Ram Madhav
May 25, 2024

The Kite-Flying about RSS

(The article was originally published in Indian Express on May 25, 2024 as a part of Dr Madhav’s column titled ‘Ram Rajya’. Views expressed are personal.)

Buddhists and Hindus recently celebrated Buddha Purnima, birth anniversary of the great spiritual leader and social reformer born some three millennia ago. “Imagine there were a man struck by an arrow that was smeared thickly with poison”, said Buddha, “the man might not say ‘I will not draw out this arrow so long as I do not know whether the man by whom I was struck was a Brahmin or a Kshatriya or a Vaishya or a Shudra, or whether he was black, brown or light-skinned”. Buddha was making the point that when in a battle for a higher cause, such enquiries are superfluous and not relevant “to the spiritual life”.

When there is a higher purpose in life, smaller questions become irrelevant. That is how an average RSS activist reacts when confronted with the kind of debates happening today. It is customary for political parties and media in the country and abroad to drag the RSS into irrelevant debates every time elections occur. A new myth has now been brought into circulation in this election that not all is well between the BJP and the RSS. “Sangh aur BJP me ghamasan” – screamed a video post on social media. “BJP decided to cut its umbilical card” – declared an article in an online publication.

All this gossip and kite-flying may be a part of political expediency. But the RSS decided long ago after prudent consideration that as an organisation committed to building social unity it should keep a distance from day-to-day, and especially electoral, politics. Art 4 (B) of the constitution of the RSS categorically states that “the Sangh, as such, has no politics”. It does allow swayamsevaks to join any political party “except such parties as believe in or resort to violent or secret methods”.

There were occasions in the past when efforts were made from within and without to pull the RSS into active politics. First such attempt was made by Sardar Patel in the wake of the controversy over Gandhi murder. In a letter to the RSS chief M S Golwalkar on September 11, 1948, Patel suggested that “in the delicate hour there is no place for party conflicts and old quarrels. I am thoroughly convinced that the RSS men can carry on their patriotic endeavour only by joining the Congress”. When Golwalkar did not yield, he was arrested on November 15 and flown to a jail in Nagpur.

Patel continued his efforts and the Congress Working Committee ruled on October 7, 1949, that the RSS members will be permitted to join Congress Party. Incensed Jawahar Lal Nehru got it amended to state that the RSS members can enter Congress only upon relinquishing their membership of the organisation. As the RSS influence grew, there was a worry in the Congress that it might either don a political avatar or support another party.

But the RSS had never felt the need for deviating from its constitutional position of staying away from active politics. Not that there was no debate over it within, especially after the illegitimate efforts to oppress it using Gandhi’s murder as an excuse. Golwalkar himself had alluded to it once, saying that “swayamsevaks can, if they like, convert the Sangh into a political body. That is the democratic way. I am not a dictator. Personally, I am outside politics”.

When some RSS members like Balraj Madhok encouraged Shyama Prasad Mukharjee to start Bharatiya Jana Sangh in 1951, Golwalkar agreed to send some 200 members of the organisation to work in that party but insisted on keeping the RSS independent of it. In the early days, the RSS and Jana Sangh used to be compared to the two rails of a railway track that will never meet but can never go apart either.

Over the last more than seven decades, this relationship has seen multiple phases. There were occasional disagreements, like when Gandhian Socialism became the leitmotif of the BJP, with some in RSS insisting that the organisation was “not wedded to any political party”. But largely the RSS stayed away from active politics.

There were exceptions twice though. The first was in 1977 when the nation’s democracy was to be saved from the draconian dictatorship of Indira Gandhi during the emergency. The RSS too faced a ban for the second time. The RSS cadre had actively canvassed for the newly formed Janata Party. After that historic responsibility was delivered, the RSS returned to its normal chores and didn’t bother to turn political in spite of the fact that the BJP was formed in 1980 solely on the question of some Janata Party leaders objecting to others like Vajpayee and Advani continuing their association with the RSS. Its aloofness prompted some to speculate that the RSS had supported the Congress in 1984 elections resulting in a disastrous performance by BJP. While the speculation was wrong, it was a fact that the organisation didn’t entertain any idea of active participation during that election.

The second exception was in 2014 when the RSS leadership felt the need to play an active role in ensuring the defeat of forces that were destroying the national fabric through corruption and blatant minorityism. In the process, they even sought to create a false terror equivalent inventing the bogey of “Hindu Terror”. Once those forces were defeated, the RSS returned to its nation-building activity.

Having said it, it may also be pertinent to point out that the RSS doesn’t consider politics as unimportant or untouchable. As a socio-cultural organisation, it views politics as an integral part of the social life of this nation. It believes that the imperative for a good society is to have good politics. Motivating people towards building good politics and good governance using electoral and other means is thus very much a part of the RSS work.

“But why should people drag us into politics? We are happy with them as politicians and ourselves as swayamsevaks” – Golwalkar once said, summing up the RSS’ sentimental reticence for politics.

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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