Of Saffron and the Sangha

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Manmohan Vaidya and Dattatreya Hosabale in conversation with Pragya Tiwari

 

Prachi Bhagwat, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger

 

Since its inception in 1925, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been banned four times. Yet, it enjoys the support of millions of Indians and occupies the position of the ‘largest voluntary organisation in the world.’ However, ‘there is little in depth material on its history and the work that it does.’ It was for these reasons that journalist Pragya Tiwari was intrigued to pursue the Sangh, and try to fill some of the many gaps in the collective knowledge about it.

The session was a rare occasion in more ways than one. The workings of the RSS are largely shrouded in mystery, as is its guiding ideology. The presence of two of its most senior leaders at the Jaipur Literature Festival, Manmohan Vaidya and Dattatreya Hosabale, opened up a democratic space for people to question the Sangh’s role at large.

Bunch of Thoughts, authored by the Sangh’s second and most influential head, M.S. Golwalkar, is one of the most contested pieces of literature. Tiwari questioned the two leaders about whether the text still provided the Sangh with its guiding principles, to which Vaidya replied that Golwalkar did not write the book as a representative of the Sangh. According to him, the interview that Golwalkar gave to Islamic scholar Saifuddin Jeelani in 1972, contained the most comprehensive version of the Sangh’s ideology.

Tiwari noted that both the RSS prayer and the oath incorporate a pledge to the Hindu Rashtra. What is the ideal ‘Hindu Rashtra,’ and how is the present situation different from the ideal that it strives to achieve, in the RSS’s opinion? Vaidya believes that people have strayed from the guiding principles of ‘Hindutva,’ which he defined as a ‘way of life,’ and ‘not a religion.’ He postulated that it is because ‘people have been led astray’, that there is growing intolerance in the nation. Referring to Rabindranath Tagore’s views on multiculturalism, Vaidya stated that the Sangh believes in ‘recognising unity in diversity, and establishing unity in variety,’ He clarified that the Sangh does not ‘endorse uniformity,’citing Golwalkar’s famous statement, ‘ingrained in this soil is the love of all religions.’

In response to Vaidya’s repeated emphasis on a common national identity, Tiwari asked what nationalism meant in the dictionary of the Sangh. According to Vaidya, the western concept of the nation-state is different from the Indian concept of ‘rashtra’. ‘The rashtra is synonymous with the people’. Similarly, secularism is another concept he believes to be alien to the Indian ethos, so ‘It was unnecessary to include the word in the constitution.’

While the Sangh’s work extends to a plethora of areas, the recent installation of RSS-affiliated persons in institutions such as the Indian Council of Historical Research, has raised questions about its influence in matters of education. Hosabale believes that ‘a distorted version of history is being taught in classrooms.’ He claimed that ‘the RSS has not just faced a physical onslaught’ (referring to Vaidya’s earlier mention of 20 RSS workers who had been killed in the last year in Kerala), but there has also been an ‘intellectual and academic untouchability practised by ‘Left-liberals’ against the Sangh.’

Both Vaidya and Hosabale clarified that the Sangh holds any form of violence as condemnable. They also expressed their discomfort with what they consider unnecessary ‘minority-ism’ and observed that no community needs to be treated specially. They declared their support for caste-based reservations but felt that we must work towards obviating the need for reservations at all. ‘Ambedkar also felt this way,’ added Hosabale.

Right at the inception of the Sangh, RSS founder KB Hedgewar expressed that once the Sangh had achieved its ideal rashtra, it was important that it be disbanded. ‘How far are we from that day and will the Sangh actually be disbanded?’ asked Tiwari. The Sangh will consider its work done when Indian society is ‘strong enough, when the dependence on the government decreases and the nation can stand up to any challenge posed to it from any corner of the world,’ concluded Hosabale.

 

Photo Credit: Chetan Singh Gill

 

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