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Inside Sangh Parivar's drive to recruit Gen Next

August 19, 2014 09:13 IST

This doesn't mean the Sangh will do away with its trademark khakhi shorts, white shirt and black cap, or its core shakha-setup.

Imagine a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) office-bearer sporting a ponytail, goggles and a pair of Nike shoes. Clad in cargo shorts, he hums a Rolling Stones' number. This is no figment of imagination, but is for real.

A few years ago, such "deviations towards Western culture" would have been frowned upon by puritans in the Sangh, which swears by swadeshi and sanskriti. This doesn't mean the Sangh will do away with its trademark khakhi shorts, white shirt and black cap, or its core shakha-setup.

As the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M) brainstorms over how to attract a new generation, the RSS has stolen a march over its ideological rival.

In an out-of-the-box initiative to reach out to the youth, Vikas Bhagwat, the vibhag karyavah (zonal secretary) of Goregaon, Maharashtra, launched Gen Next as a pilot experiment in Mumbai.

"The project is such a big success that it has been accepted as a Sangh Parivar organisation. Now, this experiment will be replicated in other metros," said Shreerang Kulkarni, media and publicity pramukh, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

Although the RSS has made huge inroads into the information technology sector with cyber shakhas or IT Milan-whose volunteers clogged the cyberspace during the general elections with Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi messages-it felt the reach was limited to only professionals in that sector.

"Even in Sangh families, the first two generations were associated with us naturally but the new generation was moving away. We realised we need to talk to them in their language, otherwise we will lose them," said a Sangh functionary.

Although RSS training starts in pre-adolescence, attracting a new generation for shakhas was a major challenge for the organisation because of the "compulsions of modern life in urban areas".

The first thing that the Gen Next did was de-mystify the highly-Sanksritised terminology used in the Sangh.

"We overhauled our approach. Some of them came to us and told us 'we can't wear those khakhi shorts.' We said okay. In Gen Next, we don't use Sanskrit words such as ekatrikaran (get together), baithak (meeting) or sahal (picnic). We use their English equivalents. There is no dress code: even girls can attend Gen Next meetings in shorts, skirts or jeans, which is unthinkable in the Sangh," said the functionary quoted above.

However, many Sangh leaders are not convinced. They think the shakha should be the mainstay of the Sangh and youngsters should be encouraged to attend it.

"Gen Next is now a collection of youngsters. It has no definite character. It has to evolve," said Pramod Bapat, a functionary associated with the publicity department of the RSS.

In their meetings, Gen Next volunteers discuss issues concerning the youth, nation and polity. Recently, at its meeting in Mumbai, presided over by RSS Sah Sarkaryavah (joint general secretary) Dattatreya Hosabale and attended by about 700 youths, the topic was Facebook. Hosabale was impressed by the response and questions posed by the participants.

"It is not that they discuss only frivolous issues. They take up national issues, including Article 370. Without reluctance, they would stand outside Metro stations and distribute pamphlets on Article 370. They have boundless energy; we want to channel it for the national cause," said Kulkarni.

G Sreedathan