RELIGION Reviews

‘The RSS and the making of the Deep Nation’ review: The ambiguity of the RSS and its complex worldview

Decoding the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been a preoccupation of academics and journalists alike for decades, and there is no dearth of writing on it. In recent years, as the Sangh Parivar moved to the centrestage of politics in India, there have been several new tomes.

Dinesh Narayanan’s The RSS and the making of the Deep Nation steers clear of predictable courses. Not in a hurry to dismiss, eulogise or vilify the RSS, this book captures various facets of the Sangh in a rather dispassionate manner, sometimes at the risk of sounding sympathetic.

The author is wary of conclusive statements, while he curiously examines the RSS’ vacillations, contradictions, and its unwavering and patient march towards turning India into a Hindu rashtra.

Growth of a power centre

Acting through numerous fronts and speaking in multiple tongues, the RSS grew immensely powerful over nearly a century but it ferociously preserved a certain insularity from public inquiry.

After its political front, the Bharatiya Janata Party, won a parliamentary majority in 2014, the RSS began to open up a bit more. Its chief Mohan Bhagwat held a three-part lecture series in 2018, in which he also appeared to abjure the Sangh’s declared hostility towards Muslims. Despite its recent, tentative transparency, the RSS’ genetic code still retains a lot of mystery. Or, as the author suggests, it may be still evolving.

The book’s title is a play on ‘deep state,’ a phrase that initially alluded to the hold of the secular military establishment on Turkish politics.

It has been used to denote the grip of the Pakistani military and the ISI in the country’s society and politics; and in recent years popularised by President Donald Trump and his allies to call into question the American security establishment which they accuse of undermining the democratic will of the people. Deep state, in essence, alludes to a power structure that operates under the radar, and sways the course of the nation in unseen ways.

Again, the author is not conclusive, though he drops enough hints. For instance, the RSS has a mechanism to train civil service aspirants, and at least 4,000 currently serving civil servants came through it. This constitutes a permanent influence of the Sangh within the instruments of the state, but when the BJP is in power, they are also the preferred ones for staffing crucial positions. The RSS continues to hold on to fantasy eugenic projects, meanwhile.

Sangh’s animosity

There is remarkable continuity in the Sangh’s animosity towards Muslims; the writer notes this and also the occasional efforts at reconciliation.

Founding RSS sarsanghachalak or chief B.G. Hegdewar believed that calling Muslims traitors would imply that they were part of the nation and preferred to refer to them as enemies.

There has been a spectrum of understandings within the Sangh on Muslims, and the author suggests the more strident voices often get the better of moderate ones.

Where it stands

Though it is bound by a broad notion of promoting Hindu Rashtra, significant ideological incoherence remains the Sangh’s hallmark.

Its struggles are not restricted to its views on Muslims, but also in its views on caste and economic policy.

If one is curious about the seeming contradiction in the current attempts of the Centre to promote local products and global supply chains at the same time, this book outlines the long and difficult history of the Sangh’s engagement with economic liberalisation and globalisation.

For all its fretting and fuming against Enron in the 1990s, the 13-day government of the A.B. Vajpayee government in 1996 tried its best to appease the American company. That was how a power fixer, the late Pramod Mahajan, upended the BJP’s swadeshi agenda overnight, the author notes.

Narayanan has had significant access to several current and former functionaries of the Sangh. This book is a valuable and readable addition to the literature on the RSS.

The RSS and the making of the Deep Nation; Dinesh Narayanan, Penguin, ₹699.

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