From being fervently eulogised to being liberally lambasted, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has passed the litmus test of political forbearance since its inception in 1925.
This alone was enough for Shridhar D Damle, co-author of the newly launched old book, The Brotherhood in Saffron: The National Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Revivalism, to undertake an intense investigation into the life and functioning of the Sangh.
Thirty years ago, Walter K Anderson and Damle penned their landmark work, also the only comprehensive literature on the parivar, that was published in America.
The decision to introduce it to Indian audiences this year was taken bearing in mind the current political climate that summons an understanding of the parent organisation of the ruling party. It explains RSS’ relevance in the hotbed of 21st-century governance.
Both Damle and Anderson penned the book in an attempt to glue together the many rambling notions about the Sangh. “Every word in the book holds more strength now as the subtext of where it finds itself today has been made strong by RSS’ position of being one of the most notable cultural organisations in India,” says Damle.
The work is an articulation of RSS’ ideologies and elaborate training methods. It provides readers with a glimpse into the inner working of the Sangh. “How RSS, BJP, and parivar organisations change and how RSS, through its pracharaks, was and is able to keep the organisation in balance while maintaining its autonomy, is something we look at. We’ve also explained the prominent role played by KB Hedgewar, MS Golwalkar, Deendayal Upadhyaya, Dattopant Thengadi, LK Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” says Damle.
Brotherhood in Saffron found its genesis in a chance meeting between Damle and Andersen at a political science conference in Mumbai in December 1967. While the former was pursuing his graduation in Political Science, the latter was doing his PhD on the Jana Sangh. “Andersen noticed that pracharaks had been the backbone of the Jana Sangh, so for a thorough understanding of the RSS, it was essential to recognise the volunteers. He felt that my academic background and vast historical and political readings in Marathi and Hindi would help him in learning about this organisation better,” says the author.
Andersen, on the other hand, had the government of India’s approval to take notes of government records about the RSS till 1943. Both authors also met RSS Sarsanghchalak or the head of the RSS organisation, MS Golwalkar to collect material for the manuscript. “He granted us one-hour interviews for four days from April 15-18 in 1969 at Nagpur, allowing us to study RSS founder KB Hedgewar. We went on to interview more than 200 leaders from various schools of thought, along with RSS and BJP activists, a detailed account of which is presented in the book,” he says.
While Damle gives a lot of credence to Andersen’s effort for the research of the book, there were creative differences too that both of them had to navigate with a cool head. The main point of contention was around the word ‘revivalism’ and how the term Hindu evolved. “Andersen traced it to 19th-century nationalism, while I traced it to ancient Hindu literature and culture,” he says.
There was another book that the two wrote last year on the same subject titled RSS: A View to the Inside highlighting the role of Balasaheb Deoras, Nanaji Deshmukh, Bhaurao Devras, Dattopant Thengadi, KS Sudarshan, Moropant Pingle and others. “While Brotherhood in Saffron is a historic book, A View to the Inside is a narration of issues of India today,” he says.
Together the books are a compelling dossier on the right-wing, Hindu nationalist volunteer organisation.