polity : How-big-and-powerful-is-the-RSS-Rashtriya-Swayamsevak-Sangh-How-much-control-do-they-have-over-politics-state-and-national-affairs
Answer by Dibyajyoti Mohapatra:
I had been associated with RSS for over 4 years(2000-2004) and I have closely observed all kinds of activities that happens in the organization.
RSS is BIG in the sense it has presence all over India – almost all cities and a LOT of villages if not all. How powerful depends on what is your definition of power. All the members(called Swayam Sevaks) stand united like a part of family.
First of all RSS is nothing about politics contrary to what the media industry makes you believe. RSS was there before BJP or Jan Sangh. In fact RSS is the parent body of many organizations working in various fields known as "the Sangh Parviar"
Before going into RSS-BJP relationship, let me tell you the main objective of RSS. It's dead simple:
"Create disciplined, responsible and patriotic citizens"
Now one fine day some number of responsible patriotic citizens try to create a forum, take advise from the senior members and it becomes an independent organization, under the Sangh Parivar. The organizations grow according to their respective goals and include related people from the society. There are numerous organizations under Sangh Parivar and BJP is one of them. Check the below link.
RSS works as a mentor to these organizations and periodically(usually few times in a year) there is a meeting with the RSS Karyakarini(The working committee) regarding updates about their work or seeking advice about various things. I have myself witnessed such events.
There could also be sub organizations of a child organization(such as VHP) which has multiple sub-organizations under them(Bajrang Dal being one of them). They all report to their respective parents, never report to RSS.
BJP is just an political outfit created by swayamsevaks to bring in change in politics. So yes few times in a year(usually once or twice) there's a meeting between RSS & BJP. Also, many prominent BJP leaders are Swayamsevaks so they meet people in RSS whom they've known for years! This does not imply RSS is into politics. Despite several clarifications media people never seem to understand this.
This is my first hand account being a swayamsevak. Whether to believe or not is your choice. I can accurately respond to any doubts/questions/allegations that are raised against RSS.
Most of the time it is the impression created by media and lack of correct information makes people say things against RSS. Some people who hold a positive view think RSS does "social service – helping poor, educating children, tribals, providing relief in disasters". Those who hold a negative view think all RSS is doing is conspiring against Muslims and Christians in the country.
However, both are wrong. Social service is not RSS's job. RSS creates good people who are responsible for society. So when there's a disaster it is a natural human instinct to help the affected, to help the poor, to educate people. RSS just creates the difference that while most of us stay locked indoors, the swayamsevaks are inspired to reach out to help the poor. For the RSS haters – all I can say is you are welcome to join RSS and see for yourself. If they speak about Muslims – it is about the islamic terrorism they speak of. If they speak about Christians it is the "forceful/trickful conversion by missionaries" they talk of. They talk about anti-national activities, not about religion or community. RSS does NOT discriminate based on religion or caste.
Did you know the below facts about RSS?
- There's no formal membership in RSS. You will never ever have to fill-up a form. By default every citizen(male) of this country of any age group are members of RSS! There's a separate wing for women.
- RSS does not accept donations. Such a big organization runs on money given by swayamsevaks on "Guru Purnima" as "Guru Dakshina". Yes, only once in a year to be given anonymously according to one's own capacity.
- No person is ever worshiped in RSS. It's the Motherland "Bharat Mata" whom they worship.
- The "Guru" mentioned above is the "Bhagva Dhwaj"(The saffron flag) which is a symbol of the cultural heritage of this country and thus inspirational as a Guru.
- There are thousands of people working as "pracharaks" who live a renounced life and their only goal in life is to serve the nation.
Note: I have answered the question while giving little bit insight into the organizational structure and few facts that I have learned from my association with Sangh, but this information is incomplete. Knowing RSS is very difficult unless you're a part of it. No book, no article or media will ever be able to convey what RSS actually is. It's more sacred than you can ever imagine!
Thanks to everyone who found this article informative, up-voted and promoted. I guess most answers in Quora about RSS are not based on direct experience. There are few good question I've received in comments and answered. I would like to post them here as well.
1. If there's no formal membership in RSS, is it like they can never be held accountable for anything? Why can't they have an official structure in the organisation which is more transparent?
It is wrong to assume that there is no official structure in the organisation. In fact the organisation is extremely well structured and there are positions and responsibilities that are officially assigned to people based on their dedication and capability. So there are always people who are accountable for their actions. But the point was there is no membership. If you wish you can join a shakha today(where the only thing they do is some physical excercise, some traditional games like Kabbaddi and some nation-oriented discussion followed by prayer to Motherland) and your membership starts there. The more regular you are and the more dedicated you are will determine whether you'll be assigned any more responsibility in the organisation or not. At the ground level some senior/elder/mentor will give you the responsibility of taking care of one shakha by being a "Mukhya Sikshak" or "Karyavaha". At the higher level, everything is done via democratic way. Yes there is proper democracy inside Sangh and people are elected for district/state/national level positions. The only exception is the top most position "Sar Sangh Chalak" who decides his successor.
About selection of the Sar Sangh Chalak:
RSS is a social-cultural-paramilitary organisation. Democracy takes care of the social part and the positions upto Sar-Karyavah. The cultural part take care of the apex position where only the Sar Sangh Chalak decides who's his successor. This is more like how a Seer or Guru decides who's the successor of their Ashram or Mutt.
2. Does RSS support BJP getting black money as funds? If not have they ever raised voice against the same? And what about the anonymous contribution RSS gets once in a year?
This question made me smile :). I remember a total collection of about Rs. 1400/- one year from one Shakha(about 15-20 members).
Before getting into the source, lets discuss where does RSS spend money. As per my knowledge, these are the areas:
i. Travel expenses of the pracharaks in the minimal way. Pracharaks are full timers who leave their homes and work for Sangh full time(some work life time, some for few years). They live a very austere lifestyle and generally travel a lot. They travel via public transport(bus, train) and try their best not to waste a single rupee unless necessary. For example no RSS pracharak would hire an auto or taxi from the train station to some destination in the city. They would rather walk, take a lift or take the cheapest mode like city bus/shared auto. You'll be surprised that they prefer fasting to eating outside(unless extreme situations) for saving money and would eat only at someone's house.
ii. Office expenditure – there's an office in almost every city and there are always bills that need to be paid. But nothing high profile. In 2004 there was only one four wheeler and one bike in a state's head office where I had been many times. All pracharaks/office bearers use bicycles for local convenience.
iii. While I am not sure about this one – there might be some expenditure in organizing events such as public meeting of some top level leader such as The Sar Sangh Chalak. But these are not frequent.
iv. There are some internal publications/books which are usually sold at the price which covers publishing costs – it's no profit no loss kinda situation.
Apart from the above(or maybe one or two such points that I have missed) there are no other way RSS spends money. When there's some calamity the swayam sevaks collect funds from among themselves or from whatever local sources they can and go for help. Most of the time it's the physical help that's more necessary than monetary.
So the point I'm trying to make is with whatever little money that comes in is spent in these ways. Why would someone donate big amounts anonymously when it doesn't help any personal interest of anyone and when there's absolutely no propaganda behind any of the RSS work?
On the other hand, being a disciplined organization the accounts are maintained very neatly and transparently. Appropriate declarations(as required by the government) are done on timely basis. I've seen this part myself being close to someone from the State Karyalaya who handled accounts.
Now about the raising voice part:
i. RSS absolutely doesn't interfere in BJP's internal matters. As I've said earlier, they only *advise* them when necessary.
ii. Also, RSS is not any media/watchdog/whistle-blower organisation. They don't investigate or expose things. They stick to their basic work, plain and simple.
iii. The statement "BJP getting black money as funds" is vague and opinionated. Why RSS isn't doing anything about it is similar to saying why not anyone in the country doing anything about it? There are better machinery in place for the same, isn't it?
3. If RSS doesn't discriminate based on religion or caste, then why do we see a lot of RSS people asking people to vote for BJP in the name of Hindutva?
Good question. No, I'm not denying it. However there's no provision/assignment in RSS that makes anyone associated with RSS to ask people for voting. If someone is doing it – it is personal. There's absolutely no reason why he would be stopped from doing the same as well. After all he belongs to the society like you and me and we have our rights to say our words. Nothing official, I can assure you.
Based on Hindutva: In RSS you'll hear the word "Hindu" and "Hindutva" very often. However it is a mistake that the outsiders/media make by misinterpreting the words according to their own prejudice. The term "Hindutva" was first coined by Veer Savarkar who was an atheist by himself. He had written a small pamphlet named "Hindutva – Who is Hindu?" Let me share the link for the same:
He did this few years before RSS was founded(RSS was founded in 1925) and the terms are clearly defined. It's everything related to the land and culture than any god or religion. So when RSS says Hindu, they mean Hindu as in "Hindustani" not anything else. Did you know in the Arab, Indian Muslims are sometimes called as "Hindu Muslims"?
By the way, during my association of 4 years, I was never ever asked to vote for any political party by anyone in the RSS.
4. Has RSS ever even opposed to unlawful acts by Ram Sena & Bajrang Dal?? Remember how Sri Ram Sena cadres had beaten up young girls in Mangalore and even teared their clothes. Is this how you want to promote Indian tradition?
Quick answer – Check this link:
I hope the link clears this doubt of yours. RSS does not send people to beat up couples on V-day, rather they have condemned it strongly and even recommended banning Ram Sena. Bajrang dal belongs to the Sangh parivar but it is under VHP, not RSS. As per my knowledge Bajrang dal doesn't do things like Ram Sene. There have been certain unlawful activities by them and they've been punished by the court.
The problem is the widespread perception created by media to make us see all right wingers under one roof.
Finally, remember that there's nothing above the constitution of India and despite several deliberate attempts by the Congress govt over 50 years(along with 3 time banning), no court have ever found anything wrong on RSS side and have always lifted the ban unconditionally after all the investigations. You gotta believe the Supreme Court right?