On 26 April, over a month into the nationwide lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic, Mohan Bhagwat, the sarsanghchalak—supreme leader—of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, delivered an address titled “Current Situation and Our Role.” The address was live streamed on the Sangh’s YouTube channel and on Facebook Live. Several mainstream news channels also chose to telecast live almost the entirety of Bhagwat’s 42-minute speech. The speech, with the tenor of a discourse, urged the RSS’s swayamsevaks, or voluntary members, to do “sewa”—service—for the people while the country was under the lockdown.
Bhagwat said the swayamsevaks should help those in need as it is for the “protection of their sacred community and their overall development.” He said that the “basis of this sewa” should be a “sense of belongingness” with the community. Dotted with rambling philosophical musings over a moral crisis gripping the world, the speech, delivered in chaste Hindi, was not limited to the RSS’s members. Bhagwat sought to address the entire citizenry and explain why the RSS believes in sewa—so as to gather “like-minded allies.” He suggested that the process of asking people to adopt a new way of life in context of COVID-19 was in a way “part of an ongoing exercise of rebuilding the nation.” Bhagwat advocated “sewa” as the possible means to achieve that vision of revival.
In an ongoing series, The Caravan tracked the RSS’s relief interventions since the beginning of the lockdown. The first report explored how sewa was, and is employed by the RSS as a stratagem, in the aftermath of a disaster or as a social project, to win the goodwill of people and make them favourable towards the organisation which was banned thrice in its 95-year history. The second report examined the role of NGOs, affiliated with the RSS, during the ongoing pandemic, and the government resources and funding utilised by them.