RSS can sing and dance too
Little exists on the other side of the RSS that even those who obsessively track it, if only to find fault with the organisation – have not heard of their music band.
- Total Shares
The RSS insists that it is a cultural organisation while its detractors insist it isn’t and has all sorts of schemes for rashtra (national) domination under its black paper boat style cap. So when I was invited to a performance by their band, I was intrigued. I checked with the usual Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) baiters in my circle and no one had heard of it. So little exists on the other side of the RSS that even those who obsessively track it, if only to find fault with the organisation – have not heard of the band. “But it has been around since 1927 and every Dussehra across the country the band steps out in their local areas, outfitted in their signature khakhi shorts and white shirts and marches to the tune of ragas composed by them,” Rahul a young swayamsevak tells me. If there's one thing the RSS is aware of — it’s what they call the “misinformation” that abounds about them. For that, they must reach out to society — especially that urban set who reads the papers and its one-sided narratives and forms an adverse opinion.
The anniversary of the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur served as an ideal opportunity to acknowledge their debt as Hindus for the protection he offered them and his ultimate sacrifice, Narendra explains as we stand by the marching band. In the RSS people are known by their first name alone, to ward off any distinction between people based on caste. The band playing today comprises 108 members and is an assortment of lawyers, doctors, chartered accountants, school children and so forth. The uniform remains the same, even in the cold winter air. When you speak to them, they emphasise on the demographic range of their band members, to stress that as an organisation they are spread across all sections of society – educated, young, etc. It is tough work being in the band, there is daily practice and it’s competitive. To play at this event, there was a selection and only the best were included.
The band comprises bass drums, symbols, flutes, saxophones and the triangle giving the arrangement an orchestral lilt. Today is a big day, it’s Sunday morning at Connaught Place (CP) and while this is a commemoration of Guru Tegh Bahadur, it is also a time to create an impression. And they do so when they walk in an organised file from Baba Kharak Singh Marg to Central Park in the inner CP Circle. People line the streets as they march by — looking on in rapt attention. This is the first time the RSS has ever been at Raahgiri. There are the Zumba dancers and yoga enthusiasts who perform to music on a Bollywood dance stage. As the band marches by, a young woman atop the stage is dancing to the song “Lovely” from the film Happy New Year. It’s all a little incongruous and yet it seems to come together. People start falling in line behind the band. An older aunty enjoys the music while walking along and says: “Ek cheez acchi hui Modiji ko vote karke, yeh log to aa gaye.” That remains a debatable point. A four-year-old boy salutes the passing band. Is this a recruitment drive? No, they tell me, numbers have swelled since the election win and if anyone is interested, they can come to the shakha. But yes, they do want to engage with people.
I meet Gaurav Verma and his cousin Abhay who have come to Raahgiri since it’s a “phukrey” spot (hangout space) and am captivated by the band. I start chatting with them and it’s a comedy of errors when they assume I am a recruiter for the RSS. I tell them there are no women in the RSS and I’m only there as an observer. Nattily dressed in trainers and a leopard skin head band, they came to “hang out” and you can see why — the venue looks like a college fest. Never mind the Hare Krishnas who along with a gaggle of enthused new converts or revellers around them are jumping up and down at one spot. It’s all a celebration. Gaurav tells me, he doesn’t know much about the RSS. Then, he leans into me and says, “They run the country, you know? I hope you don’t mind, are you a BJP girl?” I assure him I’m no one’s girl. He tells me quite a few of his friends have joined the RSS after the elections but some have left as well. “It’s disciplined,” he groans, adding: “If you have to be somewhere at 6 am and are late, they won’t let you in. But its good, they care about the nation.” The music is melodious and their compositions based on ragas like Shivranjani and Son Bhadra are performed to much appreciation. Despite the many distractions at the venue, the band has a large audience. I make my way back to my car, saying good bye to my new friends who tell me I should stick around till noon when the action really picks up. But my work is done.
At the parking lot, two RSS members in their 60s are shepherding the traffic — the slightly younger one has taken a seat and is apologetic since his senior is out on the main road, but he’s just had knee surgery and needs a rest every once in a while. “These are our values”, he tells me, “respect for elders, it’s what we stand for, it’s a way of life — that and nation first.”
The other side of Sangh
1.) In the RSS, people are known by their first name alone, to ward off any distinction between people based on caste.
2.) The band comprises 108 members and is an assortment of lawyers, doctors, chartered accountants, school children and so forth.
3.) The uniform remains the same, even in the cold winter air.
4.) The band comprises bass drums, symbols, flutes, saxophones and the triangle giving the arrangement an orchestral lilt.
5.) The music is melodious and their compositions based on ragas like Shivranjani and Son Bhadra are performed to much appreciation.