It’s time for the RSS to get a serious makeover

Updated on Jul 26, 2015 11:33 AM IST
Chanakya talks about the much-needed makeover for the RSS.

Not so long ago, I read a report saying that the RSS was worried that it was not getting any fresh recruits. Its worry in itself shows how out of sync it is with today’s India.

How many young people, and I presume that the RSS is looking to capture that cohort, would find anything about the RSS as it is today remotely attractive?

First, it is an all-boys club, or rather an all-aging men’s club, and here I am speaking only of the leadership in Nagpur, from where all edicts flow.

This league of extraordinary gentlemen are kitted out in somewhat antediluvian clothing comprising khaki knee-length shorts, a white short-sleeved shirt, a tragic-looking beret-like cap and a baton in hand. Oh, and an inexplicably inelegant salute on solemn occasions. And I can’t really remember the last time the RSS came up with anything that could be said to be appealing to anyone. Yes, it does have its shakhas across the country, organisations raised on a diet of exclusion and social service, a strange but profitable combination if ever I saw one.

But, all these little eccentricities can be forgiven if it is, as it proclaims to be, a cultural organisation devoted to promoting the Hindu way of life.

But, with the advent of the BJP in power and that too with a thumping majority, the pretence of being the baraat and not the bridegroom seems to have been jettisoned.

From the shadowy margins, it has now not only been able to place its people in key positions, quite openly claiming credit for these, it has also started to tell the government in rather hectoring tones what to do.

What worries me is that people whose worldview does not go much beyond Nagpur are trying to remodel our society based on some mythical past in which India excelled at everything from aviation to surgery.

The expression Hindu values is often bandied about, as though our RSS lads were the custodians of the faith. But what is really worrying is the way in which they have trained their sights on educational institutions.

The HRD minister, someone who has not seemed too comfortable with her portfolio, seems unable to fend off the RSS’s attempts to try and lecture to her on how education in India should be run.

Now you will ask, do they have amongst them well-known educationists? The answer is no.

Are there eminent historians, or scientists, or anthropologists, or sociologists, or gender specialists, or economists? The answer, again, is no. But apparently cultural superiority makes up for these little lapses.

Emboldened by what I can only term a golden run in recent times, the RSS has now turned its attention to our IITs and IIMs. Institutions you and I are justifiably proud of. Centres of excellence, our educational calling card to the world, campuses where the best are snapped up at mouthwatering salaries even as they throw their mortar boards in the air.

Yes, into such hallowed precincts, some RSS ire has fallen. The first grouse is that these institutions were packed by Lefties and Congressmen, whose ideological failings must now be corrected.

Am I to understand that our IITs and IIMs have been churning out students, fists raised in the lal salaam and singing the international all these years? Then, wait for this, the RSS has decided that these institutions are anti-Hindu and anti-national, their faculties are of low morals and are misguiding students.

And do let me continue.

They have informed us that eminent nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar’s nationalist credentials are suspect for saying that the HRD minister took the recruitment of directors casually. And, here is the killer, he did not object when students of IIT Mumbai held a Kiss of Love fest.
And this coming from people who would not know fission or fusion if these jumped up and bit them. It would be funny if it were not for the serious implications that this sort of criticism and interference could have.

First, the RSS has no business sitting in judgment on the criteria for patriotism or religiosity. And Hindu credentials are hardly a qualification for these institutions which are devoted to scholarship of extreme rigour.

The RSS is in no way qualified to decide on the faculty of these institutes and the sooner they fold up their tent and go back to Nagpur the better.

At last count, Dr Kakodkar was a nationally feted hero, so I can only say that I doubt the RSS’s nationalist credentials in questioning his integrity. The dangerous thing is that the organisation has now come to consider interference in governance and culture as an entitlement.

RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat seems to have assumed the role of adjudicator of all things cultural and national. And many BJP politicians seem to have ceded ground to him. To the public at large, he is the man to go to when there are internal squabbles, he is the man to go to when major policy issues are to be decided, and even when foreign policy is being sought to be framed.

I can think of many roles for the RSS with a Hindu touch if that is what it wants. It could talk about education for girls, it could talk about how to take forward the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan initiative, it could press its cadres into action and clean up our holy rivers, it could take up the fight against drug abuse, it could talk of population stabilisation and not its harebrained idea of Hindus producing more babies to stave off some sort of demographic challenge from the minorities. I am sure you can add to the bucket list of possible to-do things for an organisation as mighty and widespread as the RSS.

It has to sit down and think about how it can pull itself up by its bootstraps into the present.

We have a glorious past, let us revel in that but not try to recreate it in the here and now. Let the government and the PM do their job without the RSS nibbling around the edges spouting outdated shibboleths.

The vast majority of Indians would thank the RSS if it could put its might to some productive use and not grumble and find fault. And for heaven’s sake, leave the running of institutions to professionals who may or may not wear their nationalistic credentials on their sleeves. And if I had any say, I would get rid of that uniform for starters.

While I don’t expect Bhagwat to turn up in Armani at the next RSS meet, surely he can wear a more realistic national dress than that khaki shorts and shirt in colours which would hardly set any ramp on fire. But, at least, a more modern mindset would go a long way in getting young people to sign up with the RSS.

It certainly needs a bit of fresh thinking, fresh talent and a more realistic assessment of its jurisdiction. And an abdication of its self-appointed role as India’s cultural commissar.

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    History has an uncanny way of intruding into contemporary life and shaping our public conversation. A new controversy emerged recently over the relationship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose.

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