The impact of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to demonetise high-value currency notes on 8 November 2016 was not limited to just the economy. It also dealt a fatal blow to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s oldest shakha—the basic unit of its organisational structure that conducts physical exercises and indoctrination sessions—in north India. But unlike India’s economy, which spluttered in the immediate aftermath of the note ban, it took almost two years for this RSS shakha to crumble under the pressure of the centre’s unprecedented decision.
Varanasi, also known as Kashi or Benares, was the first place in the Hindi belt where the RSS, originally a Nagpur-centric body, started its operations. The Dhanathaneshwar shakha, located in the Pakka Mahal area of Varanasi—Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency—was established eight decades ago, under the guidance of GD Savarkar, one of the co-founders of the RSS and the elder brother of Hindutva ideologue VD Savarkar. Set up in the late 1930s, the shakha has experienced several ups and downs and even survived the three bans imposed on the Hindu supremacist organisation: in 1948, after the assassination of Gandhi; in the mid-1970s, during the Emergency; in 1992, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
For some time after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s landslide victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, this shakha, like most others in north and west India, benefitted from the RSS’s synchronised political acceleration. But the story changed after Modi implemented demonetisation, leaving shop-owners and small businessmen—traditional supporters of the RSS—gasping for breath.
Kamal Narayan Mishra, who is the karyavah, or officer in-charge, of the shakha, told me, “As far as I remember, the shakha always had two chapters—the morning shakha and the evening shakha. The evening shakha stopped functioning about a year back. The morning shakha survived for some more time. But it kept dwindling because of the lack of swayamsevaks. Now it is rarely held.”
Mishra, a staunch supporter of Modi, started attending the shakha sometime in the mid-1990s. In March this year, he was appointed as its karyavah. “When I took over as karyavah, the evening shakha had already stopped and the morning shakha had started becoming irregular. Now the situation is such that it is not held for weeks together,” Mishra said. “Swayamsevaks attending this shakha mostly belong to local business families, and they seem to have lost interest in it,” he added.