Saffron brigade's newest recruits write code and surf
Internet...Article in HT MINT
RSS is winning converts among young students, professionals who are
forming communities around its ideology ( Priyanka P. Narain)
Students at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay are holding
secret meetings to plan pollstrategy before national elections. In
Bangalore, the number of "IT-milans," the weekly gatherings of
information technology professionals promoting the ideas of the
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS),has swelled to 50. And, increasingly
through the Internet,RSS members are reaching out to new recruits on
The Orkut group alone has 38,272 RSS members.
Meet the new faces of anold idea.
In time for a string of state polls that precede the general election
due by next May, and taking advantage of economic uncertainty and the
fear of terrorism, the RSS appears to be gaining ground among young
students and professionals who are forming communities around its
Recruitment to the RSS has never been so active, according to members
and observers. In many cases, those signing up for the Hindu
nationalist group that propagates Hinduism as a way of life are
actually moderates. Perhaps they are frustrated with the current
government or curious about how to effect change or are trying to
apply tech-savviness to politics. "We call some pracharaks (preachers)
who explain the RSS philosophy to the group and answer their questions
about it. We discuss a current issue and let them get a sense of what
it means to belong to the organization," says Amit Chatterjee, 21, who
founded the Orkut group in 2006.
Every other month, the online members are invited to meet the
organization's followers at daily shakhas, or highly disciplined
cadres, local offices and schools where Vedic texts are read aloud and
strategy plotted. "No one is forced to sign up. But if they like what
they see, they start attending the shakhas regularly," Chatterjee
In the years after Mahatma Gandhi's 1948 assassination, few wanted to
be associated with the RSS (Hindu right-wing groups were allegedly
behind the killing) and membership of the organization, like a family
heirloom, passed from generation to generation.
"It was a way of life for us. Something we grew up with," said Girish
Kulkarni, whose grandfather joined the RSS in 1928, three years after
the organization was founded with the aim of promoting cultural
nationalism. He says his grandfather, now 84, still attends the
shakhas every day.
But the reach into new pockets for membership has become significant
at a time that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the organization's
political offshoot, plans to run a "Save India" campaign in itsattempt
to wrestle back power from the United ProgressiveAlliance.
The once media-shy RSS is actively engaging with journalists and the
public and embracing technology to spur interest. According to the
RSS, the number of shakhas has increased from 25,000 in 1990 to
At once, the RSS and BJP strategy marries the idea of a pan-Hindu
nation with safety. It targets people such as Kavita Pandey, a
homemaker in New Delhi who says she worries every time her family
leaves home. When she travels, at airports, railways stations and on
public buses, she is on the lookout for lurking danger. "I look for
bags without owners. Constantly. Once I called the airport security
because a bulky plastic bag was lying near the dustbin. ...it was only
some newspapers and a banana skin or something. But I think I would do
the same thing again," she says.
Days after the Capital was rocked by a series of bomb blasts in
popular markets, Pandey says, if the fear remains, the next election
will not be about inflation. It will be about who can keep her
Terrorist bomb explosions in Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and New
Delhi have killed 132 people so far this year.
From the elite Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian
Institutes of Management, or the canteens of companies such as Wipro
Ltd and Deutsche Bank AG, the RSS mobilization efforts may not have
the sanction of institutions or employers. But the RSS is slowly
A member of the organization for the last three years, Chatterjee
remembers when RSS promotional efforts outside college campuses used
to get a lukewarm response. But now, "a lot of students come over to
the stall, ask questions and listen."
The weekly IT-milan is also gaining popularity among computer
programmers in Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chandigarh and New Delhi. "We
have about 4,000 members in such groups," said Suresh Nayak, a member
who runs the Bangalore IT-milans. "We willchange to whatever format is
needed to help our members remain a part of the organization." But the
message, he and others agree, will largely stay the same.