The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) constitution, the existence and full details of which are not well known, even to many volunteers, states that it is “aloof from politics and devoted to social and cultural fields only”.
But the rapid growth of affiliated groups, penetrating almost all areas of society, has prompted the RSS to take an interest in influencing politics and government decision-making, says a new book.
In their soon-to-be released ‘RSS: A View to the Inside’, authors Walter K Andersen and Shridhar D Damle have concentrated on the evolution of the Sangh’s world view and organisation; how it made a conscious effort to boost the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) electoral fortunes ahead of the crucial 2014 Lok Sabha elections; and the convergence and divergence with the government since then.
The fact that the RSS has a constitution is known to its leaders and close observers, and parts of it have appeared in a few books about the Sangh.
But the organisation has largely remained ambivalent about it, and its full text is often hard to find.
A senior functionary told Hindustan Times that despite being drafted in 1949, “not many within the organisation know the contents of the constitution” because it is “not publicised much”.
The body was compelled to write its constitution after it was first banned following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.
According to the authors, the RSS conducted protracted negotiations with then home minister Vallabhbhai Patel to lift the ban in 1949.
Among other things, it pledged to prepare a written constitution, which would explicitly state that the RSS would not involve itself in political activities and the organisation’s activities would be devoted entirely to cultural work.
The preamble of the RSS constitution states that owing to the “disintegrated condition of the country, it was considered necessary to have an organisation, to eradicate the fissiparous tendencies arising from diversities of sect, faith, caste and creed and from political, economic, linguistic and provincial differences, amongst Hindus; and to make them realise the greatness of their past.”
The RSS constitution states that Swayamsevaks are free, as individuals, to join any party, institution, or front, political or otherwise, except such parties, institutions, or fronts which subscribe to or believe in extra-national loyalties.
On why little is known about RSS’s constitution, Andersen said: “There is an ambivalence regarding the RSS constitution and most members have not read it. We had some effort to get a copy of the current 1972 constitution. As to why it is of such ambivalence within RSS, I think a major reason is that RSS operates on a face-to-face basis, and not through a set of written rules.”
Even as RSS has steadfastly refused to admit its role in electoral politics, the book suggests that 2014 was a significant marker in its history. It says just as in 1977 the Sangh had thrown its weight behind the Janata Party (a group of parties including the Jana Sangh) to take on the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, it took a similar decision to oust the Congress from power in 2014.
“A senior BJP figure told us that on only two occasions has RSS fully engaged in parliamentary elections: once in 1977 for the Janata Party and then again in 2014 for the BJP. This does not mean that the RSS has not been involved in other elections, but those two elections were the only ones in which it permitted its pracharaks and other high-level officials to take part in the campaigns,” the book says.
The book dwells on the Sangh’s views on issues such as the Ram temple; foreign policy, particularly China; education; the BJP tying up with the People’s Democratic Party to form a government in Jammu and Kashmir and its collapse; campaigns on cow protection and ghar wapsi; and economic policy, especially labour reforms and foreign investment. It argues that the Sangh plays the role of a mediator between its different affiliates, which include the BJP and the specific organisations which may be at the forefront of certain campaigns.
Three decades ago, Andersen and Damle co-wrote ‘The Brotherhood In Saffron: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Revivalism’, widely considered the most authoritative book on the organisation.
On the issue of the constitution, Alok Kumar the international working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an affiliate of RSS, said Sangh does not focus much on the constitution because it is “run like a family and on trust.”
“We adhere to it and hold elections regularly (as is prescribed in the constitution), but RSS has grown organically. You will be surprised to know that the name of RSS and the importance of the flag were not discussed in the meeting where it was founded,” he said.
BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Rakesh Sinha said the RSS organisation has always been based on its own constitution.
“The critics of RSS have reduced themselves to propagandists and use selective facts to perpetuate their narrative that RSS is undemocratic and anti minorities. RSS, like Britain, which had in the past an unwritten constitution, evolved conventions and rules. Since late ’40s, it has a written constitution which has been mentioned even by critics like DR Goyal, but contemporary critics deliberately show ignorance.”
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