The Sangh Parivar has an ever-expanding periphery now: organisations set up with "RSS inspiration" by Sangh volunteers.
Muslim men and women converged here days back to celebrate the memory of former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, an “ideal, nationalist Muslim.” The function — in which Muslim children came dressed as emperor Ashok, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, etc. — saw RSS functionary Indresh Kumar as chief guest. The Muslim Rashtriya Manch, of which Mr. Kumar is mentor, organised the programme.
Barely a month before this, a sewing centre to train girls came up at a village close to Kothputli in Rajasthan. Eighteen girls have already enrolled there. It is named after the Delhi-based founder Ram Swarup Agrawal’s father. This is the 17th project started by Ganga Sewa Sansthan, founded by Anil Gupta, the zilla sanghchalak of Keshavpuram in Delhi. The aim of the organisation: connecting people to their ancestral villages, where they sponsor an employment-generating activity named after an ancestor.
These disparate activities are part of the latest expansion in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s zone of influence, 90 years after it was founded in 1925 on Vijaydasami day.
The Sangh Parivar has an ever-expanding periphery now: organisations set up with “RSS inspiration” by Sangh volunteers. Many such organisations have mushroomed in the last two decades, and they have no formal Sangh link except the founder.
This loose Sangh constellation is the latest variant of the wider RSS universe, which began with the setting up of branches (shakhas) in 1925.
“During the lifetime of our first RSS chief Dr. K.B. Hedgewar, shakhas came up across India. The Sangh was about shakhas, which were directed at person-building [vyakti nirman] and organising Hindus [Sangathan],” said an RSS functionary. “The aim was to secure the glory of Hindu Rashtra.”
The shakhas, numbering about 51,000 now, have physical exercises and ideological discourses, which connect the volunteer to Hindu traditions, extolling “Hindu heroes.”
Expanding reach
In the next phase of its expansion from close to the 1940s, the RSS began to penetrate directly into various segments of society, like students, tribals, workers, farmers, and Hindu religious orders. This expansion created the Sangh family [parivar] of allied organisations.
Women also became a “segment” in this sense, with the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti being founded on RSS lines by Lakshmibai Kelkar in 1936.
Many other affiliates came up: the ABVP among university students, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh among workers, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram for spreading the Sangh worldview among tribals, and many others.
The Bharatiya Jana Sangh came up as a political front in 1951. When the apolitical RSS was banned after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, it felt the need for a political body to speak on its behalf.
The RSS got wide legitimacy for its support to Jaya Prakash Narayan’s movement against Indira Gandhi’s regime in the 1970s. The Sangh entered the popular imagination on a civil libertarian plank for the first time. The Jana Sangh dissolved itself into the Janata Party and tasted power in 1977. Problems surfaced on the issue of “dual membership” — on whether Janata Party leaders like A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani should be RSS volunteers too — and the Janata Party split. The BJP came up as the former Jana Sangh’s successor in 1980.
From the Emergency — say RSS functionaries — began the era of the RSS’ mass movements. The most prominent were the Ram Janmabhoomi movement for a Ram temple at Ayodhya in the late 1980s and early 1990s; the Ram Sethu campaign and the Vishwa Mangal Gou Gram Yatra for cow protection in the late 2000s.