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The RSS is already celebrating

May 13, 2014 08:52 IST

20 times increase in people joining RSS on, Marginal increase in number of branches. Archis Mohan reports

The Bharatiya Janata Party might or might not form a Narendra Modi-led government but the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's support to the high octane Abki baar Modi sarkaar campaign has yielded for the Sangh the desired results of helping it create a positive image, increase its membership, consolidate its organisation and take its message to new regions and social groups.

The results, RSS claims, were already visible in the increased number of "men" between age 14 and 40 enrolling to become RSS members.

According to one RSS functionary, the Sangh experienced such a massive surge in its membership last at the peak of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

The starkest example of this spike, Delhi RSS Prasar Prachar Pramukh Rajiv Tuli says, was the number of people sending their requests to join RSS.

"We launched the 'join RSS' section on our website in July 2012. We would, on an average, get 200 requests a month in the initial months but the numbers soared after the Vijayadashami of 2013," Tuli says.

According to Tuli, the number multiplied 10 times to 2,000 new members a month in the last quarter of 2013.

This increased further to 3,500 a month in the first quarter of 2014 and in April, touched 4,500 members. This period coincided with the anointment of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate on September 13, 2013.

The Sangh's support to the Narendra Modi-led BJP campaign has been unprecedented.

On Saturday night, Modi landed in Delhi after finishing his whirlwind election campaign and headed straight to Keshav Kunj, the RSS headquarters in Delhi, to meet senior functionaries, including Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat.

The meeting was ostensibly to discuss future political strategy. But it was evidently, as one senior leader put it, a "thanksgiving" visit for RSS' immense support to the election campaign

Another RSS functionary, who didn't want to be named, credited Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat for having aptly summed up the 2014 election campaign for the RSS and its support to Modi.

When asked to rate former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Modi, Karat had said last week in Delhi, "Vajpayee is a swayamsevak (volunteer). Modi is a pracharak (campaigner/propagandist)."

The RSS is deeply satisfied that the former pracharak, Modi, played his part to the hilt.

RSS functionaries point out the effort Modi put in his campaigning by extensively travelling to the Sangh's traditionally weak areas of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bengal, Odisha and the Northeast.

The RSS' assessment is that Modi's rallies, particularly his interviews to the media where he spoke about his past as somebody who trained in the RSS ideals and described the Sangh in glowing terms, played a huge role in creating a positive image of the Sangh.

That a person from a "backward caste" was trained by the Sangh and pitch-forked to be the next PM has helped the RSS make further inroads among Other Backward Classes and Dalits, who have for long viewed the Sangh as a preserve of the upper castes.

It has taken the process started by K N Govindacharya in the 1990s to include more OBCs to the next level.

As a functionary with a background in sales said: "The mantra of this election campaign is simple -- Jo dikhta hai woh bikta hai (what is visible, sells)."

The RSS believes the positive media projection has helped Sangh undo the "disrepute heaped on it by the United Progressive Alliance government by connecting it to saffron terror."

The increased enrolment numbers have translated into more boys and men in its camps. Incidentally, the RSS is open only to Hindu men. The RSS held its annual prathamik shiksha karyashala or primary training workshop for new members or beginners from March 24 to 31 at 19 places in Delhi as also hundreds of centres across the country.

"This workshop is for members who, we believe, are ready to take up responsibilities in the Sangh and includes new members from ages 14 to 40," Tuli said.

On an average, approximately 1,200 new members had attended this annual workshop in the past few years.

This year, the numbers that the RSS had to accommodate in its Delhi workshop were nearly 2,000. This increase, say RSS sources, was no different elsewhere in the country with nearly 60,000 attending these workshops across India.

This positive spin, the RSS claims, is there to see in the increase in the number of morning shakhas. According to estimates, RSS shakhas increased to 54,000 by 2004 -- a result of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement of the 1990s and the National Democratic Alliance's years in power from 1998 to 2004.

However, last decade saw a perilous drop in both the numbers, which declined to 38,000 -- some estimates put it at 32,000 -- and dwindling attendance in the remaining shakhas. It isn't uncommon to see barely half-a-dozen men in khaki shorts doing their drills early morning in parks and grounds across northern and western India's urban centres.

The numbers, RSS claims, have increased steadily in the last couple of years and as many as 2,000 new branches were added, old ones revived and attendance in existing ones improved in the last six months.

The RSS enumerates its number of branches twice a year, in March around Holi and then in October-November around Diwali. "The impact on the revival of shakhas will reflect in our Diwali enumeration," an RSS functionary said

But not everybody in the RSS is comfortable with the kind of "hero worship" the organisation has encouraged about Modi. Bhagwat had told the Sangh's pratinidhi sabha in mid-March that it wasn't the Sangh's job to "chant Namo, Namo".

Archis Mohan