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RSS Tryst with Politics : From Hedgewar to Sudarshan

RSS Tryst with Politics : From Hedgewar to Sudarshan

Author: Book Review by M. V. Kamath
Publication: The Free Press Journal
Date: December 22, 2002.

Book :
Title - RSS Tryst with Politics : From Hedgewar to Sudarshan
By - Pralay Kanungo :
Manohar Publishers, Delhi
Pages 314 : Rs.625/-

No url pls.

Debunking the fundamental Avataar of the RSS The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is a probably the most controversial if not hated and reviled organisation in contemporary India. It has been called every vile name under the sun. Suffronist, communalist, fundamentalist, fascist and if there can be anything worse, surely, our 'intellectuals' would be most happy top use that to damn the RSS.

What that does is to raise the question : How many who hate the RSS really know anything about it ? What is the source of its power and its undoubted popularity? Let this be remembered : When Keshav Baliram Hedgewar started the organisation in Nagpur in 1925, he could muster only five members. In 1931 it had only 60 shakhas. Five years later it could boast of 200 branches and 25,000 members. By 1939, it had 500 branches and 40,000 members. A year later it had expanded further to have 700 branches and over 80,000 members. Since then the growth of the RSS has been phenomenal. During the decade 1979-89, the number of Swayamsevaks swelled from 10 lakhs to 19 lakhs and the number or shakhas increased to 25,000 spreading over 18,800 cities and villages. It now has 38 front organisations and 50 lakh people are connected with their activities. What does that say about its attractive power?

There have been very few serious studies of the RSS despite its long presence in the country. Pralay Kanungo's RSS Tryst with Politics is, for all intents and purposes, the first serious study of the organisation though, as the bibliography appended to it would show, there are over 250 words dealing with various aspects of this body. Happily it is based on a doctoral dissertation and not on pre-conceived notions.

A doctoral dissertation calls for a certain amount of objectivity whatever be one's personal predilections. It is this which gives Kanungo's work its special relevance, if not credibility. Kanungo had, judging by what he says, the fullest cooperation of RSS leaders and workers in Orissa.

The book itself is divided into seven chapters. First there is a description of the historic context in which the RSS was born, evolved and flourished. Another chapter draws the outline of the organisational structure and training process of the RSS. A third chapter attempts to understand the ideology of Hindu Rashtra. The fourth chapter seeks to explain how the RSS has been homogenising the Hindus as they are not a monolith. Yet another chapter highlights how Balasaheb Deoras has established the RSS as an important political player in national politics. The next chapter discussed how Rajendra Singh ( Rajjubhayua) continued with Deoras experiment and facilitated the BJP to control Delhi.

An attempt is also made to understand the take-over by K.S. Sudarshan as the new chief. Whether he has correctly represented the character of the RSS is for its spokesman to proclaim. What remains unquestionable is the research that has gone into this work, which quotes special scientists in extenso. bMark Juergensmeyer, for example insists that the word 'fundamentalist' is an inadequate expression to describe the RSS considering that "first the term is pejorative, less descriptive and more accusatory" reflecting an attitude towards it than a description of it. Well said. Kanungo quotes Deoras as denying the charge of fundamentalism on the ground that while fundamentalists accept the 'holy book' as the 'literal truth', the RSS does not have such book.

Is the RSS Fascist? Kanungo quotes some writers as believing so but then he also quotes Nanaji Deshmsukh as saying that unlike fascism, the RSS does not advocate a totalitarian state, that it believes in democracy and moreover that its cultural nationalism is not chauvinistic, but tempered with Hindu traditions. In addition, Deshmukh is quoted as saying that the RSS shuns publicity and believes in non-violence. Yet another intellectual and a foreigner besides, Christopher Jaffrelot is quoted as saying : "As distinct from Nazism, the RSS's ideology treats society as an organism with a secular spirit which is implanted not so much in the race as I socio-cultural system and which will be regenerated over the course to both Italian fascism and Nazism, the RSS does not rely on the central figure of the leader". And Achin Vanaik is quoted as saying that while the fascist state in India would necessarily be Hindu nationalism, the Hindu nationalist state would not necessarily be fascist.

The point is made that the RSS defines the Indian nationalist as a whole and does not claim to represent one community fighting others in India. The constitution of the RSS claims that "the Sangh, as such, has no politics and is devoted to purely cultural work" but Kanungo does not accept that at face value. He identifies the politics of the RSS as Hindutva and the creation of a Hindu Rashtra. What this book does is to look meaningfully into the thinking of the RSS in regard to several matters such as relationship with minorities, mostly Muslim and Christian, the concept of secularism, problems relating to untouchability and reservations for SC/STs, caste hierarchies, tribals, religio-political strategy to capture power, Mandalism, militancy, Swadeshi .name it and Kanungo had dealt fairly comprehensively on the subject.

Kanungo raises many questions. Is the RSS revivalist? Is it 'modern' in its approach and thinking? Ashish Nandy is quoted as saying that Hindutva merely mimics 19th century European nationalism while Peter van der Veer is reported as saying the Sangh parivar does not revolt against modernity but, in fact, is an expression of it. Towards the end Kanungo sums up his own thinking of the role and purpose of the RSS. He writes: "Converting India into a Hindu Rashtra may remain a distant dream. But there is no doubt that the politics and ideology of the RSS is spreading at a faster pace incorporating new social groups and regions. At many places Hindu traditions are giving way to Hindutva, tolerance to violence and community consciousness to communal consciousness. The RSS tryst with politics has reached a crucial stage with its control over the state apparatus. Now it will consolidate its position further and using state power it will try to control sphere of civil society. Political power is not enough for the RSS; its real mission is Hindu hegemony". That is easily said, but what, in practice, does Hindu hegemony signify? Kanungo does not specify it in greater detail.

He speaks of the several dilemmas that the RSS is faced and wonders whether the ideology of Hindu Rashtra can make headway considering that it shows scant regard for the pluralistic cultural traditions of Hinduism. As Kanungo sees it, the RSS stands for a non-cultural Hinduism. Can it, then succeed? What the author provides us is an insight into the complexities of the situation as it is which is in itself a major contribution to the better understanding of soX-X-Mozilla-Status: 0009is the RSS today. One cannot be sufficiently thankful to him.

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