For the first time, a woman — mountaineer Santosh Yadav — will be the chief guest at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) annual Vijayadashami celebrations in Nagpur on October 5 this year.
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Only adults males are allowed to join the RSS shakhas. Women — primarily mothers, wives and sisters of swayamsevaks — can associate with the Sangh’s women’s wing, the Rashtra Sevika Samiti.
The RSS has been criticised over the years by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for allowing women to remain at the margin of the Sangh’s activities.
RSS chief visits mosque and madrassa, imam organisation chief terms him ‘rashtra pita’| RSS chief visits mosque and madrassa, imam organisation chief terms him ‘rashtra pita’
The likelihood that the RSS will allow women into its shakhas by the time it marks its hundredth anniversary in 2025 — the RSS was founded on Vijayadashami day in 1925 — is slim. Many believe that the RSS is trying out some of its shibboleths by having a woman as its chief guest at its Vijayadashami function.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat visited a mosque in the capital on Thursday to reach out to Muslims. According to a Sangh official, Bhagwat’s first visit to a madrasa was in his first visit.
Commentators, including some Muslims, lauded Bhagwat’s outreach as a move in the right direction in today’s fractious times. They also referred to Bhagwat’s interaction in September 2019 with Muslim intellectuals and another a few months ago, and his suggestion to his ilk not to go looking for a Shivling under every mosque.
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The RSS in Delhi will reach out and honour Sant Ravidas (15-century poet) during the Ramlila festivities.
The Sangh is involved with similar outreach to Dalit and OBC groups in Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand as well as other states. RSS insiders maintain that the Sangh does NOT believe in the caste systems, so it is impossible for them to say if the OBC representation has increased in their hierarchy.
But projecting Narendra Modi, an OBC, and the social work by its affiliates is part of the RSS effort to counter the criticism that it is a deeply Brahminical outfit.
According to a long-time RSS watcher, Sangh’s activities and actions are linked, and should be interpreted, in the context of the prevailing socio-political context, how they would play out in the public perception and achieve their objectives.
The RSS invited Yadav, who is a woman, to its Vijayadashami celebrations, but it also hosted Sant Nirmal Das in 2017, which it claimed was its first Dalit religious leader chief guests.
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The June 2018 visit of Pranab Mukherjee (a former president) to the RSS headquarters was widely covered.
“The RSS has a penchant for inviting celebrities and for event management. An invite to Yadav may not mean that its views on women have changed,”A Sangh observer agreed.
The Supreme Court approved entry for women of all ages to Kerala’s Sabarimala temple on September 28, 2018. The RSS, however, compromised its stated position on the issue of gender equality when it opposed the entry of women for strategic reasons – to defeat its ideological opponents, the communists in Kerala.
Bhagwat announced that, just over a week after the SC verdict, during a three-day lecture (September 17, 17-19, 2018) at New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan, the Sangh had removed offensive comments to Muslims’ as internal threats in M S Golwalkar’s book, ‘The Sangh’.We or Our Nationhood Defined‘.
They have been rephrased as ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and ‘evangelism’. The outreach was meant to let anyone who cared to listen know that the RSS is a moderate, flexible organisation that is willing to reconsider some of its positions in an ever-changing world.
The RSS’ recent outreach to Muslims by Bhagwat is not a new initiative. K Sudarshan, then chief RSS, had a similar outreach in the years of Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
Sudarshan’s idea was born in the context Gujarat riots 2002, and the uproar that followed. Bhagwat’s effort comes in response to criticisms by former spokesperson for BJP Nupur Sharma about comments against the Prophet and incidents involving violence against Muslims.
Truth is that there isn’t a single Muslim on the Union council of Ministers. The BJP also refused to field a single Muslim candidate in the UP Assembly elections earlier this year.
However, RSS outreach among OBCs, Dalits, and tribals through its affiliates like Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram (which runs over one thousand schools) and Sewa Bharati (which claims to run 1.75,000 welfare projects) are its success stories.
According to Sangh insiders Bhagwat admires Madhukar Dattatreya Balasaheb Deoras the third RSS chief, and the most of all its Sarsanghchalaks.
Dinesh Narayanan wrote in his book about the RSS, “For Deoras.” “there was nothing sacrosanct that it could not be broken”The only guiding principle was that Hindustan is a Hindu Rashtra. Everything else could change.