Opinion Op Ed 17 Mar 2016 DC Debate: Cut from ...

DC Debate: Cut from the same cloth

Published Mar 17, 2016, 1:36 am IST
Updated Mar 17, 2016, 1:36 am IST
By switching to trousers, the RSS is trying to keep in step with changing times.
Swayamsevaks take part at root march during the 3rd year officers training camp. Khaki shorts, the trademark RSS dress for 91 years, is on its way out, making way for brown trousers, the significant makeover decision was taken here at an RSS conclave in Nagaur. (Photo: PTI)
 Swayamsevaks take part at root march during the 3rd year officers training camp. Khaki shorts, the trademark RSS dress for 91 years, is on its way out, making way for brown trousers, the significant makeover decision was taken here at an RSS conclave in Nagaur. (Photo: PTI)

Sangh is embracing change

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has completed nine decades of its existence. Organisations and political parties older than the RSS, be it the Congress, the Communists have not grown the way the RSS has grown. Initially, the RSS had a single, limited goal: to create a society of united and selfless individuals willing to sacrifice everything for protecting the unity and strength of the country.


It was many decades later that the Sangh decided to help Syama Prasad Mookerjee to form a new political party. Again, as time passed and the context demanded, the Sangh entered various fields of India’s national life, in the form of Vidyarthi Parishad, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Mazdoor Sangh, Vanvasi Seva Vibhag (service) and education. In all these fields, organisations inspired by the RSS are today the largest in the country. There is no area the Sangh has not entered and there are over 50 of them enveloping every aspect of national life.


The Sangh has never been a prisoner of a set of dogmas. Its approach was always pragmatic and modern. It is the biggest organised effort uniting the society and fighting casteism. Its contribution to empowerment of women is practical and loud. It supported reservation for weaker sections from the beginning. It even supported V.P. Singh’s decision to implement Mandal Commission’s recommendations, though it was a purely cynical political move.

In the just concluded Pratinidhi Sabha, it has supported the entry of women in all the temples that have imposed restrictions. Its latest decision to make the uniform more environment-friendly and popular has to be seen in this light. Over time, the Sangh uniform has undergone many changes. It was initially closer to military uniforms — heavy belt and military style boots were once part of the uniform. Many years ago this was changed to lighter, brown belt and black, walking shoes. The debate about shifting to pants in place of khaki shorts was going on for almost a decade. Now the change is part of its outreach and making it more attractive to youth at a time when millions of youngsters are getting fascinated by the Sangh.


The Sangh has always been a dynamic organisation. It was the first to set an age limit to its top decision-making bodies. It has always ensured representation to regions and scheduled castes/tribes in its various units. Though it was initially formed as a male outfit, it has branched into work with women. It continuously works for social reform, supporting all modernisation efforts in society. Three decades ago it initiated a movement to have non-brahmins as priests in temples. To understand the Sangh is to understand India. The Sangh has grown from strength to strength, attracting more and more youth and intellectuals because of its capacity to change with the times. It has demolished all criticisms by proving the enemy wrong through sustained and perseverant approach. Everybody has noticed the change in uniform. In fact, the Sangh has been regularly updating its drills, physical training curriculum and even updating pratah smaran (daily morning prayer) to make it more inclusive. The Sangh’s strength is thatit is not afraid of change.


R. Balashankar is former editor of Organiser and member, BJP Central Committee on Maha Prashikshan Abhiyan and Publications

Alas, pants not made of secular fabric

Isn’t it a rather hilarious commentary on an organisation like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), founded in 1925, that its only lame claim to modernity is its evolution from the trademark neo-Nazi khaki shorts to full-length trousers and not a much needed evolution in its regressive, patriarchal and fascist mindset that seeks to replace the Indian Constitution with Manu Smriti and harbours the parochial, bigoted idea of converting our secular nation into a Talibani Hindu Rashtra.


Only the most delusional RSS apologists will dress up this sartorial change as some tectonic shift in the RSS towards progressive and liberal values or its flexibility to adapt to the changing times. It is as ridiculous as saying that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is keeping in step with the changing times because it uploads videos of beheadings on social media platforms or the KKK has become hip because it traded in its full-length, conical headed, white costume for a T-shirt that reads “White power rules”.

A change in mindset more than any superficial change in outfit is a better indicator of whether an organisation is keeping in step with the changing times. Is the RSS open to having women members in its all-boys club? Is it open to having a sarsanghchalak from the dalit community and not just one particular section of upper castes? Is it willing to throw into the dustbin, the manuscript of hate called Bunch of Thoughts penned by its most revered leader, M.S. Golwalkar, that talks of Indian Muslims and Christians as internal threats and celebrates what Hitler did with the Jews in Nazi Germany? Will the RSS support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights? Is the RSS finally ready to trade in Godse and Savarkar for Gandhi and Ambedkar? The answer to all these questions remains an emphatic no.


In the last few months scores of youngsters who voted for Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been terribly disappointed by the direction in which the country is headed. Communal polarisation by Bharatiya Janata Party ministers and MPs, a crackdown on autonomous universities and stifling of fundamental freedoms is underway even as Narendra Modi the RSS pracharak has replaced Narendra Modi the Pradhan Sevak with all the shots being called by an unelected and unelectable bunch of octogenarians sitting in Nagpur. Full-length trousers may help the RSS cover up the unflattering legs of its activists, but certainly not its divisive agenda.


The least the hyper nationalistic RSS could have done is traded its khaki shorts for attire more Indian, like a dhoti or a lungi. Instead, for all its claims on “Indianness” and “nationalism” the RSS is okay with its activists donning Western style full-length trousers. What next? A monogrammed suit perhaps?

In the recent months, the RSS has drawn sharp criticism on social media and its traditional “half pants”, referred to as “khaki knickers”, has become a butt of jokes online (no pun intended). Going from half pants to full pants isn’t going to make the RSS more attractive to young people in this country. If they truly want to strike a chord, perhaps it’s time to take off its communal raiment and don some secular fabric.


Shehzad Poonawalla, a lawyer-activist, is founder member of Policy Samvad