by Chetan Bhagat, Nov 18, 2012
A few months ago, i received a politely worded, detailed mail request to deliver a motivational talk to a large group of young Indians on serving the country as part of Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birthday celebrations. The youth would be from all sections of India. The theme was to awaken the youth to take part in making a better India. The scale, audience and the topic were noble and close to my heart. However, i declined it. There was only one reason for doing so. The invitation had come from the RSS.
It was the first time i had declined an event simply because of the imagery associated with the organization. I felt terrible because i knew the person inviting me was a dedicated worker, having spent most of his life serving social causes and i knew many RSS workers who have done good things for society. However, it wouldn’t take long for social networks or the media to pick up that i had addressed an RSS gathering — and that alone is enough to tarnish you these days.
I have attempted a column on the RSS after a long period of hesitation, because a balanced piece on the organization would be seen as sympathetic to them. The English media, dominated by liberal and secular thought, has no mercy for chest-thumping Hindus who wear unfashionable shorts.
Few journalists today can claim to be neutral towards these organizations. They do have valid reasons for the same. Some of the most regressive, communal and divisive thoughts have found support in these organizations. Extra-keen Hindus are often found here, giving both the country and the religion a bad name. Modernity and scientific thought are given a backseat, past grudges are not let go of and reform is slow even within the organization. If the media starts patting the RSS on its back, some of their harmful activities will only rise.
And yet, the RSS has done good work too. Whether it is relief work for natural calamity victims, caste reforms, or social work in Kashmir; the RSS has made a positive difference. Much of this isn’t noticed. Some of this will surprise people. For instance, the RSS adopted Muslim kids orphaned by militancy in Kashmir.
Finally, the RSS backs the BJP, and contributes in making a credible opposition to the ruling party.
RSS’ good work, however, is rarely recognized because of negative deeds in the past, as well as the nature of the organization. It isn’t as aligned to the present times, to current needs of the youth. It isn’t aspirational, and its current leaders are unwilling to be the role models Indian youth is seeking. Self-reflection is limited. The defensiveness about media’s treatment of them seems to be making them more thick-skinned than a dynamic organization.
And yet, the RSS faces a moment of truth, in Nitin Gadkari and his shady businesses situation. The RSS has never been known as corrupt, greedy for money or as a black money haven. When they back Gadkari, they become tainted with such charges. For an organization that is already tainted with being communal, this could be a death knell. The RSS may be politically aligned, but it is not a political party. The RSS cannot sell their soul and conscience like political parties can, by claiming political compulsions.
The RSS cannot get away with shady defenses by their own CAs of Gadkari. If the RSS thinks Gadkari is clean, why not appoint a big auditing firm to check Gadkari’s accounts?
Past mistakes haunt them still. It will take decades of secular work for them to rub off their communal sins. To add a taint of corruption and greed will be too much for the Sangh. If it breaks, the BJP breaks. If the BJP breaks, we don’t have a credible opposition in the country. Thus, on the RSS’ handling of the Gadkari situation almost hinges the future of modern India. This is the agni pariksha moment for the Sangh Parivar. It may be tough to take action against Gadkari. He may have contributed, even done some amazing work and mentored the current leadership of the RSS. Yet, organizations like the RSS thrive on faith. Members believe there is a certain set of shared positive values, ethics and ideals. Saving Gadkari violates all of that. If the RSS can stick to its values now, it could thrive.
The RSS would do good to remember this: “Above all, beware of all compromises. Hold on to your principles and never adjust them to others’ ‘fads’ through the greed of getting supporters.” That’s Vivekananda. Let us hope the RSS not only celebrates his birthday, but also imbibes his teachings.