AT A TIME WHEN the signs and symbols of Hindu nationalism are ubiquitous in India, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is the hegemonic force in cultural and educational spheres, it is useful to analyse the RSS’s cultural output from an earlier moment when the Bharatiya Janata Party was not in power. RSS comics from the 1980s can throw light on both the continuities in Hindu-nationalist ideology over a forty-year period and the departures of the current dispensation from its traditional core of Hindutva ideology.
How did the RSS view itself in 1980? How did it represent and project itself to a newly literate “imagined community” of youth that it targeted for recruitment to the Hindutva cause? Reading RSS comics from the early 1980s allows us to decode the aspirational efforts of RSS cultural production at a time when its ideology was marginal to the national imagination.
These comic books—Dr. Hedgewar and Shri Guruji—also reflected a new sense of organisational self-confidence that enabled such forms of cultural expression and output in the first place. The RSS had acquired its first taste of political power and legitimacy through the Janata Party’s post-Emergency power-sharing arrangement, between 1977 and 1980. It was the main force behind the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, a political party formed in 1951 and a member of the Janata coalition. The comics were an early attempt by the RSS to mainstream its own leaders and include them in a nationalist pantheon at a time when secular, left-leaning historians tended to be dismissive about the RSS’s contributions to the independence movement. Modelled along the lines of Mahapurushon ki Kahaniyan—the Great Men Stories—of the Amar Chitra Katha comic-book form, the comics were designed to create a parallel iconography of the RSS leadership that could eventually supplant a secular nationalist iconography.