Winning The Narrative War A Priority For RSS, As Is Social Outreach
RSS's focus on promoting community service includes asking swayamsevaks to meet their families at least once every three months.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is preparing its vast network of swayamsevaks to stay alert, strengthen and maintain their connections with the ground, and improve their social outreach with leaders and members of different caste groups.
This is because they are worried about the fault lines that could appear in the country, especially in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
While the RSS has, in the last one year, studied 13,575 villages in the country to know how many of them had separate crematoriums and water sources for different communities or banned the entry of Dalits into their temples, the organisation also conducted a separate survey in five states about the prevalence of religious conversions. Depending on the results, it has formulated a plan for many villages where conflict between different groups is high.
The sangh workers have documented a number of good practices, which the RSS plans to implement in various villages. For instance, in Chattisgarh, to bring peace between two communities that have been in conflict for years, it has started distributing calendars with the pictures of Ghasidas Baba, revered by both groups, and holding "samras baithaks" (harmony meetings) with his discourses.
This was just one of the discussions at the annual body meeting of the RSS, called the Akhil bharatiya pratinidhi sabha, which serves as the highest decision-making platform of the RSS, discussing its strategies for the year ahead. This was also the organisation's first full-fledged meeting with over 1,400 delegates since Covid-19, wherein senior leaders of the RSS, including Chief Mohan Bhagwat, General Secretary Dattatreya Hosabale, and others debated various changes needed for the organisation's expansion to mark its centenary year celebrations in 2025.
But the underlying theme in the debate was the emphasis on "caution" and "winning the narrative war", specifically to address the "social fallout of campaigns by political parties with vested interests" and prepare the organisation to take on new responsibilities in the future. Every move by the RSS in the meeting was proof that the organisation was taking proactive action to address issues that have the potential to inflict social damage.
For instance, the organisation has announced that it will celebrate the birth anniversaries of Lord Mahaveer, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, and Dayanand Saraswati in a big way. It is important to remember that the Jain community's recent protests at Sammed Shikhar to oppose its development as an eco-tourism site in Jharkhand, the turbulence in Maharastra politics and its impact on the Marathi Asmita (pride) and the danger of Sikh fundamentalism taking root in Punjab again are concerns for the RSS.
Discussions with many senior leaders of the RSS revealed that the Sangh is largely at ease and on many counts impressed with the government's work, particularly its rural focus, welfare schemes, and the projection of a strong India that "is proud of its civilisational roots." While it is clear that as 2024 comes closer, the RSS will play a dominant role in easing out social tensions and economic discontent, "Disha theek hai"—the direction of the government is right— seemed to be the most common refrain among senior sangh functionaries.
"Since 2014, the country has taken a definite path of telling the world who we are and what our priorities are. Be it the framing of the National Education Policy or the way Padma awards are given, there is a concerted effort to present a strong Bharat. But the government has to get elected again for it to continue doing its work, and for that, society needs to understand its duty too," a senior sangh leader said.
At the meeting, all 40 affiliates of the RSS presented their reports. BJP National Organisation Secretary BL Santhosh and BJP President JP Nadda presented the party's growth in the last one year. They talked about the national executive meeting held in Telangana and how the party made efforts to strengthen its ground connection by sending senior leaders of the party to the state a few days in advance to help it stay better prepared. Development taking place in India's border villages and the challenges being faced by people were also presented by the Sima Jagran Manch, while the ABVP, the students' wing, spoke about its year-long activities, with a special mention of how its programmes such as Students’ Experience in Inter-state Living, which have been going on since the 1960s, have been able to connect youth from the north-eastern states to other parts of the country.
Three senior pracharaks Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi, V Bhagaiah, and Suresh Soni, all formerly senior office bearers in the RSS, also took part in the meetings. Among those who were also invited were two senior pracharaks who have worked in the U.K. and Punjab. The unrest in Leicester last year due to street clashes between groups of Hindus and Muslims had emerged as a cause for concern for the country. The organisation is also keenly watching the social impact of controversial pro-Khalistan Sikh preacher Amritpal Singh in Punjab. Senior sangh functionaries are expected to visit Bathinda and Ludhiana soon to assess the situation and reach out to students and sangh workers.
Crafting A Collective, Winning Narrative
An important focus for the sangh, apart from ensuring coordination among its affiliates, is winning the narrative war.
The country needs to respond to its problems in a manner that is connected to its ethos, and the RSS needs to use technology and modern means of communication to present its position more clearly, Hosabale said. The organisation in its annual report noted that "forces inimical to Bharat's unity and progress plan newer conspiracies" and that by "instigating language, caste, or group discord by using any event as an excuse and inciting youths against any government scheme such as Agniveer, ugly incidents, anarchy, and violence have happened."
Both the RSS resolution and the annual report supported the efforts of PM Narendra Modi's government in various areas. Supporting the ‘panch pran’ , or five resolves, call given by him in his Independence Day speech, advocating the need to establish a social life free from colonial mindset and committed to civic duties, the RSS in its report said that the resolve of atma-nirbharta was taken at a challenging time and has come into a position to bear fruit. "Now, Bharat is getting recognition in many fields. One prominent example is the way India is holding the G-20 presidency," it said.
Hosabale, who will have completed two years as general secretary of the RSS soon, also announced a review of existing processes that is going on in the Sangh and that the organisation is preparing to hand over more responsibilities to younger people. More changes are likely to be expected in the meeting next year.
Family And Women
There was a concerted effort to involve more women in the activities of the RSS, but the organisation is clear that women will not be part of its daily shakhas, according to at least two people in the know about matters within the sangh.
Hosabale, addressing the question in the press conference, said it was only the media that was taking a lot of interest in the entry of women into RSS shakhas while the RSS was scaling up their role in prachaar (communication) and sewa (charity) activities within the sangh.
"Shakhas is a lot of physical activity and games, and there have always been different teams for women and men. Do you know of a cricket team that has men and women on it? The timing of the shakhas is an issue as that is also the time women are busy," a senior sangh leader said.
Strengthening the family is another important concern for the RSS, and it was discussed in the meeting. The RSS report said that of the 15 pranths that its Chief Mohan Bhagwat himself visited last year. In five of the pranths, he held meetings with family members of workers. The organisation has been using methods such as "Ramnaam Sankirtan" to unite families using stories from the Ramayana and a network of volunteers called "kutumbh mitras" to help family members spend time with each other.
Many talked about the RSS's renewed focus on promoting community service, with Hosabale himself saying that the organisation is asking its swayamsevaks to have cultural meet-ups with their families at least once every three months.