First impressions about ‘RSS – The Wasted Years’ by Dr. Sanjeev Kelkar
At the outset, let me confess that I found the book well written. There has clearly been a good amount of research, personal interactions and copious referencing. There is certainly a coherent flow of the narrative.
Being aware of short comings of RSS, though not exactly of the same type that Dr. Kelkar has talked of, I turned to the last section first to see how (if at all) it can be rescued. And, then I began from the beginning.
The first thing that comes across is the author’s virulent negativity about Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar fondly known to his followers as the Golwalkar Guruji. In fact there is a sense of bitterness for Golwalkar that I fail to understand. It is nearly personal.
The second thing that comes out shining is that he is a great fan of Balasaheb Deoras. There is nothing wrong with one having a favorite and not so favorite leader or disliked leader. We all have such favorites but I have never felt such pathological negativity for a leader, because when I take the whole picture in, I can appreciate his efforts and sacrifice too.
Though arguments have been well marshaled, unreasoned near hatred for Golwalkar has led him to use rhetorical arguments where a scholarly treatise or marshaling of thoughts would have served his cause better. This unbalanced rhetorical approach has killed the scholarly detachment that is expected of such an analysis, and to me that has taken sheen off this scholarly treatise.
This bias, for example, reflects in crediting Balasaheb Deoras with Q&A sessions. No doubt, I too have found Balasaheb Deoras’s Q&A sessions highly inspiring the way he tackled every question with dignified respect for his comrades and gave complete reasoned answers, how so ever trivial the question may be. But, the fact is that this system was established since long. One would find enough examples of Q&A sessions from Golwalkar’s biography, and the way people would come out full of smiles and laughter after such a meeting.
If he had taken a little detached and scholarly approach, he would have first given background of Golwalkar’s personality, given due credit to his achievements and then launched his broadside against him. In the book though you find criticism directed at Golwalkar both directly and by innuendoes preceding some credit for the man’s good work.
Another amusing fact I noted was that his approach is typically Nagpur-centric similar to ruling political class thoughts being Delhi-centric. Thus, much of analysis is based on talks he has with Nagpur based workers, his own Nagpur circle and resultantly lacks a larger perspective.
Thus for him, being able to converse to Mr. Deoras anytime he wished vis-à-vis his inability to do the same with other Sarsanghchaalaks becomes a negative for subsequent RSS leadership as a whole. This is not the case with workers outside Nagpur who get access to Sarsanghchaalaks only twice a year, that too for a very limited time. It is a different matter that if any ordinary worker requests a meeting while RSS Chief is in his area, he gets a chance. So, they would find his grouse strange to say the least. I would call it capital city syndrome.
This same Nagpur-centric approach has made him come up with conspiracy theory that claims that there are efforts to wipe out legacy of Balasaheb Deoras and his vision for RSS. Various movements under RSS wings are following the path shown by Balasaheb Deoras. We outside the charmed circle of Nagpur have never felt the way he feels.
Many of his submissions have no ground. They are typically thrown in with a casual flourish, a typical hallmark of leftist writers. Some accusations or swipes seem to be more out of personal hurt than out of serious concern about shortcomings of RSS. For example, the insinuation about Golwalkar’s hold over Doctor Hedgewar that resulted in his Doctor getting so hypnotized that he chose to make him the Sarsanghchaalak. It is almost laughable.
On one hand writer is all praise for Dr. Hedgewar’s leadership, his strong personality and conviction, vision and organizational genius, of ability to attract people from all over Bharat. On the other hand, he is faulted for choosing Golwalkar under some unknown compulsion!
It is a fact that Golwalkar was brought into RSS in BHU by his students who had been sent there for further studies and spread of RSS. Even on his return to Nagpur, he had not yet been totally committed to full time RSS work. He was still ready to go ahead with his renunciation as a Sadhu of Ramkrishna Mission order. It was Doctor Hedgewar’s magnetic personality and sheer halo of sacrifice that pulled Golwalkar deeper into RSS and brought an end to his plans to lead a life of ascetic. He used to strongly criticize rituals for ritual sake and would warn that following rituals doesn’t make one religious or spiritual or a Hindu. There is no doubt that his spiritual halo created deep impact on the molding of the RSS as an organization and its workers. All this shows his induction as RSS Chief was a result of long term vision of Dr. Hedgewar.
Shrikant Joshi (a long time personal assistant to Balasaheb Deoras) feels that perhaps Dr.Hedgewar had plans for Balasaheb Deoras which he must have indicated to Golwalkar. Hence, Golwalkar had a special place in his heart for him and nominated him to be the next RSS chief after him.
His criticism of Golwalkar not leading RSS into 1942 movement and then not actively opposing partition would be fine academic exercise and this is surely open to debate. But why should a scholar be bitter about those historic rights or wrongs? It is easier to witness history in perspective over a longer time frame. As it is said, everybody is wise in the hindsight. For the people on the spot at such a historic moment the compulsions may have been different. Golwalkar and his compatriots were quite forthcoming about some such limitations though they may have not been disclosed if the writer is to be taken at the face value of his argument.
There are various accounts of that period. I wouldn’t get into a detailed account of RSS and issues of that time in this short critique but it is a fact that when Golwalkar took over reins of RSS, it was a fledgling organization. The prime responsibility given to Golwalkar at that time was to preserve the organization and make it an all India entity that would be present in every nook and corner of India. Such a premise would hold true if one were to deduce what Doctor Hedgewar told Golwalkar when he handed over the reins to Golwalkar. That he shaped RSS into an all India body that nobody could subdue or dominate is undisputed.
The RSS had matured as an organization with strong base by the time Balasaheb Deoras took over. This stage afforded him an opportunity to take RSS to the next level. And Dr. Kelkar is rightly all praise for Balasaheb Deoras for his subsequent direction to RSS.
Golwalkar’s focus on RSS while others were sent out for other organization also resulted from this same thought process. Dr.Hedgewar had envisaged that Sangh shakha would be the powerhouse that would provide power to all other organizations and people in the society to go forth and bring in changes in the society.
Golwalkar realized that if RSS is weak other organizations would suffer too. Golwalkar initiated the first service project in education i.e. Saraswati Shishu Mandir’ through his most trusted lieutenants Rajju Bhaiyya, Nanaji Deshmukh and others way back in 1950s.
He inspired a swayamsevak who was cured of dreaded leprosy to start Kushth Rog Nivarask Sangh much before social service became a major activity in RSS. As the writer points out, Golwalkar believed that politics cannot be an answer to society’s ills and people across the society will have to work in various capacities in a democratic set up. However, once he accepted Dr. Mukherjee’s request for help, he freed one of his most loved and respected colleague Deendayal Upadhyaya for Jan Sangh along with other rising stars of RSS. It is said, the only time Golwalkar couldn’t hide his grief was when he got the news of Deendayal Upadhyaya’s murder. He was badly shaken. It is true that he focused his own energies in RSS organization building even as he blessed, encouraged and helped build other social organizations.
How correct Golwalkar’s view was is clearly seen in recently acquired importance of NGOs who have been able to influence the national discourse, kept a leash on politics and have been conscience keepers of democratic institutions just as he had envisaged.
Many of the ills or problems with RSS diagnosed by the author are quite near to truth. I strongly agree with the author when he quotes Balasaheb Deoras that shakha is not just a ritual that it is being made out to be by many people. In fact, I am surprised with the quote, as have used the same language while talking to some swayamsevaks and workers some time back. However, to lay blame for laid back attitude of swayamsevaks and workers on Golwalkar is far-fetched. It is nothing but organizational inertia manifesting differently in different parts of Bharat. What is true of Maharashtra would not be true of Rajasthan or Delhi or Kerala. Where the RSS presence is comparatively recent the working style of workers and their outlook is much different from those working in regions where the presence is comparatively old, say Maharashtra.
The weakness that Dr. Kelkar sees today in RSS affiliated and RSS organization flows from the problem that shakhas became weak because most people got carried away by the glamour of other organizations, weakening the power house, thus weakening all affiliated organizations. This is borne out of my experience over years in the field. Such people have always thought that shakhas are no more important or are not required. But now you find that you don’t have enough people to man these many new organizations!
My biggest regret is that Dr. Kelkar, in spite of his crucial ten years in the field, has given an elitist argument about lack of professionalism of workers manning seva projects. Lack of professionalism does not stem from lack of interest in professional approach. It arises from the fact that the people who have begun and sometimes taken such social service projects to great heights are very ordinary human beings. They are the prime examples of ‘ordinary being transformed into extraordinary souls by Sangh’. They may raise great projects by sheer compassion, but at personal skill levels they are simple ordinary folks. Greater professionalism can only through people like Dr.Kelkar and other highly skilled professionally. There are however efforts being made in this direction in cities like Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai. As somebody involved in documentation at the RSS headquarters I am sure he is aware of these new developments.
His criticism about emotional issues taken up by RSS parivar, behaviour of volunteers of RSS, VHP and even BJP after Ram Temple movement is well placed. However, there is a catch. The forces unleashed by Ram Temple movement are the forces that gave birth to such elements and ideas. Some were pro-active while some were reactive outbursts. It was clear at that time itself that some of the negative fall-out of street level aggression may take long to whither. The author in his devotion to Balsaheb Deoras credits him with giving a big push to Ram Temple movement, and bringing society and RSS closer. But, he shies away from the fact that he would also need to open Balasaheb Deoras to criticism for unleashing such forces that author detests.
His criticism of VHP for not taking up reformist agenda is again spot on. Though he may not credit Golwalkar enough for initiating saints and heads of various small and big sects into social awareness and emotional integration of Hindu society, he would have served his own cause well if he had noted that Golwalkar had given this call to VHP long back to bring reforms into Hindu temples and other religious places. Yes, it is sad that VHP has not yet come out of its agitational mode and gone back to roots for the work it had been assigned.
His long drawn criticism of BJP is misplaced in this book, and has taken up too much space. Thus it sounds more like grouse mongering than a balanced critique. What he has said of it is close to ground scenario but his meandering criticism has again overshadowed the objectivity.
His charge of mediocrity of RSS workers is true to some extent. He has tossed in a few lines in between his thoughts about Socialist and Communist movements and their similarities in their view of problems facing India. But, he has failed to note that brilliant thought leaders have generally not survived Communists parties – it is a cadre based party. Socialists had a good number of leaders of whom some were brilliant, but it never was a cadre based party, had more leaders than workers and it did not survive.
I have come to conclusion that it is difficult, though not impossible, for cadre based organizations to hold back brilliant scholars who have strong egos, impatience with methodologies, thus they clash with the hierarchy and end up outside their organizations. Dr. Kelkar is an ideal example of same problem. Considering this, RSS has not done poorly for itself if you consider some brilliant strategists, organizers that have stuck to RSS though they have lost huge opportunities in their respective fields due to stranglehold of leftist-secularists.
As a person involved with RSS, he would have noted that it takes a humungous amount of time to convert an idea into actionable as leaders have to keep situation at all India level in mind. To change the mindset of swayamsevaks and workers to new ideas is also not easy. I am witness to it. Thus, this absorption of the idea at primary level is a challenge and not a weakness of choice.
To my mind, the biggest weakness of RSS is its inability to break the shackles of leftist-secularist lobby over academics and media. This has resulted in blacking out of all the positives of RSS and only negative views being publicized. For this it has nobody to blame but itself and by corollary, its leaders right from Golwalkar to present day.
There has been no long term strategy under the excuse of principle of ‘staying away from publicity’. It has refused to acknowledge that media today is a tool of expounding and popularizing one’s thoughts and it is not a ‘necessary evil’ – closest that its leaders have come to acknowledging it. Not working aggressively to overcome negativity being spread by leftist-secularist lobby about Hindu, Hinduism, Hindutva and RSS family of organizations, RSS has lost precious base among well-meaning Indians and has not been able to take its work to Indian society in general.
It is again a failure of RSS leadership that RSS has been painted into a defensive corner, a ready whipping boy for decades by a limited Marxist/Leftist lobby from which it has not been able to break out. Though RSS workers don’t admit it openly and always claim work will speak for itself, I am sure; in their heart they do not appreciate this scenario. I doubt if this scenario would have changed even if RSS had taken part in 1942 agitation openly (rather than in individual capacity) as the compulsions of competition would still make Congress and Communists as its natural enemies, while it would not have changed its own mindset on issues like publicity and propaganda.
In his earnest desire to prove his theory of wasted years of RSS and laying it at the doors of Golwalkar and succeeding Sarsanghchaalaks after Balasaheb Deoras he has over simplified the working of RSS. RSS works on consensus, one of the major causes of lack of speed in taking decisions. Sarsanghchaalak leads but he has to bring around others to his view point or has to toe the line of the team that works with him. He has also neglected sterling contribution of other Sarsanghchaalaks in the process and other brilliant leaders of RSS who by choice remained largely anonymous.
To conclude, this book could have been a well-meaning critique of RSS policies, work and about its leadership, with a wide sweep of historical review. But, due to hard to hide bias against Golwalkar and other RSS leaders his critique has become more of rhetorical exercise, losing balance of arguments on the whole.