Almost 60 years ago, in 1961, my uncle Shashikant Chauthaiwale, after completion of his M.Sc. in Statistics from Nagpur University, decided to devote his life to the country as a Pracharak of RSS. He was sent to Assam immediately and since then he has become native of Assam. As a cancer survivor for the last 10 years, he is currently living in Silchar (Assam). As he has now some spare time, he was encouraged by others to write his experiences as Sangh Pracharak in Assam, the result of which is a publication of a book titled "Meri Prachaarak Yaatra" which was released on 26th February in Silchar.
Written in Hindi, this book is a personal narration of experiences, contemporary events and about the hundreds of people he met and worked with -- he must have mentioned more than 100 names in this 132-page book. There is no dramatization, no complaints or over-celebration, no self-compliments, not a word of criticism or negative comments about anyone he has interacted with, and of course, no regrets. He has no existence beyond Sangh. He winds up the description of the lives of his all eight siblings in a few paragraphs, mentioning that he could not be present during their last rites, except one.
Even today, with good air connectivity, someone in Delhi will think twice before going to Assam. Imagine 1961 when it used to take 38 hours from Kolkata to reach Guwahati. It was just a beginning of hardships of Pracharak life, that too in Assam. He reached Nougaon soon after riots between Assamese speaking and Bangla speaking natives. Later on, refugees during 1962 China aggression, emergency and ban on RSS in 1975, Assam agitation in the 1980s, communal riots are other challenging times to mention a few.
His formative years as Pracharak were under the leadership of then RSS Sar Sanghchalak Golwalkar “Guruji”. Naturally, he is referred to in this book multiple times. Two stories in this context are worth mentioning. During their meeting soon after his arrival in Assam, Golwalkar jokingly asked him if he had started eating fish. He answered in negative. Golwalkar responded by saying, “In Maharashtra, if we eat fish, it would be considered a big sin. In Assam, they think if one does not eat fish, he will be weak and sick. Both are wrong. The day you will naturally feel like eating fish, you can”.
In 1965, Golwalkar and Pejawar Swami Vishveshteerth were present in a conclave of tribals at Jorhat. At last minute, few disciples of Swami ji, without his knowledge, declared that Swamiji would not attend the conclave as the tribals are beef eaters. In response, Golwalkar argued, “Yes, they do eat beef. But they do it out of compulsion as no alternative is available. And when is the last time we have approached them? We were busy all the time in performing rituals, sitting in a glass house”. When Swamiji came to know about this discussion, he overruled his disciples and joined the conclave.
Yet another incident involving tribal children is equally insightful. In a hostel for tribal students (launched by VHP), only vegetarian food was being served. So frustrated were students for not having meat, they killed a cat, cooked and ate it, all without knowledge of the administrator. When it came to light, it was decided to serve non-veg food once a week.
Commuting in the North East was never an easy affair. This book narrates several instances of him and other senior leaders of Sangh traveling in unreserved compartments of train, buses, on foot for several kilometers. Sangh in the North East was always under financial stress. There are so many instances in this book on how these difficulties were overcome with the help of local residents, hard work of Swayamsevaks, and novel frugal solutions for resource management.
In the North East, several Sangh workers were killed by various extremist elements over the decades. Three Pracharaks originally from Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala were killed. Several local workers too succumbed to terrorist attacks. In 1999, four senior workers of RSS were kidnapped in Tripura and after several months, they were declared dead by the government.
In spite of these tragedies and hardships, this book is an account of how a team of highly motivated and dedicated workers can overcome all these difficulties with smiling faces. Pracharaks, who devote their entire lives to the cause, are, of course, an integral part of this journey. But equally or more important are others who manage their family responsibilities and contribute to the work. This book is full of stories of several such workers, from someone who exchanged his new bicycle (without knowledge of spouse) with old one of Pracharak, to others who donated his living house for Sangh Karyalaya or for a hostel for tribal students. It is also a vivid account of how massive mass mobilization in favour of national integrity was carried out multiple times. It also depicts how small seeds sowed several decades ago by visionary leaders have shown results today (for example, the union for tea garden workers).
This long journey also has several instances of celebrations and laughter. Once, after a long walk in severe cold, when he and his colleagues reached army base and asked for water, an army Jawan instead offered rum to keep them warm (which was politely declined). In other instance, then RSS General Secretary H V Seshadri was so keen to watch “Ramayan” serial on DD that he entered a small house of an unknown family in a remote village (by looking at TV antenna on roof-top) and watched the episode.
In less than five years, RSS will celebrate it’s centenary. One may or may not agree with RSS ideology, but no one can deny that this living organization is a unique case of how an institution is built, nurtured, expanded, remained uncompromised on core issues, values and shows enough flexibility on other issues. It is also a touching human story of millions of workers, about whom ex-RSS Chief Deoras described as “workers whom even God will be envy of”. While complete dedication and commitment are the hallmarks of these workers, little known third characteristics are “facelessness”. This book, therefore, is not only a story of my uncle, but also it’s a tribute to all those faceless individuals.
(The author is in-charge of the BJP’s foreign affair’s department. Views expressed are personal.)