It took a while for the old men -- some with their walking sticks, others in wheelchairs -- to find their place inside the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) complex in Reshimbagh, Nagpur, on Sunday. They waited as the Sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat, came and sat in the middle of the front row for a group photograph. A bell rang soon after, a signal for the group to head for a baithak.
Eighty senior pracharaks, who had spent their lives spreading the Sangh’s message of Hindutva, had come from all over the country for the Vijayadasami celebrations. The gathering’s timing could not have been more timely, for the Sangh’s appeal among the young is waning. The organisation is devising new ways to recruit a new generation to fill the shoes of these senior men.Suresh ‘Bhaiyaji’ Joshi is the RSS sarkaryavah, general secretary, which makes him the second most powerful man in the organisational hierarchy. At Smriti Bhawan inside the Reshimbagh complex, Mr. Joshi told The Hindu over a cup of tea on Monday afternoon that it has been a challenge for the Sangh to attract young people.
As Mr. Joshi put it, educational pattern, lifestyle, and working hours have changed. “Children go to school through the day, and then have tuitions right from the primary level. This was not prevalent earlier. A child who leaves home after Class 10 often does not return for six-seven years, and is cut off even from his family. In colleges, university exams have given way to semester system, and even monthly tests. IT professionals and others work 12 hours a day or more.”
Such schedules left people with little time, or energy to attend daily morning and evening shakhas — sessions of basic indoctrination into the Sangh philosophy — for an hour. Another Sangh official admitted that the perception that RSS was ‘old, traditional and rigid’ did not help either.
This reflects in the figures. In 2005-06, the Sangh had close to 47,000 daily shakhas. That number, today, is about 39,000. There are 2,500 full-time pracharaks, which is an increase from the past, but not commensurate with the amount of work. While Sangh officials insist this was not worrisome — for the organisation’s work was happening in many other ways — it appears to have triggered a degree of flexibility.
Back in Delhi, Ram Madhav — the Sangh’s public relations in-charge — operates out of his plush office in Jangpura. Shuffling between his ipad, iphone and Macbook, Mr. Madhav says, “RSS is reinventing itself ” to connect with the new generation”.