What makes the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) one of the world’s unique cadre-based organisations is its 96-year journey from a small Indian town to a movement with a global presence without once splitting into factions. Founded in 1925 in Nagpur by Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the RSS has been discussed at length by scholars across nations, more so in the recent past where the occupants of two of the highest offices in India, the President and the Prime Minister, have RSS background.
However, few have provided a holistic view of RSS where the narrative transcends a documental account or a historical perspective and offers an insight into the organisation and the factors that led to its growth. Ratan Sharda’s RSS: Evolution from an Organization to a Movement adopts a distinctive approach by following the heads of the organisation’s life and works, six since its inception, to give an insight into how the RSS went from strength to strength.
A member of the Sangh since his childhood, Sharda has also met five of the ‘Sarsanghchaalaks’, as the head of the RSS are called, and this is what perhaps makes his perspective distinctive and is also the key in getting to know the Sangh. In addition to his first-hand knowledge, Sharda also accessed scores of documents written in Marathi and Hindi, and lays out factual information along with analysis to comprehend the inner workings of the RSS. While there have been numerous books that follow the journey, much of the understanding of how the organisation transformed—as Sharda articulates—lies in the personality of the Sarsanghchaalak.
In this aspect, beginning with Dr Hedgewar (1925-1940), MS Golwalkar, fondly called ‘Guruji’ (1940-1973), Madhukar Dattatraya ‘Balasaheb’ Deoras (1973-1994), Rajendra Singh ‘Rajju Bhaiya’ (1994-2000), KS Sudarshan (2000-2009) and Mohan Bhagwat, the present Sarsanghchaalak, Sharda’s narrative rises beyond mere compilations of the heads. Instead, by juxtaposing the socio-political conditions at the time of their tenure with the persona, the book gives an idea and proper understanding of the organisation’s flesh and bones.
Until the recent past, most studies on the RSS, no matter how detailed, appeared to be from the outside. Although these accounts offered a look into how the world perceived the organisation, they remained distant when it came to the Sangh. Much of this could be attributed to the media, primarily the English press that for better or worse attached its prejudice. The gap between what it was and how it was seen continued and only increased when the views of a large chunk of Indian polity were either disregarded as it constituted the Opposition.
One can disagree with the RSS activities and even their approach; however, it has played a significant role in India’s social and cultural life. Yet it is strange how an organisation with eight million members that come from all walks of life, 60,000 shakhas across the country, and over 1,00,000 service bodies founded or supported by the Sangh, is still viewed as something shrouded in secrecy.
There is much more when it comes to the RSS between the time it was formed or banned following Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, a much-recorded event when offering the history of the RSS, to how it is perceived today. Irrespective of one’s stand on the RSS, there is a need to bridge the gap between what the RSS is believed to be and how it operates from within or the principles that guide the average swayamsewak. Few can offer insight and perspective into the RSS like Ratan Sharda, and for those seeking an in-depth understanding of the Sangh, here is an excellent reference.