The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) considers itself a cultural organisation and has traditionally preferred to work from the shadows. RSS has kept itself away from electoral politics despite the tacit backing of its political arm Bharatiya Janata Party. However, it has found itself in the midst of a political storm with the Congress promising to ban RSS shakhas in government offices. The heated political debate that ensued has made the media-shy organisation an electoral issue for the first time in recent history. Speaking to Financial Express Online, RSS ideologue Seshadri Chari says that political parties can no longer use RSS’ name to appease minorities. Excerpts of an exclusive interaction:
RSS has always distanced itself from electoral politics. However, the organisation has been drawn into public discourse and even features on the Congress manifesto. How does RSS view this development?
It is true that the RSS does not consider political power as the ultimate panacea for all the problems faced by us. Yet, some political parties, especially during elections, use demonising the RSS as a tool to appease Muslim vote bank. This has become redundant as a large section of the Muslim voter has seen through the game and is no longer willing to buy this “RSS is your enemy” line anymore. But unconcerned by such barbs, RSS continues to carry on its daily activities.
Congress in its manifesto has talked about barring Madhya Pradesh government staff from joining RSS shakhas; what is the stand of RSS on this issue?
There is a restriction on Government employees taking part in the activities of a political party. But they are free to engage in religious and cultural work and activities of non-governmental (NGO) organisations. In the unlikely event of the Congress coming to power in MP, they may not summon enough courage to pass such an order. In case they do, it will be challenged in the court.
Congress leaders like Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh have underlined that the ban already exists for central govt employees, and in several other states. Why the need for shakhas in govt offices?
Categorising the RSS and the Jamaat-e-Islami as political organisations the Union Government issued an order in 1966 saying that “participation in them by government servants would attract provisions of sub-rule (1) or Rule 5 of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964”. An office circular was reissued in 1975 and 1980. Some state governments followed up and issued circulars to this effect covering their respective states. In 2006, MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan annulled the order and lifted the ban on civil servants joining RSS saying, “As far as sub rule 1 of rule 5 of the Madhya Pradesh Civic Services (Conduct) Rules 1965 is concerned, it is not applicable on RSS”.
Therefore, Congress leaders are wrong if they say there is a ban still existing. In any case RSS shakhas are held in the open and not in government offices. RSS does not need the patronage of any government to carry on its activities.
RSS has even supported Congress in elections in the 70s and 80s. Has the organisation shed its bipartisan approach to Indian politics?
As an organisation the RSS does not extend its official support to any political party. But the swayamsevaks of the RSS are free to join, hold office and work for any political party except those who believe and indulge in violence as core of their activity and have extra-Constitutional loyalties. RSS continues to remain aloof from electoral politics.
RSS has traditionally preferred to work silently. Does it now believe that it is time to go public about its work?
RSS will continue to work silently as it considers its activities as part of duty towards the society and the country and not a favour to be rewarded. In the context of free and open media with a wider reach, even minor activities of the RSS are highlighted, not necessarily to the liking of and with permission of the RSS.
RSS members and supporters have been appointed to several constitutional positions since 2014. They are also at many key positions at universities and research organisations. Does this make it a compulsion for RSS to support BJP in all elections?
Appointments at Constitutional posts and other organisations are made by
respective departments in conformity with the rules and regulations and on merit. If some of the persons belong to the RSS it is only incidental. RSS is under no compulsion to support any political party or person on the basis of quid pro quo.
(Seshadri Chari is a veteran RSS member for over five decades, Pracharak (full time worker) for twenty years, former editor of ORGANISER, English weekly.)