RSS 3.0

Mohan Bhagwat brings a resurgent Sangh to the cusp of political power

Mohd Zakir / Hindustan Times / Getty Images
01 May, 2014


IN EARLY AUGUST LAST YEAR, a cohort of journalists gathered in Kolkata for a two-day seminar on Islamic fundamentalism convened by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the world’s largest non-political voluntary organisation and the eighty-eight-year-old bedrock of Hindu nationalism in India. This was the first time the RSS, also known as the Sangh, had held such a workshop—one in a series of four, aimed specifically at journalists, on issues of significance to the organisation, including politics in Jammu and Kashmir, scheduled castes, and development. Only ideological devotees were allowed in. According to the RSS’s annual report, the four events—the others were in Delhi, Bangalore, and Ahmedabad—drew 220 participants from across the country.

In Kolkata, the RSS’s prachar pramukh, or head of promotion, and the chief organiser of the event, Manmohan Vaidya, laid out the objective: to help journalists understand the nuances of the RSS’s position so they could better project the Hindu nationalist point of view. The participants were instructed that the seminar was not to be reported on, or talked about outside RSS circles. “During some sessions, we were asked to let it go in one ear and out the other,” a journalist and swayamsevak, or RSS volunteer, who works for a regional newspaper, told me.

At one point, Shrirang Godbole, an endocrinologist from Maharashtra who serves as an Islam pundit within the Sangh, explained that the Muslim community is not monolithic, but is riven by divisions just like Hindus are by caste. He then expounded on how even “benign” sects such as Sufism have a violent past. “Some of our leaders pay homage to Sufi saints without proper understanding of history,” Godbole told them, as a slide showing the BJP leader LK Advani at the dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan, popped up on a screen. The swayamsevak-journalist said it generated a lot of laughter—even from Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS sarsanghchalak, or supreme commander, who was present throughout the workshop.