"Sympathy for Hindutva is far more widespread amongst senior officers than suspected. One has reason to believe that under the immaculate uniforms a large number of senior servicemen wear a saffron vest."—
Former chief of naval staff Admiral J.G. Nadkarni
For the RSS, the defence services are 'natural allies'. The growing disillusionment with successive governments since the 1971 war; the increasing complaints about poor salaries, retirement benefits and lack of "izzat" have only helped them inch closer. For, the RSS and the BJP, with their emphasis on macho Hinduism and national pride, project themselves as the only organisations which can right the "injustices" meted out to the armed forces.
Admits a senior army officer: "Most people in the army are won over by the word discipline. The black cap, the khaki shorts and the danda impresses them. Since the BJP and the RSS are identified as belonging to the same family, many in the army are sympathetic to the BJP." In February alone, as many as 25 retired generals joined the BJP.
While the RSS has always been pro-Services, retired offi-cers say the Sangh has stepped up its campaign in the last seven to eight years. The modus operandi: open lines of dialogue with officers through social circles as well as the family and make them aware of organisations which value their contribution. The Sangh is also tapping the growing bank of retired personnel.
The BJP-RSS combine was the first to cash in on the frustration in the 3-million strong ex-servicemen fraternity. In 1993, the Purva Sainik Seva Parishad (PSSP), an RSS wing looking after the interests of retired service personnel, was launched in Uttar Pradesh. The organisation has since spread to 12 states and now has an ambitious plan of channelising the energies of retired officers to inculcate soldierly qualities in the youth. It also wants to keep alive the forgotten pride of the three forces.
Much largesse has already come the PSSP's way with the BJP at the Centre. On March 28, the government granted a corpus of Rs 1 crore for the body; a statue of Subhash Bose at Red Fort has been cleared; land has been allotted for a military school in Delhi; students of Class VII to Class IX countrywide will be imparted military training. The first batch will be trained at Saraswati Sishu Mandir, Nainital; friendly schools in Delhi are next on the list.
According to Wing Commander K.L. Nagpal, PSSP general secretary, the training programme for the youth which he describes as "an amalgam of RSS and army ideals" will open an avenue for retired officers to "serve the country." He hopes that his organisation's plans will take off now that the BJP is in power.
The PSSP's training programme is in keeping with the catch-them-young strategy of the RSS. Two residential military schools are being run along Sangh lines in Maharashtra alone. One is located in the same premises as the Sangh's headquarters in Nagpur. The RSS and friendly organisations are also training those appearing for the Services Selection Board exams. Admiral Nadkarni told Outlook that any politicising of the army would harm it in the same way it has affected the bureaucracy. "You will soon have a situation when generals will change with every change of government. I don't want to be an alarmist. But the services should be kept out of politics."
Going by the growing sympathy for the RSS worldview, the Sangh is likely to widen its net of influence. But to maintain its popularity ratings, the BJP will have to deliver. First, a considerable chunk of the defence budget will have to be set apart to meet the demands of serving and retired servicemen. A tough call.
VIDYA BHARATI: Its aim is to evolve an alternative model of education, to sensitise young minds to the Cause. And if its strength—the Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan set up in 1978 has 13,000 schools, 74,000 teachers and 17.5 lakh students—is any indication, it is on its way. Vishwa Ratna, joint convenor, Delhi unit, told Outlook the "need for another system has arisen due to western education and TV, which has destroyed the fabric of the Bharatiya culture."
"To develop the total personality of the child, Vidya Bharati has prescribed a national syllabi of five subjects—physical education, yoga, music, Sanskrit and moral, spiritual education. The admission is open to all Indians who believe the need to inculcate Bharatiya culture in their children." Once the child is formally admitted, the parents are called for a fortnight of training. "This training is a must. The parents are instructed to give the right atmosphere at home. There should not be any contradiction between what a child learns at school and the atmosphere back home," says Ratna.
Right from 'bal wadi' (kindergarten) to high school, the emphasis is on Hindu culture. Sanskrit exams, quiz programmes and painting competitions on Hindu mythology and leaders like Hedgewar, Golwalkar and Subhash Chandra Bose are the norm. Teachers have to go through the grind as well. They are required to appear in Sanskrit exams and write essays on moral and spiritual matters.
Bharatiya Adhyapak Parishad: A crucial, if low-profile, Sangh-affiliate, this outfit comprises committed school teachers trained in the field of primary education. An offshoot of Vidya Bharati, the Parishad monitors syllabi, incorporates changes in the curriculum, especially the social sciences. How does this scripture reach the children? The teachers work in a nationwide network of Saraswati Shishu Mandirs, many in far-flung areas. In BJP-ruled states such as UP, some shishu mandirs have been granted recognition.
Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad: Founded in 1948, this student body was registered only on July 9, 1949, and is still growing with more than nine lakh members in the fold. Former ABVP president and member of national executive Rajkumar Bhatia says its "sole objective is to channelise the energy of students in the task of national reconstruction." Among the 30 central universities where elections to students' bodies are held, it has captured 15.
The ABVP played a major role in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the run-up to December 6, 1992. They mobilised resources—men and money—for the Babri Masjid's demolition. But Bhatia disagrees that the Sangh has full control over ABVP: "It certainly draws inspiration from the Sangh but we are an independent organisation which determines its own course of action."
The RSS has a vast network of sympathisers among bureaucrats but it is the relations with the Intelligence that provide elements of high drama. Over the last two decades, the RSS has, albeit clandestinely, built up a rapport with 'individuals' in the Intelligence agencies like the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Military Intelligence. These Indian agencies have time and again sought the help of the RSS to infiltrate the ranks of the 'enemy'.
Scores of Kashmiri Pundit youths belonging to the RSS or the ABVP gave their services to RAW and IB in Kashmir to infiltrate the ranks of separatist militants. These young students were trained in Islam by the intelligence agencies before being sent to the militants. Some of them got caught and had to face the wrath of Kashmiri militants. "I can offer namaz and can recite ayats of Quran as Muslims do, still I got caught and they tortured me with cigarette burns," says an ABVP activist from Kashmir, requesting anonymity.
Similarly, the intelligence agencies have approached the RSS for "hardcore Hindu agents to be planted in Pakistan". Says Chamanlal, in charge of the RSS' foreign department: "Our foreign agency (RAW) approached us when they came to know about our good reputation. They wanted us to give them young Hindu men who could be trained as Muslims and planted as their agents in Pakistan. Because you cannot trust Muslims and Christians." Chamanlal, however, says that the RSS did not oblige.
That there is a startling similarity between the RSS and IB thought-processes came to the fore during the IB raid on a Muslim educational institution in Lucknow sometime ago. The IB seems to have been convinced with the RSS belief that the ISI has spread its network in every household across western UP and parts of eastern UP bordering Nepal. "The ISI has a presence in every gali and mohalla," insists a former IB deputy director.
Bharatiya Kisan Sangh: Set up in the late '60s when farmers across the country were becoming powerful pressure groups, the BKS has senior RSS man Dattopant Thengari as its patron, who is also its founder. In fact, Thengari is also the patron of two other powerful RSS-backed organ-isations, the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM) and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the activities of all three have been meticulously coordinated in the advent of liberalisation. While traditional issues—procuring a higher purchase price from the government for crops, fertiliser and power subsidies, small-scale irrigation projects keeping in mind local needs—have always been on the BKS agenda, the organisation has become increasingly assertive. The bulk of the activists for agitational programmes inspired by SJM against the Dunkel Draft (now WTO agreement), patents of Neem and Basmati by Western companies came from the BKS.Then, the BKS led a powerful agitation against Cargill in Karnataka and propped up ace activist Prof. M.D. Nanjundaswamy's campaign.
Vigyan Bharati: Many top office-bearers, including Sangh chief Prof. Rajendra Singh, have degrees in science. BJP leaders with strong RSS links such as Union HRD minister Dr M.M. Joshi—a Physics professor at Allahabad University—has long been lamenting the treatment meted out to ancient Indian (Hindu) scientific texts and have called for promoting "indigenous scientific research". Result: the Vigyan Bharati. Its aim is to "promote the use of swadeshi technologies and encourage indigenous scientific endeavours." A quarterly magazine (also called Vigyan Bharati) is its link with the scientific community.
In fact, the "infiltration", says RSS critics, is pronounced. Regular seminars are organised where leading Indian scientists are invited. Sangh officials say Kerala-based Prof. Vasu, who is involved with Vigyan Bharati, was instrumental in getting Dr Raja Ramanna to speak at one such seminar; this was followed up by a "Technology Sammelan" at Mumbai IIT. The Sangh believes that a healthy relationship between industrial houses and the scientific community will lead to private funding for endeavours the government may not be keen on promoting—this is one of Vigyan Bharati's key aims. Top scientists like M.G.K. Menon are sympathisers. It now wants to set up a Vigyan Bharati group in each Indian university.
Akhil Bharatiya Adhivakta Parishad: The ABAP,founded in 1992, wants "to work constantly for the improvement and evolution of a judicial system which is in harmony with the genius of the nation and in consonance with Bharatiya traditions, values and sense of justice and to make the justice delivery system more efficient." The ABAP has offices in all courts of the country except the High Court of Sikkim. Adarsh Goel, its general secretary, told Outlook: "The ABAP has spearheaded the campaign against Article 356 and wants it amended. It has fought against the entry of foreign legal and media firms. We have already passed a resolution on these matters where legal luminaries Ram Jethmalani, Justice G. Lodha, Justice H.R. Khanna, Justice Venkataramiah, Justice B.L. Hansaria were present. The Parishad focuses on the problems in the judiciary. For instance, the serving of notices, recording of evidence, obtaining a copy of any order and delay in disposal of cases." It also grooms newcomers by organising lectures, study groups and conferences in various streams of laws. Many lawyers toe the Sangh parivar line and take up the cause. And even fight Sangh cases.
Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram: The RSS was not particularly taken up with the question of Adivasis for the first 25 years of its existence. It was only in the communally surcharged early '50s that the founder-fathers of the RSS planned to counter the growing influence of Christian missionaries in the tribal belts by spreading Hinduism.
And in the '90s, the tribal belts form one of the key areas of RSS activity. Founded in 1952 in Jaspur town in Jharkhand region by an RSS activist Ramakant Keshav Deshpande, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has mushroomed into one of the strongest Sangh organisations with 8,975 projects for tribals all over the country, including the Northeast.
Aping Christian missionaries and their Bibles, RSS pracharaks went to Jaspur and surrounding areas with the Hanuman chalisa and the Ramcharit Manas in their hands. They organised Ramayan mandalis and "liberated several tribal places of worship from Christian missionaries" to win back the Adivasi population—the RSS insists on calling them vanvasis—to the Hindu fold.
One of the main aims of the organisation is to assimilate tribal youth into the Hindu mainstream. Under the striking programme called the Students' Experience in Inter State Living, tribal students from remote areas are taken to Delhi, Mumbai and other cities and put up in the families of RSS sympathisers to make them familiar with a Hindu parivar. As a student, Arunachal CM Gegong Apang was once taken to Mumbai to stay with a Hindu family—he's now an ally of the Vajpayee government.
Through its development and welfare projects, the organisation, and therefore the RSS, has been able to enter the remotest of areas. According to figures with the organisation, of a total of 1,36,525 tribal villages, the VKA has its presence in 26,768 villages. The maximum number of 2,398 projects run by the VKA are in south Bihar where it also runs 13 hostels for boys and one for girls. In the Northeast, Assam tops the list with 114; Tripura comes next with 108 centres followed by Arunachal Pradesh which has 74.
In the Red bastion of West Bengal too, the RSS is active. Says Jayant Sanyal, an engineer: "This year RSS activists distributed medicines among the poor in our area to help prevent malaria although the civic body or the ruling Left parties should have been active".
The RSS uses blood donation camps and free medical camps to establish its presence in tribal-dominated areas such as Karbi-Ang-long, Cachar, Meghalaya, Arunachal, Udalguri and Kokrajhar.
Rashtra Sevika Samiti: The role of an 'adarsh naari', according to RSS parameters, is confined to "inspire her father, brother, husband and son on the righteous path as a good daughter, sister, wife and mother". The RSS sought to redefine the role of women during the Ayodhya upheaval, giving it a more aggressive and militant tilt. "Hindu yuvatiyo! Lo hunkaar, jage veerata shubh samskar (O! Young Hindu women! Raise the warcry to inspire bravery and good values)," was the RSS slogan.
The organisation responsible for organising women is Rashtra Sevika Samiti, founded in 1936 by Laxmibai Kelkar, which functions essentially as a family. Instead of bringing women out of their houses, swayamsevikas go to the houses of their target audience, mingle with family members, help them in household work and talk about the role of women in a Hindu family.
The samiti has 5,000 shakhas and swayamsevikas hold regular shakhas and drills in full uniform. It was through this samiti that the VHP mobilised thousands of families to cook food for kar sevaks headed for Ayodhya. It has spread the word overseas as well—it now has shakhas in England, Holland, the US, Canada, Kenya, South Africa, Myanmar and Malaysia by the name of "Hindu Sevika Samiti". According to the RSS, the idea of an organisation for women was initially resisted tooth and nail by some Sangh leaders but they gave in. Despite that, the RSS has not accepted woman as man's natural partner. Celibacy and a bachelor status is encouraged for who-letimers which has naturally created some distortions. Des Raj Goyal, journalist and former RSS insider, in his book Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh said: "In some cases the pracharaks staying with prominent citizens in various states had developed uncalled for intimacy with members of those families and that had caused great harm to the organisation and its reputation."
Videsh Vibhag: The RSS takes pride in saying that "it was only the governing party which was opposed to the Sangh, not the government". There has always been some kind of an informal understanding between the State—especially the sympathetic bureaucracy—and the RSS. It is this tacit understanding that enables the RSS to function abroad with a certain degree of credibility through its Videsh Vibhag.