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Revise, Revive, Survive

The problem, however, is that there is no single individual in the Sangh today who commands the kind of intellectual and moral stature of Hedgewar, Golwalkar and Balasaheb Deoras, Jyotirmaya Sharma comments.

india Updated: Aug 24, 2006 03:55 IST

The RSS is commemorating the birth centenary of its chief ideologue, MS Golwalkar, this year. It is only appropriate that a great churning is taking place within the Sangh during a year that was meant to be an opportunity to express fidelity to Golwalkar’s vision. Nothing that the RSS does ever fully enters the public domain, partly because of its uncommunicative and secretive style of functioning, but also due to its self-proclaimed aversion to the democratic process.

Given the significance of the Golwalkar centenary year, the Mangalore meeting of the RSS in June brought together individuals and voices wanting a serious reconsideration of some of the central tenets of the Sangh. A small, but significant group of senior RSS functionaries sought to place on the agenda a series of radical suggestions. If these were ever to be accepted, the RSS would go through a major metamorphosis and emerge as an altogether different entity.

The first of these was an appeal to abandon, for all practical purposes, the ideal of the Hindu Rashtra. Golwalkar had placed the vision of India as a Hindu Rashtra at the very core of the Sangh’s existence. Addressing his last ideological session (chintan baithak) in 1972, he had insisted that the idea of the nation being a Hindu Rashtra ought to be articulated with greater vigour and sharpness. Any ambiguity in claiming the nation for the Hindus would be a sign of weakness.

Contrary to this article of faith, it was suggested in the Mangalore meeting that the insistence on the ultimate realisation of the Hindu Rashtra actually came in the way of organising and consolidating Hindu society. After all, the creation and flourishing of an organised Hindu society was the concrete manifestation of the ideal of Hindu Rashtra. It was argued that excessive appeal on behalf of the ideal itself or its formulation by the founding fathers of the Sangh generated hostile reactions in society and among the intelligentsia and, hence, became an impediment in the way of the ‘real’ purpose of knitting Hindus together as a force.

Following the first suggestion, these voices advocating change argued that the Sangh ought to abandon its pathological preoccupation with Muslims and Christians. They wanted greater focus on issues concerning Hindus rather than dissipating the organisational energies on engaging with questions relating to real or imagined enemies of the Hindus. Again, this is a serious departure from the way Golwalkar perceived the question of Muslims and Christians.

Addressing the Sangh in 1968, Golwalkar argued that whether we consider an enemy to be a friend or a foe, the ultimate reality is that he will be forever an enemy. He was talking about the status of Muslims in the country. For him, the existence of Muslims and Christians was the unsolved agenda of free India and they could never be considered ‘national’. This was because only the Hindus could claim that title and privilege.

There was also an appeal to reconsider the Sangh’s attitude to politics. The RSS has always called itself a cultural organisation engaged in the business of reviving, consolidating and strengthening Hindu society. Politics was perceived as the least favoured option for accomplishing this task. Golwalkar went to the extent of likening politics to a “woman of the multitude, a harlot, a prostitute, who takes on various guises”. The RSS moved away radically from the Hindu Mahasabha in the Thirties and Forties because of the latter’s political orientation. Even affiliates, like the erstwhile Jan Sangh, were expected to only further the RSS agenda in political life and become recruitment agencies for the Sangh.

In the likelihood of this being even considered in the future, it would transform the Sangh and bring it to the democratic mainstream. It would also cause significant changes in its relations with its affiliates. Distaste for politics and aversion to the Hindu Mahasabha model is deeply ingrained in the Sangh’s ideological orientation. The traditionalists have always felt that if the RSS were to become a political outfit, it would lose its ‘national’ character and would be reduced, like the Hindu Mahasabha, to representing only the Hindus, while other parties would assume the mantle of being national. It would no longer be able to argue that the nation was nothing but the will and primacy of the Hindus.

Significantly, these individuals clamouring for change also hit at the most cherished institution within the Sangh: the status of pracharaks as bachelors. Given the recent controversy about the Sanjay Joshi tapes, it was felt that the demand for asking pracharaks to remain unmarried was an unnatural one and created secondaries that were far more damaging. Once again, this is a radical departure from the tenets of Golwalkar, who sought to mould the organisation on the model of renunciation, something he himself briefly engaged in during his stay with Swami Akhandananda of the Ramakrishna Mission.

If senior RSS sources present at the Mangalore meeting are to be believed, the orthodox elements within the Sangh ensured that those suggesting these changes were silenced for the rest of the duration of the meeting. The problem, however, is that there is no single individual in the Sangh today who commands the kind of intellectual and moral stature of Hedgewar, Golwalkar and Balasaheb Deoras. A senior disgruntled RSS official once described the elevation of all subsequent sarsanghchalaks like KS Sudarshan as mere “departmental promotions”.

There seems to be a growing disquiet about the leadership of Sudarshan as well. There are rumours that once the Golwalkar centenary comes to a close in February 2007, Sudarshan is likely to hand the Sangh’s charge over to Mohan Bhagwat, who is seen by many as a more managerial and technocratic figure unencumbered by ideological rigidity.

It is also believed that the individuals demanding a reappraisal of the Sangh’s position on the issues mentioned above are now rallying behind Bhagwat and view him as the potential instrument of change. The truth about the turbulence within the RSS might fall between the proverbial two stools. What is certain, however, is that the Golwalkar centenary year would be remembered as the year when the seeds of change within the Sangh were sown.

The writer is the author of Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism