Book review: 'The Saffron Surge' - RSS is not immune to the changing world but needs to do more

Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Feb 25, 2019, 06.34 PM(IST) Written By: Kartikeya Sharma

File photo of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.  Photograph:( Zee News Network )

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The basic takeaway from the book is that RSS is not as rigid in its dogma as it comes across from outside.

'The Saffron Surge' is a book for those who want to know about people who ran RSS. It is a book which outlines basic facts and life chronology of RSS Sarsanghchalaks and those who shaped its politics and policies.

Though the book had the scope to go into the details of important decisions which RSS took, however, the author has refrained from doing so. The basic takeaway from the book is that RSS is not as rigid in its dogma as it comes across from outside.

Last year, journalists were taken by surprise when Mohan Bhagwat, in a press conference, said that certain portions from M S Golwalkar's (the second Sarsanghchalak of RSS) book - 'A Bunch of Thoughts', have been edited. He said that eternal thoughts have been retained and those found to be outdated and out of context have been removed. At that time, I thought that it is a paradigm shift but that was not the case, which I discovered after reading Arun Anand's book.

The author has published a speech of Balasaheb Deoras (the third Sarsanghchalak of RSS), given on May 8, 1974 in Pune, wherein in the context of religion and outdated practices, Deoras spoke about eternal and changeable thoughts. In his speech, he categorically stated that organisation can do away with old and out of context practices as they have become irrelevant. 

It demonstrates that change may come slow to RSS, but it is not immune to it. It is for this reason, the RSS has repositioned itself in the context of minorities and softened its ethnocultural nationalism wherever it is required. The example, in this case, is North East where RSS did not let beef become an issue in Nagaland and Meghalaya elections. RSS has also softened its position on multiple issues keeping the political climate in mind.

The example in the case could be putting Ayodhya issue to sleep when Vajpayee ran a coalition government.

It is for this reason many people fail to fathom RSS’s deep inroads in ST, SC and OBC sections of the society.

Similarly, the book dwells into individual contributions made by the RSS heads during their respective tenures. For example, MS Golwalkar’s thrust on pracharak system and cow to be used as a symbol of a cultural and political entity or a massive expansion of RSS under Deoras.

The Saffron Surge

The book also highlights the role of K S Sudarshan (the fifth Sarsanghchalak of RSS) taking up the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh and drawing a line between refugees and illegal immigrants which the current government has incorporated in the bill which is yet to be passed by Parliament.

The book introduces the reader to thoughts and ideas of various RSS heads which allowed the organisation to grow in multiple directions.

What the book did not do and could have done was - covering important political developments which people remember. For example, the formation of anti-Congress governments in 1967, formation of Janata Party government in 1977 and its view of VP Singh government. Though RSS says that it has never been directly into politics, but the views espoused by the heads have always turned into policy issues for BJP.

The book could have gone into details of Sudarshan’s view on Vajpayee and Advani when he wanted them to make a way for the younger generation. These issues would have cast greater light on the important role which RSS chiefs have played all along. The author should have also contextualised the riots and why a certain section was at the receiving end. 
Today, a lot of people attribute the success of harnessing diaspora to Prime Minister Narendra Modi but after reading the book you understand that it is a result of cumulative efforts put in by respective RSS chiefs.

M S Golwalkar organised a Global Hindu Convention in 1966 at Prayag.  His initiative was further carried forward by Dr. Rajendra Singh aka Rajju bhaiya who became the first RSS chief to extensively travel outside the country. Certain words which have become prominent in the tenure of BJP can also be traced back to some RSS chiefs. For example, Rajju bhaiya used the word  ‘Assertive Hindu’ to describe the organisation.

The thrust towards Swadeshi science received a special push when Sudarshan officiated as the head, are one of the few highlights of the book which shows a deep umbilical connection of BJP with RSS. Arun has also traced the origin of the relationship between RSS and BJP by going back to the time and describing the way Bharatiya Jana Sangh received help from RSS when Shyama Prasad Mukherjee was at helms of affair. At this point of time, Deen Dayal Upadhaya, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nana Ji Deshmukh got associated with the BJS.
His book also details the formation of RSS during colonial India. He, very deftly, describes what its founder Dr. Hedgewar did but has failed to look into what influenced him to come up with the idea of cultural ethnonationalism. This would have made the book interesting. For an example, It is well known as to who and what influenced Gandhi and Nehru but we do not get a glimpse of the mental map of almost all the Sarsanghchalaks in the book.

Like it or not, RSS is here to stay in India, but its role and perception has changed.

It claims to be a cultural organisation but people at large now believe, and which is true, that RSS has turned into a mean electoral machine by investing itself heavily in the civil society issues.

It is here the Congress has failed, and hence, declined rapidly in many areas. RSS is a project to change the contours of the Hindu society, but India is a multicultural country and, in future, RSS may again have to make a change in its functioning and ideology as per the emerging reality if it wants to evolve and survive.

Lastly, RSS played an important role in making Vajpayee and Modi the Prime Ministers but its Hindutva politics has limits. Vajpayee became PM because of coalition vote and Modi because aspirational India came along the RSS-BJP combine. Hindutva vote alone is not enough for RSS to keep it political project floating and that is the hard reality.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)