It has long been acknowledged that the best way to know the RSS (or the National Volunteer Organisation) is to join it. Perhaps this is why there is very little literature on how the RSS functions. This vacuum has been skilfully filled by the author through his book, RSS 360° - Demystifying Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
There is generally a set format for writing about organisations, especially national level ones such as the RSS. Ratan Sharda has not, however, followed the beaten path. The intent behind his book is to lift the alleged veil of secrecy from the organisation. He presents a comprehensive view of the Sangh's philosophy, its workings and its humungous reach through various affiliate organisations across India, in a simple and easy flowing manner.
Born in Mumbai in December 1954, he graduated from St. Xavier's College Mumbai, and went on to complete his post-graduation from Mumbai University in 1982. Sharda also holds a Diploma in Textile Chemistry, and has had varied business experiences.
Ratan Sharda is a well-known face on TV panels as commentator on national issues. As a political analyst and columnist, he contributes to the Organiser, Newbharati and merinews.com, The Print among other magazines and newzines.
`But then I told myself, if after three decades of battling the intellectual tyranny of the Left and braving out blatant forms of victimization at their hands, without the backing of any organization or godfather, it is imperative to spit it out this fear once and for all.
I must confess that despite avoiding the Leftist camp, I had imbibed some of the popular prejudices against the RSS, which have been made politically so fashionable that most people catch them like a virus. My early exposure to Sangh was two-fold:
1) Accounts of my father who narrowly escaped death at the hands of Jinnah's jehadis at the time of Partition. Like countless others, he had been forced to migrate as a penniless refugee from Lahore to Delhi, following the massacres of 1947. To the end of his life, he never tired of narrating how narrowly he had escaped death and how RSS workers had saved countless Hindu refugees at the risk of their own lives.
2) Through neighbours who were RSS workers. They invariably turned out to be the most helpful in times of a crisis in the neighbourhood or mohalla.
And yet, I had never closely interacted with or studied the RSS. However, given my profession as an academic, I could not escape reading hate tracts against the RSS by Leftists. Since Leftist writings on the Sangh Parivar are so loaded with prejudice and ill-founded critiques, I instinctively developed a healthy mistrust of their assessment of RSS. That is why I am glad Ratan Sharda has provided us a much-needed insider's account of the Sangh. The ideals that motivated its formation, its core organisational principles, its structure, and the range of activities it undertakes, along with brief profiles of its founding fathers as well as subsequent heads of the RSS.
The original title of the book, Secrets of RSS, is suitably tantalising because its ideological opponents have projected it as a sinister secret cult. The subtitle in smaller print-Demystifying the Sangh'-explains the real purpose of the book, to demonstrate through verifiable evidence that the RSS has no secrets. To quote Guru Golwalkar, 'There are only two secrets of our work. First is that there is no secret. And second is Kabaddi. ' (p.95) This simple, terse sentence jolts one to be prepared for a series of surprises that challenge many of the negative stereotypes about the Sangh put into circulation by the political adversaries of the RSS.
Sharda's book is not a scholarly treatise on the RSS. Nor is it an autobiographical account, except for stray references scattered across the book to his own involvement in the Sangh right from his childhood. It is, however, an honest attempt to give the uninformed a realistic sense of its ideology, organisational structure, long-term vision and on- the ground engagements.
Ratan Sharda tells us that the Shakha is the core organisational strength of the RSS, `...the powerhouse that energises and powers ordinary people to carry out extraordinary feats and create pan India organisations.' (p.97) It is through them that the RSS has created hundreds of thousands of dedicated volunteers, called swayamsevaks (voluntary workers), who form the backbone of the organisation. For example, What began as a plan to set up a 1,000 social service projects during Dr Hedgewar's birth centenary in 1989, has today grown to over 170 thousand social service projects. The little that one knows about them indicate that their quality varies considerably and some remain a fledgling effort, while others have grown into full-fledged, pan India organisations.
Unlike volunteers of foreign funded NGOs who are paid handsome salaries and perks, RSS swayamsevaks not only work without any remuneration, in fact they are also expected to dip into their own pockets and raise funds locally as and when required for the activities of the organisation.
What binds them together is not loyalty to any cult figure or supreme leader, but a fierce commitment to nation building, loyalty to Mother India and to reviving/nurturing its civilisational values, which it sums up in the term, Hindutva'. One of the obsessive concerns of the RSS is to achieve 'Hindu Unity', a term that includes all faith groups with Indic roots. This is because the RSS is convinced that India suffered repeated enslavement by foreign invaders because Hindus remained internally divided.
Sangh members are oriented towards becoming a close-knit parivar (family) in every sense of the term. This is what gives the RSS deep social roots that has helped it grow into the largest membership-based social organisation in the world.
I feel truly privileged that Ms. Madhu Kishwar agreed to write the foreword to this book. It was gracious of her to put her pen to paper for an author who is not an academic in a truly academic sense. My interactions with Madhu ji are quite recent, though I have been a fan of her sharp and well researched writings for quite some time. Her espousal of feminism from Indian perspective is path breaking, considering she began her work decades back in the backdrop of a highly hyped and dominant western world view. I regret that the foreword had to be edited to nearly half of its original size due to the compulsions of publishing conventions, though even this is much longer than the normal forewords! Inspite of this, I and the publishers believe that we have been able to keep the spirit of her views alive.
Madhu ji's foreword is actually a critique of the RSS, quite harsh in some places. Honestly speaking, more critical than I had expected! I did not go back to her to counter her criticism or soften it. As an eminent intellectual with good of the nation at heart, she is welcome to express her ideas. This is in keeping with the spirit of open dialogue that I, as a person trained in RSS school of thought, believe in. Hindu philosophy is the bedrock of pluralism with respect for diverse views, not just tolerance. I believe that reading the foreword would be a good starting point for the readers to form their own opinions in a more critical manner as they progress with RSS 360°.
When I wrote the 'Secrets of RSS' I was virtually a nobody, an erstwhile RSS worker who had worked in various capacities in it for decades, known well only within RSS network. I had just edited a score of books with varied content, as a hobby. The book was born out of my urge to tell the people, not brought up in RSS milieu, about RSS. After Mr. Nitin Gadkari released it in Delhi, it got a very good coverage, but with a twist. The headlines said, "BJP President comes out to defend RSS"! It was the time when the sinister plot to implicate the RSS in so-called 'Saffron Terror' was in full flow. This was the most concerted government backed attempt to crush the RSS since the time of Mahatma Gandhi ji's assassination in 1948 and Emergency in 1975. RSS was virtually alone, yet again, in this battle to save its image as no media house or party wanted to be seen being sympathetic to it and get 'tarred'. None of them paused to think that if RSS was, indeed, a terror organization it would be impossible to stop it due to its intensive and extensive network. Political untouchability, coupled with already enforced intellectual untouchability had reared its head again.
By the time the second edition of Secrets was published, history had turned a new leaf. Mr. Narendra Modi, an erstwhile RSS prachaarak, a dedicated BJP worker from a humble background had risen to the post of Prime Minister of the biggest democracy of the world with a massive mandate.
Book's Contents and Sample Pages
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