What the Sangh now needs to do is to think like a venture capitalist to fund a radical change in narrative, so that Dharma begins to set the agenda.
One of the repeated criticisms levelled against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) by its critics as well as some of its well-wishers is that it is ‘anti-intellectual’. Before we examine the legitimacy of the allegation, it is essential to examine the characteristic nature of the RSS as an organisation, as that holds the key to understanding both its strengths and limitations.
In more ways than one, the RSS is an incredible organisation. The very fact that it has survived and grown in a terribly hostile political environment since the time of its inception is a testimony to the strength of its core character. It also reflects its greatest forte – the strong moral fibre of its dedicated karyakartas who have laboured for the organisation even at great personal costs. The sheer ability of the RSS to have successfully groomed workers of such unbelievable moral strength generations after generations, alone merits an academic study into its organisational methodologies.
As the core purpose of founding the RSS was to ‘organise’ or ‘mobilise’ the amorphous Hindu society, ‘organisational approach’ remains at the core of everything the RSS does. By its very nature, organisational work demands a unique orientation by people involved in that activity. One such demand is that the compulsion to respond to real-time challenges, much like how our courts deal only with real adversarial litigations and do not generally delve into questions of pure academic interest.
Therefore, the bulk of time, energy and resources of RSS workers is expended in activities essential to organisation building: incessant travel, never-ending chain of meetings, organising regular events, following organisational hierarchy and protocol in all aspects of work and making constant efforts to induct new blood into the organisation. One will generally find a RSS worker, be it a full-time pracharak or a part-time volunteer, constantly attending one meeting after another through the day in preparation for organising some or the other event. Certainly, there are perhaps no better ways for a mass-based socio-cultural organisation to survive and remain relevant than the time tested organisational methods which the RSS has so well mastered. However, the non-stop travels, continuous organising of events and the compulsion of having to respond to real-time issues leaves the Sangh with little time or energy to pursue serious and long-term intellectual work – which by its very nature cannot be not ‘real-time responses’ in many cases. Thus, the very nature of work that RSS has primarily given onto itself does not innately encourage it to delve deeply into so-called ‘academic’ or ‘intellectual’ work.
However, this does not make the RSS ‘anti-intellectual’. If one were to observe, almost all of the events that the RSS or the Sangh Parivar organises is built around a ‘bauddhik’ session – roughly translatable to intellectual session – where a speech is made on some ideological issue. Almost every RSS worker would have spent countless hours listening to these bauddhiks or speeches. The RSS also has official organisational positions called ‘Bauddhik Pramukhs’ or ‘intellectual heads’ whose primary responsibility is to mind the intellectual work within the organisation. The RSS is most certainly aware of the need for intellectual fodder as a necessary means to mobilise, organise and grow its cadre. Even a bare look at the annual resolutions passed at the ABPS Meets – the national policy making body of the RSS – will reflect that serious thinking goes into drafting of these resolutions. Whether it is Guruji Golwalkar’s writings or literary efforts by other senior functionaries like HV Sheshadri, there has been quite some efforts made by men within the RSS to generate literary work. Nevertheless, these literary efforts were made not for the purpose of academic excellence itself, but with the primary objective of furthering ‘mobilisation and organisation’ of the masses.
For example, H V Sheshadri’s book on Shivaji serves the need of the average RSS worker in an ‘organisationally important’ way – to make him aware of the ‘story’ of Chatrapati Shivaji and, thus, empowers him to deliver ‘bauddhiks’ at RSS workshops to other karyakartas. This serves the purpose of the everyday ‘organisational work’ of the RSS. However, this ‘limited purpose intellectual work’ has grown to become a limitation as it does not suffice to meet the intellectual challenges posed by ideological adversaries, especially those coming with trained academic backgrounds. As a result, the RSS in particular and the Hindu-Nationalist thought leadership in general have suffered serious setbacks in dominating the country’s socio-political-academic narrative. Another profound side- effect is that even when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-majority governments have come to power, the leftists have succeeded at dictating the legislative agenda of the BJP governments. However, time and again, intellectual warhorses from the Dharmic side have challenged and demolished the leftist harangue.
Needless to say, most of such work has come from outside the RSS stable. Whether it was the efforts of Sri Mahamahopadhyaya P V Kane or R C Majumdar, the troika of Ram Swarup, Sita Ram Goel, Arun Shourie, efforts by academicians like Dr Kapil Kapoor or Dr S N Balagangadhara, works of Westerners like Dr Koernraad Elst or Dr David Frawley and even the much recent work of new-age digital media platforms like Swarajya, OpIndia, Indiafacts, MyIndMakers, 5Forty3, and many others, are mostly led by private individuals with very little institutional support. The Dharmic intellectual vibrancy that we witness today on social media also greatly owes it to the educated Hindu diaspora who have challenged the leftist diatribe in their own unique ways, mostly in their individual capacities. In all fairness, the RSS has acknowledged the contributions of these private efforts as is and has, in a few cases, provided due encouragement and support. Nevertheless, the Sangh’s role has been quite passive.
But now is time for the RSS, as the most influential mass-based Hindu cultural organisation, to take a more proactive role in creating and nurturing a vibrant Dharmic intellectual ecosystem that will help shape the grand global Dharmic narrative.
The RSS, however, should refrain from going about this exercise in its archetypal fashion. Instead, it must outsource the creation of serious academic and intellectual work to private individuals, and organisations and limit itself to the role of a facilitating benefactor. Or, to use today’s parlance, the RSS must float a massive venture capital (VC) initiative to fund, support, and nurture thousands of independent intellectual ventures that may come up with disruptive thought leadership for a true Dharmic revival. This must be done with a thorough professional approach with clearly defined objectives and milestones. There are already a few think tanks and policy research organisations, especially based out of New Delhi, which are facilitated or supported by senior RSS functionaries, that have taken some substantial steps in this direction. However, the scale and diversity of the operations have to be multiplied manifold. Here are a few suggestions.
First, an effort should be made to identify the numerous writers, thinkers, publishing houses, online portals, internet media ventures, and other initiatives that are working for the Dharmic cause in India as well as abroad. Many of these initiatives are today privately funded and the talented individuals at their helm, working at great personal costs, have sometimes gone unnoticed and unrecognised. The RSS should start a substantial VC fund at both the national as well as state levels to provide scholarships, stipends, long-term monetary assistance and aid to deserving initiatives. Special emphasis must be given to cultivate scholarship in Indian languages. This fund must preferably be administered by a board of professionals, academics and financial experts and must be empowered by the Sangh to operate with full autonomy. Imagine the cumulative effect of such a project, if the Sangh can pump in over a thousand crores over a few years, to support thousands of individual scholars, publishing houses, digital platforms, think tanks and new age media houses! An initiative of this scale and size can be accomplished only by the RSS, which makes it all the more inevitable for the Sangh to see its absolute necessity.
In addition, the Sangh must use its influence to set up dedicated chairs, scholarships, and educational trusts at prestigious universities at the global level to support talented young scholars to pursue higher education especially in liberal arts, economics, and legal studies. A quick Google search will enlist numerous scholarships and funds that have been set up by the Congress-left ecosystem over the years, which has served as the lifeline for leftist academic control. There are more than 10 prestigious scholarships at the international level that stand in the name of Jawaharlal Nehru alone. It is disappointing that even after four years of a BJP majority government at the centre, there has not been substantial attempts to institutionalise efforts, both at the domestic as well as the global level, to nurture a future generation of Dharmic scholars. Without further delay, this should be done with utmost priority.
Also, the Sangh must concertedly make efforts to support building world-class Dharmic liberal arts universities in India that will not only attract the best of the talent from all over the world but will primarily facilitate creating a Dharmic academic narrative. Without such attempts, the Sangh’s efforts to provide an indigenous alternative to global economic, legal and sociological narratives will at best remain rhetorical. In addition to proudly narrating the stories of yesteryear greatness of Nalanda, Takshashila, and Odantapuri, the Sangh must strive to recreate them in modern India. A good start would be a Dharmic equivalent for an Ashoka University. For all of this to succeed, it is needless to emphasise on the urgency of bringing constitutional reforms that will provide Dharmic ‘edupreneurs’ the legislative autonomy to function.
Also, resolute efforts must be made to reclaim the narrative superiority in the popular culture space. For far too long, the arts-culture-cinema space has come to be dominated by the rootless liberal kind or the blatantly anti-national Dawood-supported Bollywood types. A study on the impact of Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana on the overall cultural psyche of the country and its later political ramifications during the Ram Rath Yatra suffices to understand the sheer force of popular culture in winning the narrative war. One of the innate strengths of Dharmic cultures has been the traditional popularity of its ideas and themes amongst the masses. An institutional approach to popularising Dharmic narratives in cinema and digital space must be undertaken, including but not limited to using the influence of the central government. These ventures, when intelligently done, will also yield substantial commercial success and can spin off other ventures as well.
Frankly, the time has now come for the Sangh to transition its style of working, at least as far as the intellectual work is concerned, from the typical shaka-oriented organisational model to a more modern, effective, and intelligent system that is singularly focused on winning the global narrative war. At least, a part of the Sangh, preferably the Bauddhik Pramukhs, must be given specific and time-bound tasks to professionally work only on facilitating the intellectual ecosystem and must be encouraged to get out of the perpetual event management mode. The Sangh must deeply think of problems – social, economic, educational, technological, and legal – that will challenge the country and Hindu society in the coming decades and try to respond with a well-thought through, coherent, and superlatively articulated solutions rooted in the Dharmic genius. However, this is not possible without sustained efforts to create a vibrant and excellent Dharmic intellectual ecosystem that produces and nurtures a long succession of intellectual polestars who will herald this movement.
In summation, one of the first tasks that the Sangh must take up in this regard is to clearly articulate for its own clarity a well-defined ‘intellectual policy blue print’ with short-, medium-, and long-term goals which must include the whys and hows of this humongous project. It must then take the services of experts and professionals to execute the projects with pracharaks playing the role of facilitators.
Winning the narrative war is just like winning medals in Olympics – it takes decades of effort to institutionalise the nurturing of talent coupled with dedicated and lasting work. More importantly, it needs a big-picture vision. It is time the Sangh, as the vanguard of Hindu interests, makes earnest efforts to win the narrative war, as that is the only war the Hindu needs to win to see Bharat emerge as the Vishwaguru (world leader).