31 December 2007

RSS, Part 5

This post was prompted by questions about the Sangh from several friends. I had tried to describe the RSS and its work earlier. But it looks like further elaboration is needed.

The basic question that people have is "What is the RSS?" or "What does the RSS do?". The answer is that the RSS runs shakhas. The RSS is nothing but the sum total of its shakhas. The RSS begins with the shakha, and ends with the shakha. Other than the shakha, there is nothing more to the RSS. This centrality of the shakha is the key to understanding the Sangh. It is also the biggest stumbling block. Outsiders have great difficulty in understanding how such a vast and influential organisation can be just about a bunch of boys/men exercising and playing in a field. Indeed it is just that.

Another stumbling block in understanding the RSS is labels. The two labels most commonly (mis)used for the RSS are 'political' and 'religious'. The first label is completely wrong. The RSS is NOT a political organisation. It does not do any political work. The confusion is mainly due to the existence of the BJP. The BJP may have swayamsevaks as members, but is a separate organisation. The second label is also problematic. The response to it depends on the speaker’s understanding of Hinduism (since the 'religion' meant here is Hinduism). If by Hinduism he means our inclusive way of life, our culture and our civilisation, he is correct. But the word 'religion' typically means a narrow, rigid and exclusive dogma – and hence is best avoided.

However labels cannot be done away with completely. Especially in this age of soundbites. So what labels would be right for the RSS? Sometimes the RSS is described as a 'social' and/or 'cultural' organisation. These are better than the previous two labels. But they are too general. Another word is 'nationalist' which is absolutely correct, but gives no hint of exactly what the organisation does. The RSS's own leaders have described its mission as 'character building' or 'man making'. So these terms can be used as labels for the RSS. This 'man making' is not an end in itself, but the means to an end – the end being a strong nation. Hence the RSS can best be described as a 'nation-building' organisation.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

This blog leads a reader to believe that RSS is all about "men" or "boys". Is there room for women to play a role in RSS?

Secondly, is there an RSS-equivalent organisation is an economically developed nation like the US or UK? I am curious to know how they position themselves or communicate to the world about their mission / goals.

Psomax said...

1. We have a separate organisation for women: Rashtriya Sevika Samiti. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashtriya_Sevika_Samiti

2. The overseas wing of the RSS is the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh. See http://www.hssus.org

Anonymous said...

I am also SS. I disagree that the RSS is all about Shakhas only. The RSS is an ideology. The Shakha is the tool that enables the dissemination of this ideology. The ideology is Hindu Cultural Nationalism. That is what makes the RSS, and the Shakhas are its operational unit. It is true that the shakha is easily the most distinctive feature of the RSS, but to say that RSS is shakhas alone is not quite accurate.

To me, it appears that shakha is one of the many ways to bring people together weekly/daily. Every large organization has such a scheme. The shakha is one such scheme. It is the ideology that makes an organization, not the means by which it gets its members together.

Saying RSS is all shakhas is like saying Republican party is all hotels (which is where they meet).


PS: This is also the answer given to me by a person who is with RSS for over 30 years. I am relatively new.

Indian said...

The RSS's ultimate goal is to take India to the pinnacle of glory (param vaibhav). It believes this can be achieved only by training people (vyakti nirmaan) and organising society (samaaj sanghatan), which in turn are best achieved through the shakha.

Hindutva is our ideology. The shakha is what we actually do.