It was at two Lutyen’s Delhi parties that my interactions with the RSS came full circle for me. Let me begin with the second one, from just a few weeks ago, an acquaintance sidled up to me and asked with some curiosity about the book I was writing on the Sangh (it had been reported in some newspaper). I confirmed the news. That was when the interest turned to incredulity tinged with a need for confidentiality, closing in on me, the person leaned in and asked, “I know you can”t speak about the book….but how did you get involved with ‘them’?”. It’s not the first time, I have been “assaulted” by this curiosity, the underlining judgment and even censure. I could have spoken of the book if the person had asked, the Sangh is not a ‘secret society’, and I am no person with a secret password. Furthermore, I didn”t know if the latter part of the query was an analysis of me or the RSS. I think it was of both. I have lived in a few countries, in the Bible Belt (Southern USA), in a Muslim majority country and a Buddhist majority country. I have been a minority because of the colour of my skin. But never have I felt so singled out, so identified by a colour, ‘saffron’ as I have in my own country. A news article spoke of a festival I participated in, and the headline shouted ‘saffron artists’ – it was amusing because there was no talk of colour palates or ideology at the festival!
The other Lutyen’s party came earlier in my interactions with the Sangh. I was in the midst of self-identified liberals and contributed to a conversation on Dinanath Batra, someone I had recently spoken to for an article, and felt qualified to speak on since no one else there had ever met him except through news reports. I was not taking sides but mentioned his long association with the teaching profession and some very practical and implementable ideas he had for improving the quality of teaching in government schools. Familiar with the public school system in the US, I thought his ideas would make a difference in bringing government schools to the level of private schools. One ‘liberal’ started shouting at me, in the midst of the party. I was appalled by the lack of courtesy but more so, because I had taken a far more adversarial approach when I had spoken to Dinanath Batra and had only received polite and engaged responses. It pushed me into asking, just who was the liberal?My interactions in the process of writing my book have been diverse and in depth. I have travelled across the country, to Kerala, Nagpur, Chhattisgarh and so on, I have arranged meetings with young pracharaks, who have no cell phone, reminding me once again how much easier it is to find/meet someone for the first time in unusual places when one can keep exchanging location information. And I have introduced older ones to friends from different walks of life who never quite understand how one can dedicate their whole life to the country with no reward or power in return.
The RSS is not a monolith, in its individuals I have found a diversity of interests and nature. Yes, there is an underlying selflessness – a devotion to the country that unites them and prompts them to action. Rarely if ever has religion been discussed, I find this type of identity politics discussed too often amongst the ‘intellectuals’ who ostensibly seek to unite by only speaking of divisions and what separate us. In the Sangh, what is spoken of most is the country, that concern sometimes leads some to opposing viewpoints, it is not unusual. There is no diktat to think one way or the other. There is great freedom in thinking differently, alternatively even. But it is done with respect, not for one upmanship but to clarify, especially when other priorities overwhelm.
And there is humour. Where else will you experience the instant familial affinity that prompts you to offer someone as senior and respected as Dattaji a lift in your little car because the car meant for him has been mistakenly taken by others, and another is yet to be arranged? In which organisation would the senior most attendee at an event when facing such a situation respond to it with humour and patience? Even accepting a humble lift only to be informed (just in time) that the “odd even” scheme excludes lone women drivers but applies in full measure to a car with more than one passenger! These human interactions, this lack of artifice, are what endear the Sangh to someone like me who has travelled this path of high personages and observed them closely. It is this humanity and humility that is the essence of the Sangh and its ability to embrace diversity in different ways, no matter who you are. For there is but one faith and it makes us all equal and that is the love for the nation – Bharat Mata.
The writer is a screen writer and columnist