Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its views on Israel

India and Israel’s relations are blooming, and at this stage, Israel should have clear visibility on one of the most important organizations of India - Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

THE DEMOCRATICALLY-ELECTED Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel in 2017, while in 2018 and 2019 Netanyahu visited India (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE DEMOCRATICALLY-ELECTED Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Israel in 2017, while in 2018 and 2019 Netanyahu visited India
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The German ambassador’s recent visit to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) office in India made some controversial headlines and generated few curiosities in the Israeli media. A culture of tagging anything related to a non-Muslim (and right-aligned) worldview with words like fascist, racist, militant and even sinister is quite common in the left-oriented media, and Israel is familiar with this. To date, Israel as a nation and some of its key defenders, living or dead (from Ze’ev Jabotinsky to Menachem Begin to current leadership) receive such unwelcoming comments from some groups. Ironically, in India and Israel both, the voices that represent those ideas – which have a long track record of violence, intolerance and domination – feel uncomfortable and often insecure with those ancient philosophies, which promote oneness, openness and universal good.
India and Israel’s relations are blooming, and at this stage, Israel should have clear visibility on one of the most important organizations of India – Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has an eternal influence on every aspect of the Indian politics, economy, society and culture. In an era when Westernization became synonymous to progress and Nationalism was seen as a threat to world peace, the rise of RSS and its remarkable growth challenged many popular assumptions.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organization), a more than nine decades-old organization, has a track record of producing some of the most visionary political, social leaders and reformers in India, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, who devoted a major portion of his life as a Swayamsevak (volunteer) of the RSS.
On April 14, 2008, during the launch of his book on RSS called Jyotipunj (which literally means “a constellation of lights”), Narendra Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat, had said: “RSS is a kind of an Indian model of Leadership training, which has a long tradition of producing leaders with the highest standards of ethics and morals.” And he elaborated his views in the initial section of the book as he puts: “Today, there are thousands of institutions to create leaders and managers in the world, such as IIMs, Harvard and Stanford. However we have to undertake a comparative study of the Western model of leadership with the Indian model laid down by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.” It is interesting to note that today, India’s current prime minister, president, vice president, home minister, defence minister and a good number of other important members of the Modi cabinet are the ex-volunteers/representatives of the RSS and in most of the cases their association with the organization is from their school days.
THE POLITICAL INFLUENCE of the RSS is evident from the fact that the largest political party of the world and the current ruling party of India, Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) is a branch of Bhartiya Jan Sangh, a political arm of the RSS, and it shares close ideological/organizational links with the organization. The socioeconomic influence of the RSS in India is huge and it is beyond the scope of a single article.
Today, India’s largest student union, ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad); its largest trade union, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (Indian workers union); one of the largest organizations of the farmers, Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (Indian farmers organization); one of the largest private network of schools in India, Vidhya Bharati; an extensive tribal organization with a nationwide presence, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram (tribal welfare group); and several other independent influential entities that span a wide spectrum of interests, including small domestic industries, consumer protection, policy research, public health, sports, art and literature, religion, social service, family values, women’s empowerment etc., are all the direct affiliates of this one big family called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (the Sangh Parivar).
In his book The RSS – A View to the Inside, Walter Anderson, an American political analyst, writes: “How does the RSS manage the links between itself and its affiliates?” and “Why has the RSS family, despite different policy perspectives among its constituents, been able to stay together?” – both are some of the interesting questions for research. According to the RSS’s annual report 2019, the organization holds nearly 59,266 daily meetings (referred as Shakhas), 17,229 weekly meetings and 8,383 monthly meetings across 37,011 locations in India, with an estimated 1.5 million to 2 million active participants.
Today, the same inquisitiveness that the world looks at India with and its ancient philosophical tradition that has a unique ability to hold such a remarkable amount of diversity together, it looks at the rise and the continuously growing influence of the RSS, too. And as Walter Anderson puts: “To understand India, therefore, requires an understanding of the RSS.”
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was founded (on September 27, 1925) at a time when India was under British rule, but its founder – Dr. Hedgewar – did not limit its goals to the freedom alone, he laid out a vision and road map for nation-building, national integrity and social cohesion for independent India. He strongly believed that there should always be some people in the service of the nation, as he said: “mere geographical lumps do not make a nation. The entire society should be in such a vigilant and organized condition that no one would dare to cast an evil eye on any of our points of honor.”
RSS has a unique organizational approach of its own – belief in the idea of nation-building through character-building of individuals – and interestingly, it has sustained that tradition for the last nine decades. The RSS represents ancient Indian philosophy and traditions, but their members are not mere philosophers or academicians. They are determined individuals who aim to make India strong, happy and prosperous through the strength of the organization. Their goals are not merely to protect the Indian culture, but to revitalize it to make it more dynamic and in tune with the changing time, which has made some Western thinkers say that “the RSS is not a revolutionary organization, it is evolutionary.”
TO KNOW WHAT the views of India’s nationalist organization RSS are on Israel, one need not conduct deep research – whenever a BJP (a political affiliate of the RSS) government comes to power, the vibrancy in India-Israel relations reaches new heights. During former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time, when prime minister Ariel Sharon visited India, some leftist groups launched a protest against his visit. At the time, RSS strongly opposed leftist groups’ protests and advocated strong India-Israel relations. And the present status of both countries’ relations, Modi’s bonhomie with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs no further explanation, it has already branded as a unique friendship and the most promising phase of India-Israel partnership.
The RSS views Israel not just as a nation but as an ancient civilization, not just as a belief system but a culture. Some Marxist scholars have attempted to brand RSS as a militant Hindu outfit with Nazi and fascist inclinations, but they failed to label RSS as antisemitic. There is no documented evidence (except some articles by leftist/Marxist writers) that can validate the propaganda that RSS, as an institution, has ever praised Hitler or Nazi views. On the contrary, there are several public speeches, books, articles and videos of many distinguish representatives of the RSS that are available, in which they have expressed their admiration for Israel and Jewish culture. There is a visible appreciation among the RSS cadres of all age groups for the Israeli spirit, which has established Israel as a powerful Jewish democratic state in the heart of the most turbulent part of the world.
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