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Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh

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Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
राष्ट्रीय स्वयंसेवक संघ
Flag of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.png
Official logo of the RSS
Abbreviation RSS
Formation 27 September 1925 (89 years ago) (1925-09-27)
Founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar
Type Right-wing volunteer,[1] paramilitary[2][3][4][5][6]
Legal status Active
Purpose Supporting Hindu nationalism[7]
Headquarters Nagpur, Maharashtra, India
Coordinates 21°02′N 79°10′E / 21.04°N 79.16°E / 21.04; 79.16Coordinates: 21°02′N 79°10′E / 21.04°N 79.16°E / 21.04; 79.16
Region served
5-6 million[8][9][10]
51,355 shakhas[11]
Official language
Mohan Bhagwat
Key people
Suresh 'Bhaiyaji' Joshi (General Secretary)
Affiliations Sangh Parivar
Mission "Selfless Service to Motherland"

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh abbreviated as RSS (IPA:Rāṣṭrīya Svayansēvaka Saṅgha) (pronunciation: [rɑːʂˈʈriːj(ə) swəjəmˈseːvək ˈsəŋɡʱ], lit. "National Volunteer Organisation"[12] or National Patriotic Organisation[13]) is a right-wing charitable, educational, volunteer, Hindu nationalist,[5] non-governmental organisation.[4][1] It is the world's largest voluntary non-governmental organisation.[14][15] RSS states that its ideology is based on the principle of selfless service to India.

The RSS was founded on Vijayadasami on 27 September 1925 as a social organisation to provide character training through Hindu discipline and to unite the Hindu community.[16][17] It proclaims its ideal as upholding Indian culture and civilizational values more than anything else.[18] It was set up as an alternative to the politics of mass anti-colonial struggle.[19] However, RSS volunteers participated in various political and social movements including the Indian independence movement.[1] The organisation initially drew inspiration from European right-wing groups during World War II.[17] Gradually RSS has grown into an extremely prominent Hindu nationalist umbrella organisation[17] and by the 1990s, allied organisations had established numerous schools, charities and clubs to spread its ideological beliefs.[17]

It has been criticised as an extremist organisation and as a paramilitary group.[2][3][6] It has also been criticised when its members participated in anti-Muslim violence [20] and has since formed militant wing Bajrang Dal.[17][21] Along with other extremist organisations the RSS was involved in a wide range of riots, often inciting and organising violence against Christians[22] and Muslims.[5]

It was banned during the British rule,[17] and then thrice by the post-independence Indian government — first in 1948 when Nathuram Godse, a former RSS member,[23] assassinated Mahatma Gandhi;[17][24][25] then during the emergency (1975–77); and after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. The ban imposed in February 1948 was withdrawn unconditionally in July 1948.[26] The ban during 1975-77 was a part of the illegal suspension of individual and collective human rights during the emergency. After Indira Gandhi lost the elections, the new government withdrew restrictions on human rights. The ban in 1992 was lifted in the absence of material evidence for supporting a ban.[27]



An RSS volunteer taking the oath in full uniform

RSS was founded in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a doctor in the city of Nagpur, British India.[28] Hedgewar as a medical student in Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) had been a part of the revolutionary activities of the Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar striving for the independence of India from British rule.[29] He had been charged with sedition in 1921 by the British Administration and was imprisoned for one year.[30]

Hedgewar was educated by his elder brother. He then decided to study medicine in Calcutta, West Bengal. He was sent there by B. S. Moonje in 1910 to pursue his medical studies. There he lived with Shyam Sundar Chakravarthy[31] and learned the techniques of fighting from secret revolutionary organisations like the Anushilan Samiti and Jugantar in Bengal. He is said to have joined Anushilan Samiti and he had contacts with revolutionaries like Ram Prasad Bismil.[32]

Previously he was involved in such type of revolutionary activities, a fact disclosed by writers such as viz. C. P. Bhishikar,[33] M. S. Golwalkar,[34] K. S. Sudarshan[35] and Rakesh Sinha.[36]

After completing his studies and graduating, he returned to Nagpur, inspired by the armed movement. In his memoirs, the third chief of RSS, Balasahab Deoras narrates an incident when Hedgewar saved him and others from following the path of Bhagat Singh and his comrades.[37] Later he left the revolutionary organisations in the year 1925 and formed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

A rare group photo of six initial swayamsevaks taken on the occasion of a RSS meeting held in 1939[38]

Since Hedgewar was primarily associated with the Hindustan Republican Association, he adopted the full constitution of erstwhile HRA and implemented it forcibly in his newly established organisation RSS later on. The RSS first met in 1925 just after two months of Kakori train robbery in a small ground of Nagpur with 5-6 persons on Vijaya Dashami. After the formation of the RSS, Hedgewar kept the organisation away from having any direct affiliation to any of the political organisations then fighting British rule.[39] But Hedgewar and his team of volunteers, took part in the Indian National Congress, led movements against the British rule. Hedgewar was arrested in the Jungle Satyagraha agitation in 1931 and served a second term in prison.[30][29][40]

During World War II RSS leaders openly admired Adolf Hitler.[41] Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, who became the supreme leader of the RSS after Hedgewar, drew inspiration from Adolf Hitler's ideology of race purity.[42] RSS leaders were supportive of the Jewish State of Israel, including Savarkar himself, who supported Israel during its formation.[43] While Golwalkar admired Jews for maintaining their "religion, culture and language".[44]

Atal Bihari Vajpayee first swayamsevak to become Prime Minister of India.

Indian independence movement

The RSS proclaimed itself as a social movement and refused to consider itself a political party, and did not play any role in the Indian independence movement.[45] However, the RSS emphatically rejected Gandhiji's willingness to cooperate with Muslims in the Anti-British struggle.[45] In 1934, Congress passed a resolution prohibiting its members from joining RSS, Hindu Mahasabha or Muslim League.[46]

After founding the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1925, K.B. Hedgewar started the tradition of keeping the RSS away from the anti-British Indian Independence movement.The RSS carefully avoided any political activity that could be construed as being anti-British. The RSS biographer C. P. Bhishikar, in Hedgewar's biography, titled Sanghbriksh ke Beej states,

"After establishing Sangh, Doctor Saheb in his speeches used to talk only of Hindu organization. Direct comment on Government used to be almost nil".[47]

When the Congress passed the Purna Swaraj resolution in its Lahore session in December 1929, and called upon all Indians to celebrate January 26, 1930 as Independence Day, Hedgewar issued a circular asking all the RSS shakhas(branches) to observe the occasion through hoisting and worship of its own Bhagwa Jhanda(saffron flag), rather than the Tricolor (which was, by consensus, considered the flag of the Indian national movement at that time).[46][48][49] [50] 1930 was the only year when the RSS celebrated 26th January and it stopped the practice from the next year onwards.[48] However, such celebration became a standard feature of the freedom movement and often came to mean violent confrontation with the official police.[48]

In April 1930, Mahatma Gandhi gave a call for 'Satyagraha' against the British Government. Gandhi himself launched the Salt Satyagraha undertaking his Dandi Yatra. Dr. Hedgewar decided to participate only individually and not let the RSS join the freedom movement officially. He sent information everywhere that the Sangh will not participate in the Satyagraha. However those wishing to participate individually in it were not prohibited. This meant that any responsible worker of the Sangh could not participate in the Satyagraha.[50]

M.S. Golwalkar became the second Sarsanghchalak(head) of the RSS in 1940, and under him, this policy was further continued. Golwalkar was always more vocal and forthright about the RSS' non-involvement in the anti-British Indian freedom struggle. In a speech delivered by him at Indore in 1960, Golwalkar said

"Many people worked with the inspiration to free the country by throwing the British out... We should remember that in our pledge we have talked of the freedom of the country through defending religion and culture.These is no mention of departure of the British in that."[51][47][50]

Golwalkar even lamented on the anti-British nationalism of pre-independence India. In his book titled "We or our Nationhood Defined" , he criticized the vigorous anti-British character of the Indian freedom movement. In Golwalkar's own words,

"Anti-Britishism was equated with patriotism and nationalism. This reactionary view has had disastrous effects upon the entire course of the freedom struggle, its leaders and the common people."[48][52]

This tradition was subsequently followed and under M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS completely abstained from joining the Quit India Movement in 1942 as well. The Bombay government(British) appreciated the RSS as such, by noting that,

"the Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law, and in particular, has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942".[53]

The British Government stated that the RSS was not at all supporting any civil disobedience against them, and as such their other political activities(even if objectionable) can be overlooked.[54] Further, the British also asserted that at sangh meetings organized during the times of anti-British movements started and fought by the Indian National Congress,

"speakers urged the sangh members to keep aloof from the congress movement and these instructions were generally observed" .[54]

Golwalkar did not want to give the British any excuse to ban the RSS, and he was willing to do anything for that. When the British Government banned military drills and use of uniforms in non-official organisations, Golwalkar complied and terminated the RSS military department on April 29, 1943. To this effect, Golwalkar distributed a circular to senior RSS figures, the wordings of which revealed his apprehensions about a possible British ban on the RSS. The circular went thus:

"We discontinued practices included in the Government's early orders on military drills and keep our work clearly within bounds of law, as every law abiding institution would...Hoping that circumstances would ease early, we had in a sense only suspended that part of our training. Now, however, we decide to stop it altogether and abolish the department without waiting for the time to change"[55]

M.S. Golwalkar later openly admitted to the fact that the RSS did not participate in the Quit India Movement. However, such a dubious attitude during the Indian freedom movement also led to the Sangh being viewed with distrust and anger, both by the general Indian public, as well as certain members of the organization itself. In Golwalkar’s own words,

“In 1942 also, there was a strong sentiment in the hearts of many. At that time too, the routine work of the Sangh continued. Sangh decided not to do anything directly. ‘Sangh is the organization of inactive people, their talks have no substance’ was the opinion uttered not only by outsiders but also our own swayamsevaks”[47][50]

Further, the RSS did not even participate in the anti-British Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946.[56][57]

Activities during partition

The Partition of India affected millions of Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims attempting to escape the violence and carnage that followed.[58] Noted Gandhian and recipient of the highest civilian award in India, Bharat Ratna, Bhagwan Das commended the role of the "high-spirited and self-sacrificing boys" of the RSS in protecting the newly formed Republic of India, from a planned coup to topple the Jawaharlal Nehru Administration in Delhi.[59][60]

First ban

The first ban on the RSS was imposed in Punjab Province (British India) on January 24, 1947 by Malik Khizar Hayat Tiwana, the premier of the ruling Unionist Party (Punjab), a party which represented the interests of the landed gentry and landlords of Punjab, which included Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. Along with the RSS, the Muslim National Guard was also banned.[61][62] The ban was lifted on January 28, 1947.[61]

Second ban and acquittal

Following Mahatma Gandhi's assassination in 1948 by a former member[25] of the RSS, Nathuram Godse, many prominent leaders of the RSS were arrested and RSS as an organisation was banned on 4 February 1948. A Commission of Inquiry into Conspiracy to the murder of Gandhi was set and its report was published by India's Ministry of Home Affairs in the year 1970. Accordingly, Justice Kapur Commission[63] noted that the "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."[63]:165

RSS Leaders were acquitted of the conspiracy charge by the Supreme Court of India and following an intervention by the Court, the Indian Government agreed to lift the ban with the conditions that the RSS pledge its loyalty to the Constitution of India, accept the Tricolor as the National Flag of India and adopt a formal written constitution, and make it public.[55] The second Sarsanghachalak, M.S. Golwalkar drafted the constitution for the RSS which he sent to the Government of India on April 11, 1949. On July 11, 1949, the Government of India lifted the ban on the RSS by issuing a communique stating that the decision to lift the ban on the RSS had been taken in view of the RSS leader Golwalkar's undertaking to make loyalty towards the Constitution of India, and acceptance and respect towards the National Flag of India more explicit in the Constitution of the RSS which was to be worked out in a democratic manner[28][55]

Opposition to the National Flag of India

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh initially did not recognize the Tricolor as the National Flag of India. The RSS mouthpiece Organiser, in its issue dated 17th July, 1947 demanded, in an editorial titled "National Flag" that the Bhagwa Dhwaj(Saffron Flag) be adopted as the National Flag of India.[47] After the Tricolor was adopted as the National Flag of India by the Constituent Assembly of India on July 22, 1947, the RSS mouthpiece Organiser viciously attacked the Tricolor and denigrated its being chosen as the National Flag of India. The 14th August, 1947 issue of the Organiser, in an article titled "Mystery behind the Bhagwa Dhwaj", stated

"The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the Tricolor but it never be respected and owned by Hindus.The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country"[47][64]

Further, M.S. Golwalkar, the second sarsanghchalak of the RSS, in an essay titled "Drifting and Drafting" published in his book Bunch of Thoughts, lamented the choice of the Tricolor as the National Flag of India, and compared it to an intellectual vacuum/void. In his words,

"Our leaders have set up a new flag for the country. Why did they do so? It just is a case of drifting and imitating...Ours is an ancient and great nation with a glorious past. Then, had we no flag of our own? had we no national emblem at all these thousands of years? Undoubtedly we had. Then why this utter void, this utter vaccum in our minds"[65][66][47][50]

Opposition to the Constitution of India

The Rashtriya Swaysevak Sangh initially did not recognize the Constitution of India and heavily criticised it in view of the fact that the Indian Constitution made no mention of "Manu's laws" from the controversial ancient hindu text Manu Smriti, which had been accused of denigrating the lower castes and untouchables in India. When the Constituent Assembly finalized the Constitution of India, the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser (newspaper), complained in an editorial dated 30 November 1949 that,

"But in our constitution, there is no mention of that unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat... To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing"[49]

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh did not stop its unrelenting attacks on this issue, and criticised Dr.B.R. Ambedkar's public pronouncements that the new Indian Constitution would give equality to all castes. On February 6, 1950, the RSS mouthpiece Organizer carried another article , titled "Manu Rules our Hearts" by a retired High court Judge Sankar Subba Aiyar which reaffirmed their support for the Manusmriti as the final lawgiving authority for Hindus, rather than the Constitution of India. It stated,

"Even though Dr. Ambedkar is reported to have recently stated in Bombay that the days of Manu have ended it is nevertheless a fact that the daily lives of Hindus are even at present day affected by the principles and injunctions contained in the Manusmrithi and other Smrithis. Even an unorthodox Hindu feels himself bound at least in some matters by the rules contained in the Smrithis and he feels powerless to give up altogether his adherence to them"[67]

The RSS' opposition to, and vitriolic attacks against the Constitution of India and its author Dr. B.R Ambedkar continued post independence, even long after Dr.Ambedkar's death. M.S. Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, in his book titled Bunch of Thoughts asserted,

"Our Constitution too is just a cumbersome and heterogeneous piecing together of various articles from various Constitutions of Western countries. It has absolutely nothing, which can be called our own. Is there a single word of reference in its guiding principles as to what our national mission is and what our keynote in life is? No!"[49][68]

Decolonisation of Dadra, Nagar Haveli and Goa

After the independence of India, RSS was one of the socio-political organisations who supported and participated in movements to decolonise Dadra and Nagar Haveli, which was at the time ruled by Portugal. In early 1954, volunteers Raja Wakankar and Nana Kajrekar of the RSS visited the area round about Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman several times to study the topography and also to get acquainted with locals who wanted to switch from being a Portuguese colony to being an Indian union territory. In April 1954, the RSS formed a coalition with the National Movement Liberation Organisation (NMLO), and the Azad Gomantak Dal (AGD) for the annexation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli into the Republic of India.[69] On the night of 21 July, United front of Goans, a group, working independently of the coalition, captured the Portuguese police station at Dadra and declared Dadra independent. Subsequently on 28 July, volunteer teams of the RSS and AGD captured the territories of Naroli and Phiparia and ultimately the capital of Silvassa. The Portuguese forces which escaped and moved towards Nagar Haveli, were assaulted at Khandvel and were forced to retreat until they surrendered to the Indian border police at Udava on 11 August 1954. A native administration was set up with Appasaheb Karmalkar of NMLO as the Administrator of Dadra and Nagar Haveli on 11 August 1954.[69]

The capture of Dadra and Nagar Haveli gave a boost to the movement against Portuguese colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent.[69] In 1955, RSS leaders demanded the end of Portuguese rule in Goa and its integration into India. When Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru refused to provide an armed intervention, RSS leader Jagannath Rao Joshi led the Satyagraha agitation straight into Goa. He was imprisoned with his followers by the Portuguese police. The nonviolent protests continued but met with repression. On 15 August 1955, the Portuguese police opened fire on the satyagrahis, killing thirty or so civilians.[70]

War-time activities

The RSS was invited by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to take part in the Republic Day parade of 1963 in recognition of its volunteer work during the Sino-Indian War in 1962.[71] This event helped the RSS improve its popularity and strengthen its nationalist image.[72]

During Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri requested RSS cadres to help control traffic in Delhi, so policemen could be freed for defence duties.[71]

In 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence, RSS volunteers offered their services to maintain law and order of the country and were apparently the first to donate blood.[73]

Movement against the Emergency

In 1975, the Indira Gandhi government proclaimed emergency rule in India, thereby suspending the fundamental rights and curtailing the freedom of the press.[74] This action was taken after the Supreme Court of India, cancelled her election to the Indian Parliament on charges of malpractices in the election.[74] Democratic institutions were suspended and prominent opposition leaders including Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan, were arrested whilst thousands of people were detained without any proper charges taken up against them.[75] RSS, which was seen close to opposition leaders, and with its large organisational base was seen to have potential of organising protests against the government, was also banned.[76] Police clamped down on the organisation and thousands of its workers were imprisoned.[29]

The RSS defied the ban and thousands participated in Satyagraha against the ban and against the violation of human rights regulations. Later, when there was no letup, the volunteers of the RSS formed underground movements for the restoration of democracy. Literature that was censored in the media was clandestinely published and distributed on a large scale and funds were collected for the movement. Networks were established between leaders of different political parties in the jail and outside for the coordination of the movement.[77] It said that the movement was "dominated by tens of thousands of RSS cadres, though more and more young recruits are coming". Talking about its objectives it said "its platform at the moment has only one plank: to bring democracy back to India".[78] The Emergency was lifted in 1977 and as a consequence the ban on the RSS was also lifted.

Participation in land reforms

It has been noted that the RSS volunteers participated in the Bhoodan movement organised by Gandhian leader Vinobha Bhave, who had met RSS leader Golwalkar in Meerut in November 1951. Golwalkar had been inspired by the movement that encouraged land reforms through voluntary means. He pledged the support of the RSS for this movement.[79] Consequently, many RSS volunteers led by Nanaji Deshmukh participated in the movement.[1] But Golwalkar has also been critical of the Bhoodan movement, on other occasions for being reactionary and for working "merely with a view to counteracting Communism". He believed that the movement should inculcate a faith in the masses that can make them rise above the base appeal of communism.[80]


RSS does not have any formal membership. According to the official website, anyone can become member by joining the nearest "shakha", which is the basic unit.[81] Although the RSS claims not to keep membership records, it is estimated to have 2.5-6.0 million members.[82] The number of shakhas stood at 51,335 in August 2015.[11]


The Sarsanghchalak is the head of the RSS organisation; the position is decided through nomination by predecessor. The individuals who have held the post of sarsanghchalak in this organisation are:


Sangh shakha at Nagpur headquarter

"Shakha" is Hindi for "branch". Most of the organisational work of the RSS is done through the coordination of shakhas or branches. These shakhas are run for one hour in public places. In 2004, more than 51,000 shakhas were run throughout India. The number of Shakas had fallen by over 10,000 since the fall of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government in 2004. However, the number of Shakas has again increased to about 40,000 by mid 2014 after the return of BJP to power in Delhi in the same year.[83][84][85]

The shakhas conduct various activities for its volunteers which include physical fitness activities through yoga, exercises and games. It has other activities which emphasize qualities like civic sense, social service, community living and patriotism.[86] The volunteers are trained in first aid and in rescue and rehabilitation operations. The volunteers are also encouraged to become involved in the developmental activities of the village or locality.[86][87]


Golwalkar describes the mission of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as the revitalisation of the Indian value system based on universalism and peace and prosperity to all.[80] Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the worldview that the whole world is one family, propounded by the ancient thinkers of India, is considered as the ultimate mission of the organisation.[88][clarification needed]

But the immediate focus, the leaders believe, is on the Hindu renaissance, which would build an egalitarian society and a strong India that could propound this philosophy. Hence, the focus is on social reform, economic upliftment of the downtrodden and the protection of cultural diversity of the natives in India.[88] The organisation says, it aspires to unite all Hindus and build a strong India, which could contribute to the welfare of the world. In the words of RSS ideologue and the second head of the RSS, Golwalkar, "in order to be able to contribute our unique knowledge to mankind, in order to be able to live and strive for the unity and welfare of the world, we stand before the world as a self-confident, resurgent and mighty nation".[80]

In Vichardhara (ideology) Golwalkar affirms the RSS mission of integration as:[80]

RSS has been making determined efforts to inculcate in our people the burning devotion for Bharat and its national ethos; kindle in them the spirit of dedication and sterling qualities and character; rouse social consciousness, mutual good-will, love and cooperation among them all; to make them realise that casts, creeds and languages are secondary and that service to the nation is the supreme end and to mold their behaviour accordingly; instill in them a sense of true humility and discipline and train their bodies to be strong and robust so as to shoulder any social responsibility; and thus to create all-round Anushasana in all walks of life and build together all our people into a unified harmonious national whole, extending from Himalayas to Kanyakumari.

M. S. Golwalkar

Golwalkar also explains that RSS does not intend to compete in electioneering politics or share power. The movement considers Hindus as inclusive of Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, tribals, untouchables, Veerashaivism, Arya Samaj, Ramakrishna Mission and other. as a community, a view similar to inclusive referencing of the term Hindu in the Indian Constitution.[89][90][91]

When it came to non-Hindu religions, Golwalkar's (who once supported Hitler's creation of a supreme race by suppression of minorities)[92] view on minorities was that of extreme intolerance. In a magazine article in 1998 some RSS, and its political offshoot BJP's members have been said to have distanced itself from M.S Golwalkar's views though not entirely.[93]

The non-Hindu people of Hindustan must either adopt Hindu culture and languages, must learn and respect and hold in reverence the Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but of those of glorification of the Hindu race and a word they must cease to be foreigners; Or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment— not even citizens' rights

M. S. Golwalkar[94]

Affiliated organisations

Further information: Sangh Parivar

Organisations which are inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's ideology refer themselves as the members of the Sangh Parivar.[82] In most of the cases, pracharaks (full-time volunteers of the RSS) were deputed to start-up and manage these organisations in their initial years.
The affiliated organisations include:[95]

Other Hindu organisations are also inspired from RSS's philosophy.

RSS has never directly contested elections, but supports parties that are ideologically similar. Although RSS generally endorses the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it at times refused to do so due to difference of opinion with the party. RSS is open to support any political party that subscribes to its views.[101][102]

The volunteers of the RSS have also held prominent political and administrative positions in India including the Prime Minister of India, the Vice President of India, the Home Minister and Ministers in the Central Government, Governors and Chief Ministers of various states and the members of elected bodies at the state and the national level and the Indian ambassador to the US.[103][104][105]

Social service and reform

The RSS has advocated the training of Dalits and other backward classes as temple high priests (a position traditionally reserved for Caste Brahmins and denied to lower castes). They argue that the social divisiveness of the Caste system is responsible for the lack of adherence to Hindu values and traditions and reaching out to the lower castes in this manner will be a remedy to the problem.[106] The RSS has also condemned "upper-caste" Hindus for preventing Dalits from worshipping at temples, saying that "even God will desert the temple in which Dalits cannot enter".[107]

Christophe Jaffrelot said that "there is insufficient data available to carry out a statistical analysis of social origins of the early RSS leaders" but goes on to conclude, based on some known profiles that most of the RSS founders and its leading organisers, with exceptions were Maharashtrian Brahmins from middle or lower class[108] and argues that the pervasiveness of the Brahminical ethic in the organisation was probably the main reason why it failed to attract support from the low castes. He argues that the "RSS resorted to instrumentalist techniques of ethno-religious mobilisation—in which its Brahminism was diluted—to overcome this handicap".[109] However Anderson and Damle (1987) find that members of all castes have been welcomed into the organisation and are treated as equals.[1]

During M. K. Gandhi's visit to RSS Camp accompanied by Mahadev Desai and Mirabehn at Wardha in 1934, he said, "When I visited the RSS Camp, I was very much surprised by your discipline and absence of untouchablity." He personally inquired to Swayamsevaks and found that they were living and eating together in the camp without bothering to know their castes.[110]

Bhimrao Ambedkar while visiting the RSS camp at Pune in 1939 observed that Swayamsevaks were moving in absolute equality and brotherhood without even caring to know the caste of others.[111] In his address to the Swayamsevaks, he said, "This is the first time that I am visiting the camp of Sangh volunteers. I am happy to find absolute equality between Savarniyas (Upper cast) and Harijans (Lower cast) without any one being aware of such difference existing." When he asked Hedgewar whether there were any untouchables in the camp, he replied that there are neither "touchables" nor "untouchables" but only Hindus.[112]

It is noted that RSS provides education to the people of rural India and socially backward classes living under the poverty.[clarification needed][113]

In 2009, RSS claimed that western brands like Pepsi and Coca-Cola were corrupting Indian culture, and introduced the cow urine soda Gau jal. The drink contained cow urine with flavors such as aloe vera and some Ayurvedic herbs. The organisation believes that the "cow urine is known to treat up to 80 different incurable diseases, including diabetes".[114]

Relief and rehabilitation

The RSS was instrumental in relief efforts after the 1971 Orissa Cyclone, 1977 Andhra Pradesh Cyclone[115] and in the 1984 Bhopal disaster.[116][117] It assisted in relief efforts during the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, and helped rebuild villages.[115][118] Approximately 35,000 RSS members in uniform were engaged in the relief efforts,[119] and many of their critics acknowledged their role.[120] An RSS-affiliated NGO, Seva Bharati, conducted relief operations in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Activities included building shelters for the victims and providing food, clothes and medical necessities.[121] The RSS assisted relief efforts during the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake and the subsequent tsunami.[122] Seva Bharati also adopted 57 children (38 Muslims and 19 Hindus) from militancy affected areas of Jammu and Kashmir to provide them education at least up to Higher Secondary level.[123][124] They also took care of victims of the Kargil War of 1999.[125]

In 2006, RSS participated in relief efforts to provide basic necessities such as food, milk, and potable water to the people of Surat, Gujarat who were affected by floods in the region.[126][non-primary source needed] The RSS volunteers carried out relief and rehabilitation work after the floods affected North Karnataka and some districts of the state of Andhra Pradesh.[127] In 2013, following the Uttarakhand floods, RSS volunteers were involved in flood-relief works through its offices set up at affected areas.[128][129]

Court rulings on RSS

The State of Madhya Pradesh Vs Ramshanker Raghuvanshi

Many cases have been reported in post-independence India where RSS volunteers have been discriminated against by the government due to their allegiance to the RSS.[130] In a court case of a teacher who was dismissed from service due to his past links with the RSS, the Supreme Court of India called the government's action "McCarthyism" and a "violation of fundamental rights".[131][132][133]

A municipal school teacher, Ramshanker Raghuvanshi, was dismissed by the Congress government of Madhya Pradesh in 1974, which stated that he had taken "part in the RSS" activities and thus may have been "not a fit person to be entertained in Government service". The Supreme Court dismissed the arguments of the government and stated that the government had not adhered to the provisions of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court bench consisting of Justice Syed Murtuza Fazalali and Justice O. Chinnappa Reddy observed that "India is not a police state" and pleaded that the "promise of fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution not become a forgotten chapter of history". Delivering the judgment, the Court claimed that it believes "seeking a police report on person's political faith", in the first place, "amounted to the violation of fundamental rights". The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the municipal teacher and ordered his reinstatement.[131][132][133]

State of Karnataka v. Ranganathacharya Agnihotri

Similar decisions were made by the High courts of different states of India in different cases of political persecution of RSS volunteers.[130] One case involved Ranganathacharya Agnihotri, who was selected for the post of Munsiff but was not absorbed into service at least partially because he had been a volunteer of the RSS in his past. When Agnihotri approached to the then High Court of Mysore (now Karnataka High Court), he was reinstated. The Court said:

Prima facie the RSS is a non-political cultural organisation without any hatred or ill will towards non-Hindus and that many eminent and respected persons in the country have not hesitated to preside over the functions or appreciate the work of its volunteers. In a country like ours which has accepted the democratic way of life (as ensured by the Constitution), it would not be within reason to accept the proposition that mere membership of such peaceful or non-violent association and participation in activities thereof, will render a person (in whose character and antecedents there are no other defects) unsuitable to be appointed to the post of a Munsiff.

Darshan Lal Jain Vs C R Irani and Others

On 15 January 2000, The Statesman carried a story about the RSS that depicted the RSS as the killer of Gandhi.[134] Subsequently the Delhi unit of the RSS filed a criminal case of defamation against author of the article A. G. Noorani along with the cartoonist and the Managing Director of the publishing house. When two of the accused did not respond to the Court summons, non-bailable warrants were issued in their name by the Court.[135] On 25 February 2002, Noorani wrote an unconditional apology to the court in which he regretted writing the defamatory article against the RSS. On 3 March 2002, The Statesman also published an apology regretting the publication of the article.[136][137]


The RSS has been banned in India thrice, during periods in which the government of the time posed that they were a threat to the state: in 1948 after Mahatma Gandhi's assassination, during the Emergency (1975–77), and after the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition. The bans were subsequently lifted, in 1949 after the RSS was absolved of charges in the Gandhi murder case, in 1977 as a result of the Emergency being revoked, and in 1993 when no evidence of any unlawful activities was found against it by the tribunal constituted under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. [138]


Field Marshal Cariappa in his speech to RSS volunteers said "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"[139]

Zakir Hussain, former President of India told Milad Mehfil in Monghyar on 20 November 1949, "The allegations against RSS of violence and hatred against Muslims are wholly false. Muslims should learn the lesson of mutual love, cooperation and organisation from RSS.[140][141]

Gandhian leader and the leader of Sarvoday movement, Jayaprakash Narayan, who earlier was a vocal opponent of RSS had the following to say about it 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." He further added "I have great expectations from this revolutionary organisation which has taken up the challenge of creating a new India."[76]

Criticisms and accusations

Christophe Jaffrelot, Director of the Center for Studies and Research (CERI), observes that although the RSS with its paramilitary style of functioning and its emphasis on discipline has sometimes been seen by some as "an Indian version of fascism",[142] he argues that 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. He writes that ideology of the RSS did not develop a theory of the state and the race, a crucial elements in European nationalisms; Nazism and Fascism"[142] and that the RSS leaders were interested in cultural as opposed to racial sameness.[143]

The likening of the Sangh Parivar to fascism by Western critics has also been countered by Jyotirmaya Sharma who labelled it as an "attempt by them to depress indian patriotism and unity". And that such "simplistic transference" has done great injustice to our knowledge of Hindu nationalist politics.[144]

In response to a high-profile gang rape in Delhi, Mohan Bhagwat, the head of RSS, stated that such incidents only happen in cities, not villages. He further blamed "western values" for the increase in rapes in India. Women's groups have countered that statistics show that rapes in rural India often go unreported.[145] Bhagwat's remarks created a controversy and were criticised by activists and other political parties.[146]

Involvement with riots

The RSS has been censured for its involvement in communal riots.

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

— Jitendra Narayan in a report on Jamshedpur riots of 1979[147][148]

Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental organisation for human rights based in New York, has claimed that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP), the Bajrang Dal, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP have been party to the Gujarat violence that erupted after 56 Hindus were burnt alive in a coach of Sabarmati Express train at Godhra station by a Muslim mob.[149] Local VHP, BJP and BD leaders have been named in many police reports filed by eyewitnesses.[150] RSS and VHP claimed that they made appeals to put an end to the violence and to have asked their supporters and volunteer staff to prevent any activity that might disrupt peace.[151]

Religious violence in Odisha

Christian groups accuse the RSS alongside its close affiliates, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal (BD) and the Hindu Jagaran Sammukhya (HJS) of participation in the 2008 religious violence in Odisha.[152]

Involvement in Babri Masjid demolition

According to the report of the Liberhan Commission the Sangh Parivar organised the destruction of the Babri Masjid.[20][153] The Commission said- "The blame or the credit for the entire temple construction movement at Ayodhya must necessarily be attributed to the Sangh Parivar".[154] It also noted that the Sangh Parivar is an "extensive and widespread organic body", which encompasses organisations, which address and bring together just about every type of social, professional and other demographic grouping of individuals.

Each time, a new demographic group has emerged, the Sangh Parivar has hived off some of its RSS inner-core leadership to harness that group and bring it within the fold, enhancing the voter base of the Parivar.[155]

The RSS has denied reliability and questioned the objectivity of the report. Former RSS chief K. S. Sudarshan posed allegations that the mosque was demolished by the government men as opposed to the Karsevaks. The RSS alleges that the commission reports are fabricated and motivated primarily by anti-Indian sentiment than any objective desire to seek justice."[156]

On the other hand, a government of India white paper dismissed the idea that the demolition was pre-organised.[157]


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  • Jelen, Ted Gerard (2002). Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective: The One, The Few, and The Many. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-65031-3. ISBN 052165971X. 
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