People assume that RSS has a dictatorial style of functioning. But the truth is otherwise. The understanding about the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) remains confined and limited till today because their political and social philosophy didn't share any similarity with the ideologies of the political and social institutions and organisations in our country. Therefore people either assumed RSS to be dictatorial in its style of functioning, or, they believed, the organisation enjoys hero worship. But the truth has always been otherwise.
No Personality Cult
The founder of the RSS adopted a style that never had any place for hero-worship, and the organisation has never practiced personality cult. Although following the Hindu tradition, the organisation has had a 'guru.' The 'guru' in the organisation symbolizes the saffron flag, a symbol of sacrifice, purity and valour, before which the Swayamsevaks present their offering once a year, and does not refer to any person per say. There is no catch-phrase to eulogize any individual. The only slogan, which every Swayam-sevak voices at the end of the prayer, is, 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai'.
Secret of Discipline
People usually have curiosity about the strict discipline that they see in the RSS. When I was RSS spokesperson in Delhi (i.e. during 2000-2003) one foreign journalist asked me about the secret of discipline in the RSS. I thought for a moment and said, “That it might be because of the absence of any arrangement for resorting to any anti-disciplinary action.” I don't know whether that correspondent was satisfied or not but he did not prod me further. I myself wondered at my reply later. RSS has never taken any disciplinary action against anybody, in its eventful life of more than 88 years, and I don’t think anyone ever heard that a Sangh Swayamsevak ever committed any breach of discipline?
'Of' and 'Entire'
There is one more fundamental truth about the RSS. It’s an organisation of the entire society. Notice the words 'of' and 'entire'. It was not found to have an organised group or an organised tribe, within the society. The society is a complex existence. It works through manifold spheres of activity. Politics is one such sphere, but not the only one. Education, agriculture, trade, industries are other areas, in and through, which society functions. Organisation of the entire society means, organising all these spheres of social activity. So Swayamsevaks are allowed to work in different fields.
Initially, it was All India Vidyathi Parishad for the students. In 1951, Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherji met the then Sarsanghachalak Shri Guruji (i.e. Shri M. S. Golwalkar) and asked for some workers from the RSS. Pt. DeenDayal Upadhyay, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpeyee, Shri Nanaji Deshmukh, Shri Sundersingh Bhandari, Shri Kushabhau Thakre and some others were the Sangh Pracharaks who helped Dr Mukherji found the Bharateeya Jan Sangh. Another eminent Pracharak Shri Dattopant Thengdi wanted to work in the labour field, and he was allowed to do so. As regards the Dharma sphere, Shri Guruji himself took the initiative and founded the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), but he did not become its President or office-bearer.
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In some cases, when people with interest in social service started their own work for the social upliftment of the society, RSS supported them fully and had even sent their workers to help them. What RSS emphasises is that in which ever sphere their Swayamsevaks work, they should not forget that they are a part of cultural nation, and that their endeavour should always be to strengthen and glorify this cultural nationhood, in their sphere of activity.
Dharma and Religion
Hindu is not a religion like Islam or Christianity. Even Dr S Radhakrishnan has remarked that 'Hinduism is not a religion; it is a common-wealth of many religions.' But I want to add that Hindu is a name of Dharma; and Dharma has a very broad connotation. It is both spiritual as well as temporal. In English language, there is no adequate equivalent of Dharma. But we must understand that Dharma is not a religion, religion is a part of Dharma. Let us take the example of a few words. Is 'dharmashala' a religious school? Is 'dharmarth aspatal' a hospital for religions? Is 'dharmakanta' a balance to weigh religions? Similarly, Dharma is the basis of our culture; and culture means value-system. One essential quality of this value-system is its appreciation of plurality of faiths, thoughts, and beliefs. So Hinduism or Hindutva is not a religion, it is a vast umbrella that gives shelter to many faiths and beliefs.
Independent and Autonomous
I wonder, whether I have digressed a bit. Coming to the multiplicity of our social functioning I have to say that every field of activity infused by the RSS workers is independent and autonomous. These fields have their own constitutions, their own methods of funding, and their own methods of doing work, and RSS always remains available for guidance and deliberation.
The Moot Question
Now, to answer the moot question asked by Shri Hartosh Singh Bal, viz. “How can the personality cult that surrounds Narendra Modi in the BJP be reconciled with traditions and culture of the RSS?” I wish to state that, an election is a special occasion. It needs an icon to attract voters and Narendra Modi is that icon. And choosing him has proved fruitful. You can realize his impact from the fact that many eminent personalities have joined the BJP in recent days. From ex-commander-in-chief V K Singh, eminent police commissioner like Satpal Singh, to the renowned journalist like M J Akbar there are many others who have joined the BJP recently. The credit for this must ungrudgingly needs to be given to Narendra Modi. But let us understand that he knows the limitations of being an icon. He had been a RSS Pracharak and is aware of the fundamentals of the RSS culture. He is a talented person and knows the difference between what is eternal, (shaashwat), what an occasional (samayanukul) and what is exceptional (aapat-dharma).
-M G Vaidya (The writer is a senior journalist)