The RSS: Roadmaps for the 21st Century, Sunil Ambekar, Rupa Publications, 248 pages, Rs 402.
The recent years have seen an increased curiosity about the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its activities. A lot of literature surrounding the RSS falls largely into two types: The first is the material produced by mainstream journalists, academics, and intellectuals who present their own understanding of the RSS and use newspaper reports to primarily base their observations.
The second, and a much smaller category is of the material produced by sympathisers or people who have worked with the RSS or any of its affiliates. The works of KR Malkani, Nanaji Deshmukh and HV Sheshadari fall in this category.
In this scenario, The RSS: Roadmaps for the 21st Century by Sunil Ambekar presents a rare insider’s view of the RSS.
As a child, Ambekar lived near the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. He gained an early initiation into the organisation and has journeyed since then to become the in-charge of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the RSS. He mentions that the inspiration for this book arose out of his attempts to envision what India and the RSS would be like in 2047 when the country would mark 100 years of Independence from British rule.
In this sense, the book takes a futuristic approach to understand various aspects of the RSS. So far, most literature surrounding the RSS has dealt either with its organisational structure, relationship with the BJP, its ideology and stand on Hindutva.
This book, however, goes a step ahead and addresses contemporary debates and explores the RSS’ outlook on various issues. Some of the burning issues that are succinctly discussed include caste and social justice, family system in modern times, women’s movement, cow protection, and Ram temple.
Ambekar uses a mix of philosophy, anecdotes, history and facts to delve on these topics. This makes for a breezy read even as the subjects are heavy and hard to tackle in limited space. This approach is also important to place the discussion outside the predetermined confines and falling back into the rut of old arguments.
On the subject of politicisation of Sanskrit, for example, he says the Sangh views the ancient language as a unifier and part of a heritage, and argues why it is important to preserve these linkages.
“Sanskrit is a link language, with prayers in all temples, be it Guruvayur in Kerala or Kamakhya temple in Assam, being offered in the language. If these linkages are not formulated, there will be adverse sociological consequences of linguistic diversity,” he says.
He goes on to outline the Supreme Court judgment of 1994 rejecting the charge that Sanskrit teaching was against secularism and discusses the Sangh’s efforts to promote the language.
Ambekar devotes an entire chapter to discussing the gamut of issues associated with the caste conundrum. In this chapter, he traces the origin and structure of caste pointing out that segregation on the basis of birth and segmentation into high or low were later perversions that crept in with the corrosion of caste into ‘jati-vyavastha’ or caste system.
He traces the work of Mahatma Gandhi to eliminate caste and how RSS founder Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar ensured social justice was firmly rooted into the Sangh ethos.
“Doctorji was far ahead of his times. Untouchability and caste taboo were kept out of the Sangh and he started the Sangh based on equal relations among all castes. So, the Sangh, since its founding day, decided that caste will play no role in the functioning of its organisation, “ writes.
He goes on to state that the swayamsewaks come from all castes and are treated as equals. They can be assigned any task on any given day, be it cleaning of toilets, preparation of food or conduct of study sessions.
The segment on the caste question goes on to explore how, despite believing in the strength of tradition, the RSS has been a strong propellant of continuous reform in society. It discusses RSS’ efforts towards social justice and how programmes are designed and conceived to root out caste bias.
He goes on to talk about ‘Samajik Samrasta’ or social harmony which the Sangh believes can counter discrimination and the distortions that have crept into the society. In a very important part of this segment, he discusses the need to create new protocols in order to upturn the rigidity of caste rules.
Another crucial chapter focusses on the concept of Hindutva. Ambekar at his eclectic best taps a variety of sources ranging from history, to art, literature, and reformers in this section. He provides a working definition of Hindutva calling it a Hindu way of life:
He writes of it thus:
Delving into related ideas of Hindu Rashtra, inclusion, and the Hindu way of life, he outlines three sutras that constitute Hindutva — coordination, consent, and co-existence.
Calling this a ‘21st century grammar for a conflict-free world’, he discusses how this concept is central to all RSS work. What gives this chapter an even more contemporary outlook is the brief discussion of some of the key issues such as cow protection and Article 30 of the Indian Constitution, among others.
Ambekar’s book is a user’s manual of sorts for those getting acquainted with the RSS and its works. It covers a whole gamut of existing ideas while also touching upon the history, journey and ideals of the organisation.
The book is divided into quick sub-sections which make it easy to read and reference. The writing is not in the form of arguments but in a more relaxed, discursive and meditative format. If you want to understand the RSS, this book is gold; if you want to punch holes — you’re wasting your time.
So far, the literature on the RSS has attempted to assess and describe the organisation within a Left-liberal and secular framework. This book is also a first-of-its kind as it attempts to understand the RSS within its own context.
Since the book takes a futuristic look, Ambekar’s answers his early iteration of what India and the RSS will look like in 2047. He envisions that, by then, RSS will dissolve in the society like sugar.
The author teaches political science in Satyawati College of Delhi University.
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