The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has come a long way since 1939 with own set of accolades and accusations, celebrations and controversies. A look into these diverse opinions, records and statements about the infamous organisation.

RSS is an organisation that is almost 88 years old (it was started in 1925). In its long existence it has seldom been free of accolades and controversies. A bunch of laudatory and objective observations about the RSS:

  • Mahatma Gandhi in 1934: “When I visited the RSS Camp, I was very much surprised by your discipline and absence of untouchablity.”
  • Dr. Ambedkar in 1939: “This is the first time that I am visiting the camp of Sangh volunteers. I am happy to find absolute equality between Savarniyas (Upper Caste) and Harijans (Lower Caste) without any one being aware of such difference existing.”
  • Zakir Hussain (former President of India) in 1949: “The allegations against the RSS of violence and hatred against Muslims are wholly false. Muslims should learn the lesson of mutual love, cooperation and organization from the RSS.”
  • Jayprakash Narayan, one of Independent India’s most important leaders, in 1977: “RSS is a revolutionary organisation. No other organisation in the country comes anywhere near it. It alone has the capacity to transform society, end casteism and wipe the tears from the eyes of the poor. I have great expectations from this revolutionary organisation which has taken up the challenge of creating a new India.”
  • Field Marshal Cariappa: “RSS is my heart’s work. My dear young men, don’t be disturbed by uncharitable comments of interested persons. Look ahead! Go ahead! The country is standing in need of your services.”
  • Christopher Jaffrelot, the director of the Centre for Studies and Research (CERI) has written that with its paramilitary style of functioning and emphasis on discipline, the RSS has sometimes been seen by some as “an Indian version of fascism”. The RSS’s ideology treats society as an organism with a secular spirit, which is implanted not so much in the race as in a socio-cultural system and which will be regenerated over the course of time by patient work at the grassroots. RSS leaders, he says, were interested in cultural as opposed to racial sameness making them markedly different from Nazism and Fascism.
mahasankalp shivir Comments and Controversies about the RSS

People gather to attend three day-long Mahasankalp Shivir of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh on Jan. 3, 2014. (Photo: IANS)

But these plaudits are poked bare by the controversies. The most important controversies about RSS:

  • Banned on February 4, 1948 when Nathuram Godse, a former RSS member assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. A number of important RSS members were also arrested. A Committee was established to explore into the conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi. The RSS was absolved by the report published in 1970 by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Per the published report, the Kapur Commission report noted that: …RSS as such were not responsible for the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, meaning thereby that one could not name the organisation as such as being responsible for that most diabolical crime, the murder of the apostle of peace. It has not been proved that they (the accused) were members of the RSS…”
  • Banned in 1975 during the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi. The Emergency suspended the fundamental rights of citizens and curtailed the freedom of Press. The Emergency was met with widespread protests from all quarters and multitudes were jailed without proper charges against them. Because of its size, the RSS was seen as a potential threat and was banned. Undeterred, the RSS had a Satyagraha against the ban and violation of human rights. It started underground movements for restoration of democracy. Thousands from the RSS were jailed and thousands continued the agitation against the Emergency.

The ban on the RSS was lifted when the Emergency ended in 1977.

  • Doubtful Role in Jamshedpur Communal Riots in 1979: Jitendra Narayan in a report on Jamshedpur riots of 1979 had to say: “After giving careful and serious consideration to all the materials that are on record, the Commission is of the view that the RSS with its extensive organisation in Jamshedpur and which had close links with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh had a positive hand in creating a climate which was most propitious for the outbreak of communal disturbances. In the first instance, the speech of Shri Deoras (delivered just five days before the Ram Navami festival) tended to encourage the Hindu extremists to be unyielding in their demands regarding Road No. 14. Secondly, his speech amounted to communal propaganda. Thirdly, the shakhas and the camps that were held during the divisional conference presented a militant atmosphere to the Hindu public. In the circumstances, the commission cannot but hold the RSS responsible for creating a climate for the disturbances that took place on the 11th of April, 1979.”
RSS meeting 1939 Comments and Controversies about the RSS

A rare group photo of six initial swayamsevaks taken on the occasion of a RSS meeting held in 1939

  • Banned in 1992 for its involvement and role in the demolition of Babri Masjid. RSS and the Sangh Parivar were accused of organised destruction of the Babri Masjid. As per the Liberhan Commission, “The blame or the credit for the entire temple construction movement at Ayodhya must necessarily be attributed to the Sangh Parivar”. The Sangh Parivar challenged the report and was vindicated by a White Paper released by the Government of India which stated:

“…Everything was normal, the karseva was proceeding ‘as per the plan’ of the organizers; but ‘in a sudden development’ the karsevaks broke the police cordon and entered the structure in large numbers and then the demolition took place.”

  • Accused of participation in the Godhra-induced violence on Gujarat in 2002. Three compartments of Sabarmati Express were locked from outside by local Muslims; the compartments were doused with kerosene and set afire in Godhra in 2002. 56 Hindus pilgrims died. The fire sparked a State-wide reaction amongst Hindus with riots exploding almost everywhere. Reaction led to further reaction with both communities committing acts of violence against each other. (Political spin has now demonised this as violence perpetuated by only one community.) A NGO, Human Rights Watch has accused RSS (amongst others) being party to the violence.
  • Accused of role in religion driven violence in Odisha in 2008. Swami Lakshamananda Saraswati, a senior VHP member was murdered in Odisha. Arrested for the murder were:
    • Pradesh Kumar Das, an employee of a Christian Charity World Vision
    •  Vikram Digal and William Digal arrested from the house of Lal Digal, a local militant Christian. They have admitted to having joined a group of 28 other assailants

The murder led to factions from the two religions (Hindus and Christians) clashing in violent outbursts. The RSS has denied any involvement in the post-murder reaction.

By Sujata Garimella

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