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BOOK REVIEW: THE RSS–ICONS OF THE INDIAN RIGHT by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

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    It is a well-researched book published in the year 2019. The publishers are Westland Publications, Chennai. The main book comprises of some 405 pages and then you have the end notes and the index. The price of this book is Rs 799. Before I touch the book, let me brief you, about the author.

    Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay began his career in journalism in the early 1980s and is best known for his reportage on the rise of Hindu organisations and their politics. He writes columns for several newspapers and web portals, and is also, a well-known face, on the Indian television news channel, as a political commentator.

    His other books include the best-selling Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times; and Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984. Nilanjan is an unabashed college drop-out. He lives with his family in Delhi-NCR.

    The subject book comprehensively explains the genesis of RSS. In present times RSS is almost close to an untouchable organisation for some in India and even abroad. But why, is the moot question. On the face of it, RSS has been, an apolitical organisation in many ways, so to say. But why and how did this right wing organisation become pan India. Was it to save the Hindus and unite them against the onslaught of Muslims primarily, and why forget the British tyranny against Hindu culture—primarily the caste system. The book explains it all through the individual accounts of eleven RSS icons that the author goes on to detail. In a nutshell can one say RSS was a befitting counterweight to the Muslim League? Figure it out for yourself by reading the book. Taking the cue from the book further.

        In the history of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is known for the domineering presence of Konkanastha or Chitpavan Brahmins, it is probably one of the biggest rarities of fate that its founder was born into a family of migrants from a village in Telangana.

    In the early decades of the 19th century, several landless Brahmin families who made their living as priests in Nizamabad district, were forced to flee their homes under the Mughal rule. Many chose to settle in Nagpur, a city that was ruled by Maratha Bhonsle kings, mainly because, the dispensation, supported Vedic learning. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar’s great-great-grandfather was among those who had made the city his home. Gradually, these immigrant families from Andhra Pradesh began to assimilate, and not only did they adapt to Maharashtrian customs, but also began looking up to local historical icons as their very own.

    The book gives a good account of partition and the initial Bengal links of some of the RSS leaders such as Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Golwalkar aka Guruji that goes to show how Bengal was indeed the think-tank of that India. The book unearths certain facts that we’ll never venture to find out in our day-to-day life. One of the peculiarities of national politics at that time was the practice of simultaneous membership in multiple organisations. For instance both the Indian National Congress and Hindu Mahasabha boasted of common members.

    RSS was formed for the promotion and safeguard of Hindus. And at the time of partition when refugees entered India from Pakistan RSS did stellar work in looking after them in terms of food, shelter and security. These refugees soon started off with small trade but they didn’t snap their relationship with the RSS, rather they became members of RSS. And did you know that Veer Savarkar was not a member of BJP’s erstwhile political avatar the Jana Sangh, nor the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), but leaders of the Sangh Parivar, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, always held him in great esteem.

    Yes a fog of mystery does surround the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—or RSS even today—the largest cadre-based organisation in the world. The political tow-chain that goes on between the RSS and its political offshoot earlier Jan Sangh and now BJP is covered in the individual accounts quite comprehensively which is otherwise a mystery for the common man of India.

    The author chronicles the personal and political journeys of the most important men (and a woman) of the Hindu Right-wing, digging up, little-known, but revealing facts about them. Let me narrate a few of them only to build your interest in this book.

    KESHAV BALIRAM HEDGEWAR: The founder of the RSS, and its first sarsanghchalak, was called ‘Cocaine’ as a young revolutionary, who transported subversive literature for a group back home in Nagpur. Although, Keshav was originally a Brahmin from Telangana, he had little trouble in securing entry into the subversive world of Bengali radicals.

    VINAYAK DAMODAR SAVARKAR: This leading light of the Hindu Right had once invited the vegetarian Mahatma Gandhi to dinner and had told him that unless one consumed animal protein, one would, not be able to challenge the might of the British. Well … few had faced the tyrannical wrath of the British Raj than Veer Savarkar having spent an aeon in Kalapani—so was it a reaction to the deep agonies that he suffered in the jail?

    MADHAV SADASHIV GOLWALKAR aka ‘GURUJI’: The iconic ‘hermit-ideologue’, whose appointment as sarsangchalak was challenged by many in the RSS itself, had maintained, the only work that needs to be done is to unite and organise fragmented Hindu society into a large corporate entity through the daily work of RSS.

    SYAMA PRASAD MOOKERJEE: A brilliant academic-statesman who became part of Nehru’s Cabinet. Mookerjee had several differences with the prime minister. He once asked Nehru: ‘Are Kashmiris Indians first and Kashmiris next, or are they Kashmiris first, second and third, and not Indians at all?’

    BALASAHEB DEORAS: This towering pracharak had a strong dislike for religious rituals, and referred to himself as a ‘Communist’ within the RSS—‘it is highly debatable if he believed in God, or if, in any way he needed Him.’

    DEENDAYAL UPADHYAY: The man who propounded the ‘philosophy’ of integral Humanism was opposed to the partition of India and recommended that, ‘if we want unity, we must adopt the yardstick of Indian nationalism, which is Hindu nationalism, and Indian culture, which is Hindu culture.’

    These and other leaders, including Vijaya Raje Scindia, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, Askok Singhal and Bal Thackeray, are all covered in the book. Through the individual stories of the organisation’s tallest leaders, a larger picture emerges. In spite of a three-time ban on RSS in a multicultural and secular India—and despite the RSS’ insistence that it has no truck with electoral politics—the group is, and will be, the hand that’ll always rock the BJP’s cradle. The author by and large maintains a fair balance between criticism and appreciation of the RSS which I liked. He has done a good amount of homework and has got inscriptions from various sources which only adds to the flavour of the book. Yes narration is in long and at times bulky.

    Last but not the least, even if you fear reading a thick book, you could still read it as, one icon at a time, which will not make it monotonous. The chapters are self-sufficient. Language is plain quite easy to understand with occasional verbose. I would give the book seven out of ten. It makes an informative read.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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