Friday, January 07, 2011

The Sangh and I

My first consciousness of the Sangh is as a boy, waiting for the school bus on Delhi's Ring Road. It was a quieter time and Ring Road was not the snarly mess it is today. I distinctly recall being startled by a throng of bicycles flooding the road - men in khaki shorts speeding away to who knows where. Someone at the bus stand hobbled one of the bikes, then forcibly let out the air from its pneumatic tires. Its rider in khaki shorts looked small and sullen, protesting helplessly.

I remember being shocked by the violence of the moment. Summoning my courage, I asked what this was all about? I was told, in a tone of unmistakable warning, the man in khaki was RSS - keep away from him.

I was a curious child. No doubt I must've asked my quite conservative Hindu family what RSS was. Whatever the response, it surprisingly didn't make an impression. All I remembered of the Sangh was the small, sullen, and helpless man in khaki shorts.

In retrospect, it feels odd that I didn't pay real attention to RSS till I was a young adult. There were relatives, I discovered, who were part of it. A senior ideologue even came to our family weddings. It was always around me in some form but simply wasn't relevant to my life.

I felt secure in my identity so wasn't looking for a group to validate it. I didn't fear any other faith, so wasn't looking for muscular friends to protect me from them. I was - and remain - relatively religious & literate on my faith, so wasn't looking for someone to lecture me on it.

Only as an adult, did I see RSS as a political entity. This vague organization, that kinda' hovered around my life but I knew virtually nothing about, was - in a quirk of history - important to the destiny of my nation. Perhaps it was the small, sullen, & helpless man in khaki, perhaps it was the bigoted relatives who said they were in RSS, or perhaps it was the blood-curdling rhetoric of the ideologue who came to our family weddings - whatever it was, I didn't like the Sangh. The shrillness of its Twitter supporters has only served to validate & strengthen this feeling.

As RSS comes back in view, somehow linked (allegedly) to reprehensible bombings that I usually associate with Pakistani terrorism and Indian naxalism, I wonder if there isn't something profoundly wrong with it. How is it possible that it was defined for me - a conservative Hindu boy who I'd think would've been a prime recruit at one time - by serendipitous interactions & distasteful memories? Worse still, how is it possible that the Sangh has let itself be painted, in fairly negative hues, by those who don't like it? Worst of all, how is it possible that its own anglophone supporters on social media have squandered the unique opportunity to redefine it as a modern, civil, and engagement-worthy entity versus an aggressive, angry horde that attacks, attacks, attacks?

I have no idea if the Sangh is involved in any way with the terrorist attacks it is being linked to. But I know this: either the Sangh is comfortable with or is a really poor manager of its public image. If the former, then very little needs to be said beyond the usual critique. If, as I suspect its defenders would argue, it gets a bad rap - surely it needs to do a lot better image management. Whatever its purpose is, surely it must be possible to articulate it in an intuitive manner. Whatever its achievements are, surely it must be possible to describe them in a straightforward manner. Whatever its outreach strategy is, surely it should be better than browbeating people into somehow accepting its version of reality?

This organization that apparently has been around for a long time, yet is somehow unable to do as basic a task as protecting its public image, is hardly the competent protector of the broader faith its rather aggressive supporters assert it is. Given this, I suspect, for me it will likely always remain the small, sullen, and helpless man in khaki shorts. Quite an image, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

Why are we surprised to find that RSS or the ideology behind it has inspired Smjahuta and Mecca masjid blasts? Is it the first time? Didn't RSS inspire Mahatma Gandhi assasination? Didn't it instigate many communal riots in this country? RSS or the ideology behind it is nothing other than some misguided hindus aping Islam and Catholicism. It is self defeating in this times of democracy and globalisation. Rennaissance of Hinduism and Indian civilization need to depend on old indian values of non-agression, tolerance and pluralism. After centuries of humiliation, Gandhi brought an empire to its knees and has showed us the way. RSS's way, ie turning Hinduism into another version of semitic religions, is not the way.

sreejith said...

I agree with you completely that media-PR of sangh is very poor. Also sangh has to reach out to a large majority of indians, especially to a certain class in particular.

But at the same time it has got pretty good PR at grass root level. Have you ever thought, how it has got such a huge following and sympathizers with out even a single positive story in any of the indian media? Do you think all those followers are bigots and fools? How could an organisation overcome three bans and mud slung on it's face like gandhi murders? And still continue to grow coherently with out breaking up to smaller groups? Why is a big political party like BJP and it's powerful leaders respect relatively unknown and inexperienced, young sangh head like Mohan Bhagwat? You'll never find the answers for these questions by searching internet. Neither you can find the answers sitting at Newyork through media nor through social forums like twitter. But if you manage to find out the real answers for it, that day you'll start admiring sangh.

NB: Regarding the particular issue of terrorism, I have tweeted my opinions at!/sreejith_pa

Primary Red said...

Thank you for your comments. Am hoping to hear from many folks and will revert back with reaction once I read and absorb it all. Cheers

Anonymous said...

To know RSS, you should really go to shakas of RSS. Gandhiji visited one of the training camps of RSS and admired it. The real work of RSS is carried by many affiliate organisations (almost 37 in no). The social work carried out by RSS is briefly described in their annual statement laid before their ABPS (just like AGM). if you find that kindly go through that. They are not poor, but hopeless when it comes to PR and mind you, this organisation has grown manifoldly under the repressive govt for 79 out of its 85 yrs of existence.

Anonymous said...

does RSS have 2 win elections?

kaveri g said...

Well written. Luckily I knew nothing about the RSS as a kid & I had the good luck to spend my childhood viewing the world without prejudices.

Dinipc said...

RSS is an out-and-out grassroots organization and does not give a damn to anything but grassroots work. The RSS have figured out a solution to a problem (their understanding of it) and that solution is grassroots work.

Therefore, there is no way anyone can get a real insight into the RSS without witnessing, observing its grassroots work and workers from closer quarters.

Trying to understand the RSS from any other platform is simply equivalent to wasting your time.

Besides, the RSS cares a damn for English media portrayal of itself or its activities. It does care for its portrayal in the regional language media, which is far positive and objective.

I have personally witnessed the pressure that RSS office-bearers at all levels experience from people who feel that English media portrayal should also be corrected. The RSS agrees that image needs to be corrected, but considers the English Media's impact as inconsequential to its activities.

Let the Congress ban the RSS. They know that doing so will only help organizations like the RSS that are bathed in grassroots organization and mobilization.

Anonymous said...

It is a well propagated myth that RSS has bad PR (itself an example of its excellent if non-traditional image management). Unlike for e.g. the Congress, RSS and its offshoot organizations (including BJP) are quite image conscious, and pay a lot of attention to managing middle-class public perception. The reputation the RSS has acquired is despite this PR machinery. Once one understands this, everything else follows.

The only constituency RSS has given up on, or never tried to court, was the liberal-secular intellectual class, because of their deeply clashing civilizational outlooks. (Maybe the other was the seriously religious Hindu in the post-Gandhi assassination era, who looked down upon the khakhi-wallahs as impostors and usurpers).

One only needs to talk to any mid-level RSS ideologue off-the-record to know that their convictions are more in line with what critics say about them than what the recent crop of apologist bloggers try very hard to portray. There also are tomes of serious academic material on the RSS from an earlier time period, besides their own foundational texts, that give the lie to the apologist spin.

Anonymous said...

What supporters of RSS saying in its defence is not substantially different from what supporters of Islamic fundos in their defence. Both claim to be grass root organizations with elite and media conspiring against them. Indeed, both of them do some good work in some areas. In the recent floods in Pakistan, it was the islamic fundos who led the relief works there. Similarly RSS also does some good work. But in the end, we need to run a cost-benefit analysis. Both RSS and Islamic fundos cause far more harm to the society than the benefits they provide. Well establsihed patterns of involvement in terrorism and political violance are examples.

Anonymous said...

Perception is not an exprience.the latter is more authentic.if u dislike a thing u bcome -ve to it&unfair also.understanding is essential than looking at.Only 2 organisations covering india groom kids socially also r rashtraseva dal&rss my understandigs letus study &understand let us learn to learn & not jump

Anonymous said...

You exactly epitomize the kind of people who denounce RSS without trying to get more information about it.Why?Because it's easy.The natural justice is, while accusing RSS the media should give a chance to RSS to give their side of story.The smug and self-righteous arrogance of media cannot be blamed on RSS as poor PR.
You oversimplified the issue here.RSS exists in the context of history and time,It's not a reclusive organization retreated into woods.With tolerance and non-violence i don't know how anyone is going to fight jeahd and missionary conversions which has organizational and financial support from all across the world including govts.
RSS wants a strong India with equality of all faiths not a subservient Hindu faith capitulated to other faiths.First of all go and learn what monotheism is.To obviate the risk of being overrun by these aggressors Hindus need to be more fundamental in their thinking, not self-conceited glory.