Maharashtra has always been the epicentre of reactionary politics in India since the days of the Maratha Empire.
Highly educated but notorious for their orthodoxy and frugality, these unnaturally fair-skinned Brahmins occupy the highest rungs of the caste ladder in Marathi society. Indeed Savarkar, the father of Hindutva was also a KoBra (as they are playfully abbreviated). In its early days, Hindutva was an entirely KoBra-run enterprise. For much of colonial period their dominance upon Marathi society was near complete.
In my early teens, even Iâ€™ve had my share of flirting with Hindutva. But as I matured I grew out of my Hindutva-phase. I used to picture the RSS as some sort of secretive brotherhood, fighting the evil designs of communists and jihadis. Today, I am about to find out about the organisation that I sympathised with not so long ago.
I am in Alibaug, a resort town on Maharashtraâ€™s Konkan coast. It is a popular weekend getaway for Mumbaikars. Just as the sun is about to gloriously set into the Arabian sea, muzzeninâ€™s amplified call for the Muslim faithful resounds throughout the town. My host for the evening, Mr.Chiplunkar looks blasphemed.
“Bahâ€¦ I tried asking police to make them (the Mosque authorities) comply with the noise regulationsâ€¦ but in this land the princelings (Muslims) are above the law,” he spits out with thinly veiled contempt for Muslims. A 54 year old KoBra, he is a History teacher at a local English school but when he is not
boring his students to death teaching, he is a RSS Pracharak (lit. campaigner). And he has invited me to a RSS shaka (a meeting). An honour which he reminds me, isnâ€™t granted to every irritating NRI teenager who comes bumbling along.
As we head along to the local RSS shaka which is actually a Ram temple, I cant help but laugh at the most delicious of ironies. Iâ€™m about to go to a RSS shaka in a town whose name means Gardens of Imam Ali.
Inside a group of about 60 people, are sitting cross legged in neat rows, (quite out of character for Indians!) listening intently to a portly old man who seems to be localsangh chalak (lit. branch manager). The group assembled here seems to be of a quite diverse age group. Only thing that seems common between them is their collective lack of fashion sense (khaki shorts, white shirt and a black Gandhi cap).
The old man is speaking something about the Vedas and importance of Guru in Hindu culture, in a highly Sanskritised form of Marathi, purged of all its Perso-Arabic words which is find quite hard to follow. As the speech goes on I can’t help getting distracted by a few
impossibly hot chicks gorgeous sisters to my right. But I mentally pinch myself since I am a Hindutvadi for today. I must be remain immune to temptation!
Just as I am about to doze off the speech descends from a reminder-of-our-glorious-culture into full blown anti-communist polemic. The speaker insinuates that communists have destroyed the nationalistic spirit amongst Indians. He goes on to suggest that they mightinfact be in connivance with the Islamist terrorists. He alleges that their deafening silence on the 7/11 bombings is a â€œproofâ€ of their complicity.
Rest of the speech deals with removal of casteism, hindu culture and (surprisingly) environmentalism. At the end of this two-hour salvo, prasad (sweets) is distributed to the half-asleep swayamsevaks. We all getup and one-by-one walk towards the saffron flag, saluting it the RSS style. Then they all start
whining singing a prarthana (prayer, in Sanskritised Marathi) with its dubious refrences to â€œHindutvaâ€ and â€œHindu Rashtraâ€ before dispersing.
As I step out of the shaka, I feel a warm sense of relief. Mr.Chiplunkar asks me how it wasâ€¦ I find my self mumbling: â€™twas great… But my mind was already calculating what other Picklers would say. What a story it would be; me going into the very lairs of RSS while King Sunny goes on about mowing the lawn at his Middlesex Manor.
Though my maiden RSS shaka was
such a bore inconclusive, my interactions with RSS Swayamsevaks has left me convinced that RSS serves no more purpose than to provide testing grounds for its political arm – the BJP, even as the latter trying to cut the umbical chords that bind it with RSS.
The RSS is an organisation full of contradictions. On the exterior it seems to embrace modernity yet is deeply resentful of it. It claims to work towards uplifting the Dalits yet it draws most of its membership from notoriously casteist communitites. It claims to be apolitical cultural organisation yet it has irrevocably altered the political landscape of India.
Fuelled for years with its near-schizophernic paranoia of Muslims, RSS has recently discovered patrotic Indian muslims. But this ideological shift hasn’t gone down to well with the RSS old hands. Today it is an organisation in a search for a sense of purpose.They believe that they are the last guardians of dying Hindu culture. But Hindu culture, far from dead, is evolving to the pragmatic compulsions of modernity rather than dying. Swayamsevaks like Mr.Chiplunkar like to think that they work for a cause. But in effect they try to find a cause in their work. For a man who devoted his entire life to RSS, Mr.Chiplunkarâ€™s cause remains unclear and achievements vague.
This is a guest post by AmÃ©y Chaugule, aka Vikrant
Some names have been changed to protect privacy. This entry was actually written on 13th of July
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Filed in: Hindu,India,Organisations