Eight things you wanted to know about the RSS (and BJP) but didn’t know which American scholar to ask

Former President of India Pranab Mukherjee looks set to keep his date with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Nagpur on Friday,  June 7.

The American academic and one-time state department official, Walter K. Andersen, who wrote The Brotherhood In Saffron: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Revivalism has a new book coming up on the RSS.

In an interview with Sheela Bhatt on the news channel NewsX, Andersen explains the thrice-banned organisation.


RSS is a large organisation with a number of affiliates. There are many organisations in the RSS and for many of them, BJP is not necessarily the most important one.

RSS is not static. It has changed. It has always been evolutionary; never revolutionary. It has always been extremely cautious. It is willing to make compromises (like not pressing for the beef ban in Northeast).

RSS is not really a religion. Many of them in the RSS leadership have been agnostics, even atheists.

RSS has always been suspicious of power. It has always looked at real gains from below-up not from top-down. It has always seen the most valuable change from the bottom unlike the Congress party.

RSS sarsanghchalakMohan Bhagwat’s relationship with Narendra Modi is very different from that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s with the then RSS chief. Bhagwat is a conciliator, a diplomat. Bhagwat and Modi do meet each other, frequently, to try to work out issues. Some they succeed on, some they don’t.

RSS policy is if you cannot work out a compromise you put it off to the side until they can. What they are deadly afraid of is controversies that could split the organisation. This is one organisation that has not split. So un-Indian. Partly because of the administrative system and the training system. Self-preservation is its all-important goal.

RSS has a strong Brahminical overlay, but it is not nearly as Brahminical as 20 years ago. Its biggest weakness is its insularity as reflected by Bhagwat’s statement on caste reservations in Bihar. It is certainly not anti-democratic. When it looks at the world, the integrity of India is all-important.

RSS will help Narendra Modi in 2019 but not as much as in 2014. Only twice has RSS got fully engaged, once in 1977 after the Emergency and then in 2014, and in both cases they feared that if the Congress won, it would place restrictions on the RSS. 

Also read: When will Pranab Mukherjee be a guest at Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba functions?