From tree plantation to film festivals, RSS ropes in celebrities to endorse its campaigns

Names like cricketer Gautam Gambhir and director Madhur Bhandarkar are among those being enlisted by the right-wing organisation to push its social agenda.

india Updated: Aug 20, 2017 23:48 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
RSS,Gautam Gambhir,Madhur Bhandarkar
Cricketer Gautam Gambhir is campaigning for RSS’ tree plantation drive.(PTI File Photo)

Cricketer Gautam Gambhir is making an appeal to citizens in the Capital to plant at least one tree in their city. The cricketer’s call for environment consciousness is his way of showing support for the RSS-affiliate Seva Bharati’s aim to plant one million trees in the Capital in a week.

Movie-maker Madhur Bhandarkar has pledged his time and expertise for an upcoming film festival being organised by another Sangh-affiliate, the Bharatiya Chitra Sadhna, which promises a platform to film makers whose work depicts Indian culture and is anchored in nationalism.

As it consolidates its positions across the country — from the political echelons to cultural and educational hubs—the RSS, the ideological mentor of the ruling BJP is reaching out to celebrities to endorse its campaigns.

“For Gambhir it was more to do with the cause, trees are important for us, given the pollution levels, it is not about a political ideology. If the cause is good, he will support it even if it for some other political party,” said Dinesh Chopra, the cricketer’s spokersperson on his choice to support the campaign.

Bhandarkar, sees the festival as an opportunity for upcoming short film makers to get their foot in the door.

While celebrities such as Gambhir claim to have signed up for the cause, for the RSS it means support from faces with a youth connect. It also helps alter its perceived image from that of a conservative, insular outfit to an inclusive, socially-conscious collective.

“Even though the Sangh has been known for its voluntary services since its inception, there is an effort to mainstream the campaigns we support be it environmental conservation or film making,” said a functionary not wishing to be named.

Skepticism from old-timers notwithstanding, the younger lot is not averse to celebrities on board to grab eyeballs. Take for example the movement started by the Sangh to highlight violence against its cadre in the red-bastion of Kerala. Author Advaita Kala’s documentaries, capturing the violence against RSS members and narrating the stories of the victims and their families became the centerpiece of the pan-India campaign called ‘Redrocity’.

RSS ideologue and director of a think tank India Policy Foundation Rakesh Sinha however, perceives the renewed emphasis on social campaigns as a “natural progression” of how things work within the Sangh.

“RSS believes in self-assignment; whenever we see a need to intervene we do so individually or collectively. When the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (the labour arm of the RSS) was started, similar questions were asked. And why should there be exclusion (from socio-cultural scene); we are working with a nationalistic view not a sectarian agenda,” he told HT.

Participation in campaigns that resonate locally such as swachh bharat and organ donation also help take the attention off contentious issues such love jihad and gau raksha that the Sangh espouses, but have acquired an unconstructive mien.

Attacks by so-called gau rakshaks (cow vigilantes) cast a shadow on the Sangh’s efforts to save the bovine; and the Opposition was quick to dub it as a ruse to impose food choices and attack minorities.

But Sinha disagrees. He asserts Sangh has been steadfast in its motto of ‘nation first’ even in the face of skepticism about its work.


First Published: Aug 20, 2017 23:48 IST