoga: "This Sabha appeals to all countrymen including swayamsevaks, people of Bharatiya origin and yoga followers to endeavour earnestly to spread yoga to make the globe happy, healthy and sustainable". The ABPS resolution on the mother tongue puts the onus on its promotion on the family unit: "The ABPS calls upon the countrymen, including swayamsevaks, to play an effective role to establish the dignity of the mother language in education, day-to-day working and public affairs to achieve all-round development, national integrity and pride," the resolution reads. "In this regard, the family has an important role. Parents should have a firm resolve to impart elementary education to their children in their own language."

A third concern of the Sangh is to ensure that the Hindu family doesn't fall apart under the pressures of changing lifestyles. The answer lies in Parivar Prabodhan, the brand new slogan of the Sangh. Put simply, the idea is to tell Hindus that they should spend at least one hour a week with the family without the distractions of television, cricket or political discussions. The Sangh also wants Hindus to ensure their homes look like "proper" Hindu homes with Hindu gods adorning the walls or a tulsi plant in the garden. Of course, the message has to be put out gently to achieve any degree of success. "We have to condition the style of our interaction to the people we are meeting. One can't just reach out to an ex-serviceman and give a discourse on nationalism," an RSS functionary said. "It is understood that they have imbibed it to the core. So we have to ask them to know us better as we share their national vision." The task isn't easy. It involves cold calling to fix appointments and sometimes facing rude responses.

However, even as its activity and the composition of its membership expands, the daily shakha - a coming together of volunteers each morning for 40 minutes of sharirik (physical exercises) and 20 minutes of bauddhik (ideological discourse) - remains the RSS' basic tool for spreading its influence. The shakhas have been held in neighbourhood parks across the country since 1925, when the Sangh was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. The Sangh has been reaching out to different segments of society - industrial workers, students, tribals or farmers - through allied organisations from around the time of independence. These allied organisations came up when individual RSS volunteers began to work autonomously in a particular field. "The Sangh does nothing; the Swayamsevak leaves nothing," quipped an RSS functionary, suggesting that the Sangh promotes its allies from the sidelines, shunning publicity.

With shakhas spread across India and allied organisations like the BJP, ABVP, and BMS doing well, the Sangh now wants volunteers to fan out. 'Spread Hindu values or engage in some social activity in villages or towns to reach out to more people,' the mantra goes. An RSS volunteer underlined the centrality of conventions within the organisation: "The Sangh does not deviate from paddhati (conventional ways). It took us 80 years just to change the belt in our uniform (gana-vesh). We stand firm on our core values." In a rapidly changing world, this adherence to core values is, perhaps, what makes the RSS as attractive to its emerging membership of IT and corporate followers as it is to members drawn from more traditional circles.

Read: Education and culture: Ties that bind RSS-BJP

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