RSS From The Outside: Professor Walter K. Anderson’s In-depth Dialogue on the organization at the Festival of Ideas 2023
25 August, 2023 | Anupam Shrivastava
The Festival of Ideas 2023 session with Professor Walter K. Anderson provided a rare insight into the intricate work of RSS by unpacking its history, ideology and evolution.
In a thought-provoking session on the second day of the Festival of Ideas 2023, Professor Walter K. Anderson, an eminent American academic and authority on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), engaged in a captivating dialogue about the RSS, its history, evolution, and significance. The event, moderated by Dr. Aishwarya Pandit Sharma, the Convener of the Festival of Ideas, shed light on the organization’s complex identity and impact on Indian society and politics.
Unveiling the Enigma of RSS: A Scholar’s Perspective
As the Festival of Ideas commenced, attendees eagerly welcomed Professor Walter K. Anderson to the stage. With a distinguished career and an extensive body of work on the RSS, Professor Anderson has devoted significant time to unraveling the organization’s intricacies. The session aimed to provide an in-depth exploration of the RSS from an outsider’s viewpoint, dispelling misconceptions while delving into its historical and cultural context.
A Brief Overview of RSS: Unpacking Its Genesis and Objectives
The conversation initiated with Professor Walter K. Anderson tracing the roots of his involvement in studying the RSS. He recounted his introduction to the RSS during his academic pursuits and how his initial focus on young people’s political engagement led him to explore the organization’s dynamics further.
The RSS, established in 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, emerged as a response to the fragmented nature of Indian society, grappling with divisions rooted in caste, language, and economic disparity. The organization sought to unite Hindus by promoting a sense of pride and shared identity while rejecting caste-based hierarchies. This was done through a combination of calisthenics, stories of Hindu heroes, and a focus on communal harmony.
The influence of thinkers like Giovanni Masini and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar shaped the RSS’s ideology, emphasizing the concept of Hindutva – a term often misconstrued – which aimed to unify Hindus on cultural and nationalistic grounds, transcending religious affiliations.
Transformative Figures and the Evolution of RSS
Dr. Aishwarya Pandit Sharma guided the conversation toward the transformative figures within the RSS and its evolution over the years. Professor Anderson acknowledged that the organization has evolved significantly, moving beyond its early Brahmin-dominated base to incorporate a broader demographic, with Muslims and Christians also participating.
Professor Walter K. Anderson highlighted the significance of M.S. Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak (Supreme Leader) of the RSS, who succeeded Hedgewar and played a crucial role in maintaining the stability and growth of the organization. He also underscored the instrumental role of Balasahib Deoras, the third Sarsanghchalak, in modernizing and expanding the RSS’s reach. Deoras embraced inclusivity, allowing Muslims and Christians to join the organization while emphasizing India’s cultural unity.
RSS in Contemporary Politics and Society
The conversation then shifted toward the role of the RSS in contemporary Indian politics. Professor Anderson addressed the intriguing phenomenon of political parties like the Congress adopting elements of Hindutva in their narratives. He explained that such attempts aim to appeal to the organization’s broad cultural significance while being cautious not to polarize religious groups.
Moreover, Professor Anderson emphasized that the RSS operates through a network of affiliated organizations, each with its autonomy, which has contributed to the RSS’s robustness and adaptability.
Shedding Light on RSS Misconceptions
The discussion wrapped up with a reflection on the reasons behind the misconceptions surrounding the RSS. Professor Walter K. Anderson attributed this to the dominant public face of the RSS – its affiliated groups – and their varied stances on social and political issues. He encouraged a deeper understanding of the organization’s internal debates and its role in mediating differences among its affiliates.
The Festival of Ideas session with Professor Walter K. Anderson provided a rare insight into the intricate web of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. By unpacking its history, ideology, and evolution, the conversation aimed to bridge the gap between perceptions and reality, shedding light on an organization that has significantly impacted India’s sociopolitical landscape.
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