Circles: Starting the Indian Revolution (Part 4)

RSS Shakhas – 2

Ratan Sharda’s book, “RSS 360°: Demystifying Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh” outlines the vision and working of the Shakha:

Shaakhaa (shakha or local branch) of RSS is the public face of RSS. It is the powerhouse that energises and powers ordinary people to successfully carry out extraordinary feats and nurture pan-India organisations.

People often wonder how a small group of 10 to 20 people who come together for an hour and while away their time in playing games, doing some physical drills, singing patriotic songs or discussing some social issues and praying together, can build an organisation with 56,000 shakhas all over India with a daily collective attendance of more than half a million. If you consider approximately 100 members per shakha who don’t attend it every day this figure would come to nearly 5.6 million regular members. This network is spread upto district level all over India and in most of the places to Tehsil level. You can find village level shakhas in many states.

…The thought behind this unique set of tools or working style of RSS through daily shakha is that a person should willingly dedicate at least one hour in one’s day for the nation. Once this thought becomes a part of his personality, he will willingly increase his participation as the nation demands. Ultimately he reaches a state of mind reflected in a Sangh song that says, “tan samarpit, man samarpit, aur yah jeevan samarpit, chaahata hoon maan, tujhe kuchh aur bhee doon” (i.e. I have dedicated my body, soul and life to you, O’ motherland, I long to give you something more)

Writing in the foreword, Madhu Kishwar summarises it thus: “Running a Shakha needs no money, no infrastructure. All it needs is human capital and the willingness to offer time.”

Sunil Ambekar has more in his book, “The RSS Roadmaps for the 21st Century”:

The shakha timetable is an hour long. Its main components are standardized and have been the same since the time of its commencement. These are sharirik physical drills, boudhik intellectual or academic discussions, khel games and samta practice sessions for systematic parade. The RSS flag hoisting at the beginning of the shakha is protocol driven and swayamsevaks are taught to stand in attendance. The shakha closes with a prayer…Those assigned as ‘shikshak’ or teachers in the shakhas go through a vigorous training process.

…Just like the cell is the basic unit of a living organism, the shakha is the basic unit of the RSS. Every swayamsevak has a shakha to which he belongs.

…Shakhas are held in the morning, evening and night to cater to the increasing numbers and to incorporate diverse time schedules for people of various age groups. Weekly get-togethers called ‘saptahik milans’ are also held. Those who cannot come to the shakha can come to the monthly ‘Sangh mandalis’ or groups. These are non-shakha formations, informal setups convertible to shakhas on maturation. If Sangh mandalis gain critical mass in terms of engagement, they are moved up the value chain into weekly meetings, and if these experience traction, they progress to become daily shakhas and acquire a more formal structure. Through such sequential progression, the shakha network expands.

The pandemic’s digital disruption can create opportunities for new political entrepreneurs who can rethink the shakha and build on its strengths for the future.

Tomorrow: Part 5

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.