As I sit penning an article on the occasion of the completion of 90 years of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), first of all, I recall what Maula Ali had said once, “Generally, people are against something that they do not know.” I think this is the problem of the people outside the Sangh, including me, that they are not directly familiar with this organisation.
I got the first opportunity to come in direct contact with the people associated with the RSS and stay, share food, and hold discussions with them for around 18 months in 1975 when all of us were imprisoned during the Emergency. During this period, I spent almost 6 months in the Aligarh jail and after being transferred from there, I spent about one year in the Lucknow jail. It is said that if a person has been your neighbour, or you have had financial transactions with him or travelled on long-duration trips with him, you can form a right opinion about the nature and character of the person. From my experience, it also applies to those who have spent some time in detention.
About the Sangh, I had the same assumptions as held by its critics. But, by nature, I’m not afraid of the people holding a view contrary to mine. It was a compulsion to stay in the same barrack but I used to take part in the weekly meetings organised by Sangh companions, particularly the intellectual congregation, which used to be addressed by a speaker on a different theme each time. Apart from Swayamsevaks, other people were also invited to talk. I was invited to speak in such assemblies many a times. These gatherings were not only useful in spending time, but they also provided with an opportunity for intellectual churning.
I was president of the students' union at the Aligarh Muslim University and prior to that, I had won all the prizes including gold medals in the debate competitions. Coming from this background, I used to put several questions to my Sangh buddies. I have no hesitation in saying that instead of getting excited or provoked, they would try to provide me satisfactory answers. Even more heartening was the fact that these debates had absolutely no effect on the sweetness of the relations that we shared at the personal level. Particularly in Aligarh, I used to take my share of the cuisine coming from the homes of my Sangh mates.
The relationships that I formed with my Sangh peers in the jail got further matured and cemented in the successive years. This does not mean that our thoughts and ideologies became similar. But I had understood one thing, to a large extent: the differences lie more in the style of speech and vocabulary than in ideas and this is apparent from the statements of the leaders of RSS and inspired organisations.
I was intrigued as to why the followers of a tradition that construes God as “Sarva-bhuta-mah (great Lord of all contingent heings)” and “Sarva-bhūta-stham” (situated in all beings) should talk of only one tradition. The Sanatan tradition, especially the Upanishads, see divinity manifest in every living and non-living thing; then how can those representing the tradition, decide their area of work on the basis of their religious faith.
I had a lot of opportunities after 1980 when among Sangh leaders, I listened to the public speeches by Rajju Bhaiya, K S Sudarshan Ji, and Mohan Ji Bhagwat. I also had the opportunity to visit many RSS inspired
organisations, very often as a speaker. I was also invited to speak at a public event held in Nagpur on the occasion of Sangh’s national training camp a few years ago. Based on these experiences, I can say that the word Hindu or Hindutva used by the Sangh, connotes the Indian (Bharatiya) way of life. With the same objective, when I use the word Bharatiyata, people of the Sangh do not object to it at all.
I did not get the opportunity to listen to Shri Guruji Golwalkar but when I read an interview of him published in Organiser on August 26, 1972, It was a pleasant surprise. Though I hold a different opinion but the words that Sri Guru Ji chose to criticise those who advocate Uniform Civil Code (UCC) for the sake of bringing uniformity in India, reveal the deep faith of the Sangh in the pluralistic culture and tradition of India, which, of course is enough for removing several misconceptions spread about the Sangh.
The writer is a former Union Minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government