Suryanarayana Rao, fondly known as ‘Suruji’, in RSS circles shaped many people as a person and a karyakarta. S Gurumurthy an eminent economist and political commentator, shares his personal experiences about him
‘Suru’ as Shri K Suryanarayana Rao was affectionately called by his co-workers in Karnataka first and as ‘Suruji’ later by thousands of swayamsevaks, families and friends associated with the RSS in Tamil Nadu, is no more. Perhaps the oldest surviving pracharak of the RSS when he breathed his last on November 19, 2016, Suryanarayana Rao was not only giant in size and look — sporting an imposing physique, six feet tall with some 50’ chest — he was equally a giant in intellectual and moral stature, quality, character, commitment and hard work. And yet he was unbelievably gentle and compassionate. He was 92 when he breathed last. Each day, year and month of his life from his late teens when he joined the RSS till he got hospitalised weeks before he passed away, was dedicated to the man-making and nation-building mission of the RSS — turning thousands of youth into swayamsevaks and hundreds into full-time pracharaks of the RSS. He spent the first half of his life in the mission of the RSS in Karnataka and the next half to build the RSS in Tamil Nadu.
‘Suru’ in Karnataka
Born on August 20, 1924 at Mysore, Shri Suryanarayana Rao joined the RSS at Bengaluru just about the time he had joined college. After passing his honours in mathematics in 1946, he became pracharak of the Sangh. Suru was just 22 then. He was spotted by Shri Yadavarao Joshi, who was spotted by the founder of RSS, Dr Hedgewar. Shri Yadavarao and young Suru were an illustration of mutual love and respect. Young Suru virtually regarded Shri Yadavarao Joshi as his preceptor. The lethal combination of Yadava Rao and Suru spread the RSS shakhas in every nook and corner of Karnataka. The youthful Suru soon emerged as multidimensional personality — as a great organiser, a powerful thinker, a matchless communicator and a highly comforting team leader. His skills as an organiser and perseverance as a karyakarta soon attracted the attention of Pujya Shri Guruji, the then Sarsanghachalak of the RSS. He entrusted Suru with the responsibility of organising the first Karnataka State Vishwa Hindu Parishad Conference at Udipi. In this land mark conference, planned and executed under Shri Guruji’s guidance, the Dharmacharyas of various Sampradayas of the country passed the most historic resolution in the history of Hindu society calling for banishing untouchability for ever. The next stop of Suru was Tamil Nadu. Shri Balasaheb Deoras who was considered as a hard nut to crack had succeeded Pujya Shri Guruji, as the third Sarsanghachalak of the Sangh. Suru could and did crack the “hard nut” by his patience and perseverance.
“Suruji” in Tamil Nadu
In October 1970 Pujya Shri Guruji asked Suru to shift to Madras (as Chennai was known then) and work for building the RSS Shakhas in Tamil Nadu. What was the situation in Tamil Nadu then and what was the
background to Suru being asked to devote himself to the work of Tamil Nadu RSS? Tamil Nadu, which
witnessed the relentless rise of Dravidian separatism in the late 1950s and early 1960s, had almost had emotional disconnect with the rest of Bharat due to the ascension of the DMK to power at the State in 1967. Guruji saw the need for a long term strategy to counter this pernicious trend and he chose Suru for devising the long term growth of the RSS. And soon, Suru, became Suruji in Tamil Nadu.
I joined Sangh in October 1970 and immediately came in contact with Suruji and many all India leaders of the RSS. Suruji was the first one to spot me. From my very early days in Sangh, he personally guided me and encouraged me in all my endeavours. Under his leadership the RSS, which was seen as a northern phenomenon, began taking local roots and growing gradually. Understanding the sociology of Tamil Nadu, Suruji began working on building a new team of pracharaks and karyakartas to give a local flavour and orientation to the Sangh personality and reach the Shakhas to distant areas. One of his first acts was to acquire own building spacious enough for the State RSS in 1974 — which was considered unthinkable given the subsistence state of the RSS finances at that time. This at once built the confidence of the karyakartas. Breaking from the sequence one point must be mentioned at this stage. The short time in which Suruji learnt to speak and communicate in Tamil first and then give speeches — after being given the responsibility to lead the RSS in Tamil Nadu — surprised many. Soon he could communicate effectively in Tamil. He was a powerful orator in English. He was equally felicitous in Hindi and Marathi also. Despite his passion for the mission of RSS, he was objective and he could understand and appreciate dissenting views. Now back to the sequence.
Almost immediately after the Tamil Nadu State RSS office began functioning, came the Emergency imposed by late Smt Indira Gandhi and the ban on the RSS — the toughest political challenge that the RSS had to face after the first ban on it in 1948. Suruji, who went underground, began guiding and directing the underground movement against the Emergency. With the DMK, which was opposed to the Emergency in power and lasted in office till January 1976, Tamil Nadu became an important hub for leaders to meet and plan the underground movement including to set up secret presses to print literature in different languages for distribution to different parts of the nation. Suruji successfully organised the satyagraha against the Emergency in Tamil Nadu in which several hundreds of RSS workers participated and got arrested. Within months the Emergency was imposed and RSS was banned. Suruji told me to work underground to raise finances and help the families of the workers who had been arrested, and take care not to be arrested in Satyagraha against Emergency. His compassion was visible when he asked me not to get arrested as I had set up practice just then and every rupee that I earned was necessary for the large joint family of ours with over 20 members. That was the period when I came even more close to Suruji.
When the Meenakshipuram conversion took place in 1981, Suruji forthwith saw the national danger that it portended and asked me to prepare a complete concept and factual paper on how the conversion took place and the forces behind it. This paper became the major factor in informing not only the RSS leadership but also the BJP leaders. Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee personally came to Meenakshipuram. That made Meenakshipuram conversion a national issue about which even the then Prime Minister of India, Smt Indira Gandhi openly expressed concern. Here I saw how methodical Suruji was in designing strategies. He insisted on proper documentation as the starting point of any movement. While I can go on enumerating my experiences with him in this respect, for lack of space and time, I am stopping with the next big work of documenting the Ayodhya Movement in 1993 after the demolition of the disputed structure on December 6, 1992. Suruji, who had by then become known for his meticulous documentation, was entrusted with the responsibility of preparing a complete history of the Ayodhya Movement. Suruji called me to Delhi and asked me to work on it. The work was fascinating and challenging as it involved personal interview with all major personalities associated with the movement and taking their written responses and recordings. The result was a fantastic and unchallengeable document. The BJP later adopted it and brought it out as the White Paper on the Ayodhya Movement to counter the White Paper brought out by the Narasimha Rao Government earlier which had put out the Government version of the Ayodhya issue. The Hindustan Times, commenting on the two White Papers, wrote that the BJP White Paper was far more factual and credible as compared to the government document. It was Suruji who laid the foundation for the White Paper that is probably only historic record of the great movement.
Work till last breath
The responsibilities Suruji handled in Sangh did not strictly conform to his position in the hierarchy. He became the Prant Pracharak of Tamil Nadu in
1971 the responsibility which he held till 1984 when he anointed his successors—two young men Shanmuganathan and L Ganesan as Pranth Pracharak and deputy respectively. Suruji became the Kshetra Pracharak (Zonal Organiser) for the Southern states. In 1990 he became the All India Seva Pramukh. Before completing 75 in the year 1999, he wrote the Sangh leadership that he would like to be relieved from leadership responsibilities and more youthful workers should be brought into positions. This became the pattern in RSS later. After he relinquished his position he continued as the central team member of Sangh till almost couple of years before he passed away. Despite a serious accident two decades back when he almost lost his life and two serious operations in hip and leg, which hampered his movement and made him seek support to travel and walk, he never slackened his efforts. He attended every all India meets, went to every Sangh Siksha Varga in South India till last year. He travelled long distances even for small programmes — despite the fact that his body was increasingly weakening and giving up. Even weeks before he was hospitalised he was attending programmes. He was always available for guidance to those who sought them.
He shaped me as a person and as a karyakarta. Encouraged me to think originally and with outsider’s
perspective about Sangh and its
activities and think of how to present its work to them. He inspired me to undertake multiple initiatives and
counselled and guided me in times of need. Gave me helping hand when I felt low. He was undoubtedly one of the most powerful influences in my life. For much of what I am I owe it to him.
An example of how he guided me
I once asked him how to overcome jealousy towards another karyakarta. He told me that this requires some preparation and training. He said: first you must recognise that he has also come forward to work for the nation like you. This will remove your negativity to him and create healthy respect for him in your mind. Next you must develop the habit of appreciating him for a good thing he does or a good speech he makes. This will reduce and gradually remove your tendency to be jealous. This single piece of advice enabled me overcome negativity to fellow workers and jealousy. This helped me to promote others and see their rise, far beyond and above me, with a sense of sense of fulfilment. This single piece of advice changed my life completely.
I will miss him most. Great souls like him are rare — and rarer these days.