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OPINION | How the Sangh Has Mastered the Language of Mobilisation Through Storytelling

By: Badri Narayan

Edited By: Nitya Thirumalai

Last Updated: March 09, 2018, 11:52 IST

File photo of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. (PTI)

File photo of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. (PTI)

This storytelling reminds us many times of that Indian storytelling tradition in which Bhagvat Puran, Mahabharata, Satyanarayan Vrat Katha are narrated and heard widely.

Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) is going to organise its pratinidhi sabha in Nagpur this week. Its pracharaks and delegates will gather from different parts of India for the meeting.

These are the people who work at the grassroot level to propagate the Sangh Hindutva ideology. Many of my journalist friends and academic colleagues complain why the RSS is not given “so much importance” in my political analysis.

They say the expansion of the Sangh has become visible today because of the BJP being in power. I see this narrative a little differently. I find that much of the BJP’s popularity today has to do with the socio-cultural mindset the Sangh formed in the last 50-60 years through its groundwork.

The Sangh has slowly, without worrying about media attention, formed a larger section of dedicated and able workers, who are active from the top down, be it elections or opinion making, group mobilisation or socio-cultural activities. Through its training camps (varga), the Sangh is preparing 150 cadre every year.

During my research, I observed that the greatest strength of the Sangh is its language of mobilisation. Understanding this strength, a Congress leader says, “In the language of the Sangh, one hears the echo of 5,000 years. It has internalised many echoes of Indian traditions. If the Congress has to strengthen its conflict with the BJP, it must develop a counter language loaded with the image of past, present and future of Indian society.”

The Sangh indeed has a language which reflects a person’s life from birth to death. If you analytically study Bauddhiki of vargas of the Sangh from top to down, you would understand the source of this language, strategy of its construction and its form.

I have recently analysed lessons of these Bauddhiki and tried to understand the making of the language, which I am sharing here.

Many volunteers of the Sangh give impressive speeches, which is the regular culture of their shakhas and vargas. Hearing these speeches, I often feel that these have an impressive storytelling element through which the struggle, motivation and aim of the Sangh is narrated. This storytelling reminds us many times of that Indian storytelling tradition in which Bhagvat Puran, Mahabharata, Satyanarayan Vrat Katha are narrated and heard widely.

In the same narrative technique, workers of the Sangh are developing their lectures with new content. We know that ‘tales’ and stories are deeply rooted in Indian minds. If you talk to people from villages, they use tales and idioms to communicate their messages. The childhood mind of our society weaves its dreams by hearing tales along with narratives and religious and moral stories.

Probably understanding this mindset, Guru Golvalker, sarsanghchalak of the RSS imagined the structure of an Indian village, through the famous saying of Madan Mohan Malviya, in which he had wished “sabhas (assemblies) in every village, tales in every sabha, schools in every village, along with mallashala.”

You can see how tales appear as an important element in Golvalkar’s understanding of the Indian society. Even the poems that are used in the discourse of the Sangh have tales, both modern and old. Images and characters emerge and are used to motivate people.

Something else the Sangh speeches have is the “element of vigour”. Poems composed by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar and other nationalist poets are used. Even in the speeches by Sangh volunteers, the element of vigour is important.

Another discursive strategy of these discourses is the “attempt to assimilate”. The Sangh is trying to assimilate different and opposing ideologies in it. In these efforts of assimilation, the criticism of Hindu religion by Ambedkar and new Buddhists disappears and an interactive relation between Hinduism and Buddhism emerges.

In the last few years, Dalit groups have identified with many minor characters in Hindu texts and presented them as symbols of injustice done to them. Efforts are being made to give importance to such minor characters in the discourses of the Sangh, in which they and their identities could be given respect.

Construction of the Shabari temple, the depiction of the relationship between Ram, Hanuman and the forest-dwellers, temple construction along with school and cleaning projects in tribal villages are such initiatives in which you can see larger narrative evolving with different kinds of aphorisms and relations, that are developed from characters, tales and religions, previously standing against them.

What I have seen in my recent field visits, is that the Sangh in northern India is not unaware of local and little traditions popular among marginal communities. It is constantly trying to explore them and trying to assimilate them in its meta-narrative. This process of assimilation on the level of languages is not easy and simple, but is full of conflicts and intricacies.

I do not deny the appropriation of smaller and neglected subaltern traditions in their discourse at many places. But I feel that these discourses of the Sangh, too, are wounded at many places in its internal construction, but they try to resolve these internal conflicts many times. Sometimes they manage to resolve them, sometimes not so successfully. But their efforts to widen their narrative are constant.

The discourses of the Sangh are constructed in their shakhas on ground level but the effects of discourses constructed in the upper layer of the Sangha are clearly seen on them. Here I wish to say that the discourses of Sangh are not spontaneous. These narratives emerge under the influence of aims, objectives and contemporary needs of the Sangh as conceptualised by their top leadership.

The feedback of grassroot-level workers of the RSS working among various social groups also appears in very important ways in the making of sangh discourse. While the meta-narrative of the Sangh appears strict, the discourses of forest dwellers of northeast borders and Dalit groups are slowly entering in it and are expanding the discourses constructed.

As such, the greatest challenge of the Sangh workers is the construction of such narratives where the internal conflict of meta-narratives could be resolved. It remains to be seen how the Sangh moves forward by making it possible.

(The author is a social scientist at GB Pant Social Science Institute in Allahabad. Views are personal.)

first published:March 09, 2018, 11:52 IST
last updated:March 09, 2018, 11:52 IST