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When rss pracharak Madhuri Deshpande knocked at the door of the Karkares in the posh Deccan Gymkhana area of Pune, she thought she had come home. This had to be a household sympathetic to the rss—the ajoba (grandfather) had been a rss pracharak, grandmother Karkare's brother even gave up marriage and the whole ground floor of his home in the upmarket Dharampeth area of Nagpur to run a shakha of the rss. Obviously, there was no need to acquaint the Karkares with the abc of Hindutva. But still, the rss, which is currently on a door-to-door campaign to drive home their aims and objectives among believers and non-believers, came calling on the Karkares.
But Deshpande was in for a shock. The young boy whom she targeted for her indoctrination did not have the patience. He was more interested to continue with his game of cricket. "You need not tell me about the rss ideology. I am a great supporter of the Shiv Sena." With that he dashed away to play cricket. Even before Deshpande and her team could get over this shock, the younger members of the household, mostly female, made a reluctant appearance in the living room at the insistence of their aaji (grandmother) who politely ushered the pracharaks in and gave in to their urgings for a meeting with the younger minds. Cool and careful not to be impolite, the Karkares, in the space of an hour, completely tore the rss apart. Said Mohini Karkare, 18-year-old Megha's mother: "The rss is taking the country backwards. It is against progress. It is against freedom of choice."
By and large it was the emphasis on swadeshi that came under attack. Deshpande's arguments that we can do without videshi had no takers. When she spoke about living a principled life, all the youngsters jumped down her throat. "What principles?" they asked. "And whose principles? Why should we put up with second best? Why should we have to do without the nice things of life?" Added Mohini: "All you need in life is a roof, some food and clothes. But is that all what life is about? Don't you have the right to aspire for more?"
The Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya was another contentious issue Deshpande and her team had to tackle. Mohini's niece Sucheta Karud, a school-going girl in 1993, was critical of the disruption in her life by the riots that followed the demolition. "I didn't believe in whatever happened then. Weren't the Shiv Sainiks responsible for the riots? They are not interested in making things better despite having been given a chance to rule. They seem to be interested only in hooliganism."
Soon it was clear that the pracharaks had run into a wall and, perhaps, they were unprepared for this run of polite hostility from people they thought were their sympathisers. When she visited Dilip Ranadive, a marketing executive who had attended shakhas when he was in school, Deshpande had to listen to a long lecture on how outdated and unattractive the rss had become. The khakhi knickers, in Ranadive's view, was not the right image. Even its packaging, he thought, was wrong. "We will slowly improve this," defended Deshpande. "You don't have the time go about it slowly," shot back Ranadive. "If you haven't achieved anything in 75 years, then you are in danger of becoming irrelevant and marginalised. You must now move with the speed of light to catch up with the 21st century."
Ironically, the pracharaks found "non-believers" less hostile. Nitin Basrur, a Congress supporter, is sure they will not accept the rss ideology.But what does he himself think of the rss? "They are too emotional in their reactions. I experiment with political parties. I voted for Vajpayee the last time but he seems to have fizzled out."
It was certainly not smooth for the team. Some Christian households in Yeravada chased them out of their colony. One Maharashtrian resident refused to give them any time. "I know what you are all about. I do not want to listen to you," he shot back when the team came calling. Some others asked them to drop their overt ‘Hindutva' tag to find acceptability for the good work they do among the poor and the needy. Still others asked them to steer clear of the bjp and politics.
Undeterred, the pracharaks are putting up a brave face. "When such things happen," says Makarand Lele, secretary of the Pune unit of the rss, "we tell our pracharaks to refrain from argument. They must not force the issue. But we are taking note of such homes and we will find some mutual contact to reach them and find out why they are hostile to us." For the moment though, the pracharaks are leaving behind pamphlets and booklets in Marathi and English to drive home the rss philosophy. They are also pasting a gaudy red-and-blue sticker of Bharat Mata seated on a map of Akhand Bharat (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal) on the door of the homes they've visited, hoping that at least 2.5 lakh of the three lakh Pune homes would be sporting it at the end of the month-long campaign which started on November 5. While Lele denies that the campaign is being undertaken to rescue the rss from an existentialist crisis in its 75th year, the pracharaks realise that they have much ground to cover. This was obvious when they visited some lower middle-class homes. Take Sulochana Eknath Dhamale for instance. Although her husband visits the Patit Pavana Sangathana shakhas irregularly, she herself never had heard of the rss before. Rajashri Supe, too, had not and when pracharak Krupa Patil, spotting a young son indoors, explained about the rss' activities for kids, Supe mistook it for an organisation to do with recreation and sports. "Such a society has been set up by my husband's company too (he works for Kirloskar). I'll send my son only if the branch is not too far."
Exasperated, Patil, an advocate, left with assurances, but not before planting a sticker on the freshly-painted door of Supe's new home while the reluctant housewife looked on disapprovingly.
But Patil didn't have the nerve to paste a sticker on autorickshaw driver Hanif Ismail Khan's. He lets the team in for "just 10 minutes" as he had to go and take his bath. After listening to what the pracharaks had to say, Khan, who hails from Satara, said in chaste Marathi, "All that is by the way. I want to know what is the rss offering for the common man—employment? Removal of poverty? Eradication of corruption?'' Replied Patil, "For that we have set up a political party called the bjp." But Khan countered: "The ‘I-Congress' in the past used to give us jobs. Now MPs and mlas only want to fill their own pockets." Patil left after handing him a sticker which Khan accepted gingerly. "I really could not have stuck that on his door," Patil told us. "These people object to such things. You have to tread carefully."
Lele, too, is brooding about how his pracharaks will handle Muslims in the Mominpura area of Pune. "We do not want to create incidents. But I know we will be asked questions about Christians and Muslims as our campaign gathers momentum. ''
This is the second time in over a decade that the rss has undertaken such a campaign. In 1989, they went knocking to collect funds for Dr Hedgewar's centenary.But this time, the idea is to spread the rss word. Judging by the response in Pune, it certainly looks like a long haul.