The invincible, eternal ‘we’ : RSS Sah Sarkaryavah, Dr. Manmohan Vaidya
The acute awareness of being a part of this colossal ‘we’ offers inspiration in extending selfless service, notwithstanding any threats to life and free from expectations of name and fame.
(The article was first published in The Sunday Guardian)
At a time when the entire world is grappling with the onslaught of the coronavirus pandemic, considering the diversity and enormity of our population we can say that Bharat is faring relatively better than other powerful nations. People here experienced the lockdown for the first time. Speculation about the merits and demerits of this measure run rife all over the world. Slowly, the lockdown is being lifted. We will have to proceed further, carefully. Coping with the challenges posed by this unfamiliar disease will require an extraordinary approach. The world after will not be the same as the one previously known to us. Restoring normalcy in day-to-day functioning will be no cakewalk. We will have to walk into this new world together, united and with the firm resolve to be victorious.
Bharat’s war against coronavirus is different from that of other nations. It is unique. State power is paramount in the nations of the world. It has a great bearing on all societal systems in these countries. For this reason, the “welfare state” title has been conferred upon these states.
In times of catastrophe, state systems are activated through administrative readiness and citizens await official, state-based machinery to get functional. The picture in Bharat is different. Traditionally, society (as people) has existed independent of state power here. We had autonomous systems independent of state power, capable of taking care of various matters of society.
Rabindranath Thakur, in his essay, “Swadeshi Samaj”, opined that “a welfare state is neither a Bharatiya concept nor tradition. Since time immemorial the state here was entrusted strictly with only a few critical matters. All other matters were addressed by the autonomous systems of society.” He stated explicitly that “a society that has minimal reliance on state power to make arrangements for itself is “Swadeshi Samaj”. Acharya Vinobha Bhave remarked, “State power was important to us only until we were under foreign rule. Now that we are independent, it is time to awaken the power of the people.” He further added, “The society that relies heavily on the state for its needs is an indolent society; a weak society. Non-governmental work is more efficacious.”
Earlier, “we” were under foreign rule. On 15 August 1947, “we” gained independence. On 26 January 1950, “we” brought our Constitution into effect. This “we” under foreign rule, the “we” that became independent, and the “we” that adopted our Constitution is the same timeless through ages—it precisely is our existence and identity, that is our Rashtra. Our motherland was invaded. At times, kings were defeated. Foreign rule too prevailed. But this “we” remained undefeated. “We” alludes to the people of this society, our nation. At this point, it must be understood that this “nation” is not the same as the Western “nation-state”. Ex-President of Bharat, Dr Pranab Mukherjee in his address to Sangh Swayamsevaks in Nagpur underlined this very fact, stating, “The western concept of a nation-state and Bharatiya concept of ‘Rashtra’ seeped in our view-of-life are dissimilar.” Our national identity has emerged through a long-drawn process of confluence, assimilation and co-existence. It is owing to this concept of nation that in times of natural or man-made calamity the wheels of society turn to collaborate with the administration in relief and rehabilitation work, here in Bharat.
In the present situation, state representatives—policemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics, cleaners and many others—are executing their duties remarkably despite the possibility of infectious transmission and life-threat. Many personnel have got infected in the process and a few have even been lost their lives as a consequence. Therefore, it is legitimate to refer to these professionals as “corona-warriors”. All sections of society, especially the Army and the police have loudly applauded the care workers’ efforts. They rightfully deserve this. Some might interject, reasoning that “duty is an official imperative and hence they were under compulsion to discharge it”. However, the diligence, faithfulness and dedication exhibited by the members of these groups are praiseworthy. Their consistent efforts deserve to be honoured.
Alongside these governmental and semi-governmental agencies, another sizeable section of society embraced the threats to their lives to join the emergency task force from day one. With no accountability to the government and a disinclination towards return-gains, yet, with a sense of deep affinity they convey “in times of crisis it is my responsibility to help the members of my society” and exert efforts to the same end. This spirit of oneness with the whole society is the feeling of “Vayam Rashtrang Bhootah (I am the constituent of the society and have an inextricable connection with my society)”. Doing relief work in times of natural calamities like floods and earthquakes is incomparable to serving during a pandemic when a highly infectious disease multiplies the threat; the two being wholly dissimilar scenarios. The active societal contribution made by this section during the current pandemic has been consistent across the length and breadth of the country. This illuminates the power of a conscious and active nation.
From Arunachal Pradesh to Kashmir and Kanyakumari 479,949 swayamsevaks of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, under the banner of Sewa Bharati, supplied dietary allowance kits to 11,015,450 families at 8,570 different locations. 71,146,500 food packets were distributed to those in need of food. Approximately 6,200,000 masks were distributed. Members of nomadic tribes, eunuchs, those in the flesh trade, monkeys and other animals dependent on temple visitors for nourishment and cows constitute the beneficiary groups. Several students living in major metropolises and large towns also received help. A helpline to support students from the Northeast was created to ensure communication with their family members and render all required help. Those who sustain by gathering daily alms around temples and other religious centres also received the offerings of this “Sewa Yajna”. Swayamsevaks even ventured into “bastis” that had infectious breakouts to help the people there. Regardless of any filter, unbiased help was extended to the needy in every state. Crowd-management, registration of workers in transit and innumerable such tasks were managed as a token of support to the local administration. Upon the administration’s clarion call in the
Pune city, RSS swayamsevaks, flanked by volunteers of other social outfits stepped inside densely populated, risky, red zones and screened over 100,000 people, handing over suspected carriers to the administration for further testing.
Besides RSS, several other social and religious organisations, congregations, mathas, temples and gurudwaras contributed to this society-led relief movement in various locations across the country. Independent of state arrangement, this is a societal system. Contemplation of the “vayam rastrang bhootah” (body-limb connection) sentiment gives impetus to the development and functioning of such systems. Realisation of this feeling connects and unifies people in spite of speaking different languages, known by various castes, and worshipping diverse deities, are spread across the Bharatiya landmass to forge the “we”. The eternal “we”.
The acute awareness of being a part of this colossal “we” offers inspiration in extending selfless service, the life-threat notwithstanding and free from expectations of making name or fame. “People living in all states, literate, illiterate, wealthy, poor, villagers or city-dwellers, townsfolk and forest-dwellers are all my own people”—encouraging this sentiment implies awakening a nation. It is then that the consciousness expands to successively include self, family, clan, neighbourhood, village, district, state, nation, the entire world and all creations into the scope of one’s identity. These different layers are not in conflict, but are mutually complementary. In the absence of any perceptible conflicts among these layers, all components function mutually complementarily. The incessant endeavour of society to harmonise these components is the basis of eternal, spirituality based, integral and holistic view of life of Bharat. This view of life is what gives Bharat its unique identity since time immemorial. Our identification with these various identities of society is the very reason why “we” have the capacity to have a feeling of affinity for these ever-expanding layers of existence. That feeling of affinity propels action in times of crisis. This strengthens the bond further and weaves the weft of society to create an organised society. It is this smallest constituent of the clay with which society is moulded.
The act of organising society is neither instantaneous nor automatic. Conscious, long-term and continuous endeavours result in an organised society. It takes generations of craftsmen to build a functional system. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is an example of such crafting agents. The goal of unifying all the people of a diverse Bharatiya society by inculcating a spirit of oneness with all, was our founding purpose. The comprehensive expanse of work, influence and organised cohesion visible today for all to see has consumed the lives of five generations of Sangh karyakartas. Thousands of people have spent their entire lives with this very aim as their mission. Innumerable youth were consumed like incensory or camphor to fire. The speciality of camphor is that it sublimates without leaving a single trace of ash. It is then that such results have emerged. Not only RSS, but umpteen number of social and religious agencies, educators, merchants and businessmen and home-maker womenfolk contribute to this task of nation-awakening each day, consistently in their own subtle ways. However, Sangh’s ability to consolidate and project nation-wide efforts under one umbrella makes it perceptible.
It takes dedicated years of penance to awaken this sense of belonging to the entire society and a mindset to work as a part of a disciplined system in a given situation. One such revelatory experience came about when the Aila cyclone hit Bengal on 25 May 2009. South 24 Pargana district was worst the affected by this devastating cyclone. On 3 June, having travelled in a jeep for an hour, followed by a 40-minute boat ride and lastly a walk through knee-deep slush, I reached the distant island where relief work was undertaken. Taking cognizance of the ongoing rescue and relief operations I enquired into the experience of the swayamsevaks there. I asked them to share the names of the religious-social organisations or agencies that were also conducting relief work there. The answer was eye-opening. They said, “Other agencies have restricted their service area to the parts having road access. The Sangh alone is active in these inaccessible interiors.” I wondered if those swayamsevaks would have ever experienced working in such dire conditions. Doubtful that they had executed such elaborate plans in remote areas before, I admired their thoughtfulness and courage to reach out to the people who needed help desperately. Such dedication can only result from cultivating the discipline to work in peculiar conditions and by identifying the self as an integral part of society.
The corona calamity has brought similar instances to the fore. Due to some rumour-mongering, thousands of waged workers gathered at Delhi’s Anand Vihar bus stand. No sooner did this become known, Delhi swayamsevaks arranged for food and water distribution to those workers. Uttar Pradesh Sangh workers, in collaboration with the state administration, organised a fleet of 5,000 buses that made the journey to the places-of-origin of these labourers feasible. Technically, the governments and administration owe those responsibilities but the swayamsevaks offered a glimpse into their managerial abilities and might by executing such challenging tasks. Extricating a mass of people out of confusion and responsibly ferrying them back to the safety of their village homes was not easy.
Infectious disease, fear of contagion due to crowd gathering and hordes of village folk (in some cases entire families, including the elderly and the children)—making arrangements despite these palpable challenges is no pushover. Pictures of some temporary settlements erected to accommodate travellers surfaced in the media. Some arrangements were adequate and a few inadequate. Unaware of the desirable conduct many people got flustered and suffered in the process. Such painful visuals were heart-wrenching. This mass exodus caught many headlines and became a hot topic for debate. Pro-government and anti-government camps locked horns and engaged in mudslinging over televised debates. However, it is imperative to note that in the same time frame 10 lakh waged labourers in Bihar, 30 lakh in Uttar Pradesh, 10 lakh in Madhya Pradesh and 1.15 lakh waged labourers from Jharkhand having successfully completed their journey made it back to their villages. Governmental-societal partnership made this herculean goal attainable. Such factual information also deserves its rightful place in televised debates.
The lockdown brought all economic activities to a grinding halt. The magnitude of this unprecedented challenge induced a multitude of challenges. Arrangements and efforts to address those challenges were not free of shortcomings. It is painful that the ordinary, innocent and helpless people had to bear the consequences of those shortcomings. In a democratic set-up, it is natural for such issues to become the material of public discourse, media and other discussions. But a few members of society—politicians, journalists and writers—oblivious of the fact that they too comprise the same society, alienate themselves from it. To blow matters out of proportion and to generalise a condition and creating the false impression of an all-pervasive gloom demoralise the entire society. It drags the well-meaning officers, workers and volunteers into a psychological courtroom, raising many question marks and in return creating general unrest. There are no two ways about it; that which is wrong is wrong. But when publicly scrutinizing such matters, having one’s allegiance with the truth, carefully avoiding the portrayal of an inflated, fallacious picture is our social and moral responsibility owing to the value system rooted in the feeling “vayam rashtrang bhootah”.
I recall one incident dating back to 1992. Having recently landed in the United States I soon learnt of this then-popular “GUN” tee-shirt brand that was apparently a rage amongst American teens. With his tee-shirt sales hitting the roof, the producer made huge profits. But there was another section in the American society that started to point at the potential threat of those tee shirts—a spike in violent tendencies among teens. Concerned, they stirred a movement in society demanding the producer to withdraw his product from the market shelves. Unwilling, but eventually foreseeing the threat of a complete boycott of all his products, the producer relented and withdrew those “GUN” tee-shirts. In a subsequent press interview, the journalists quizzed him: “When the dangers your product posed was brought to your notice early on why did you not withdraw it immediately?” To this, he replied: “Look I am here in the business of making money, not morality.” This implied that maybe there exist two viewpoints in business—to view one’s society as a mere resource or to consider it as an extension of one’s own self.
In the same zest, if incidents of violence, torture, exploitation, injustice or deceit plague society then people must organise their might to oppose and remedy such matters. After thorough investigation those found guilty must be brought to trial, bearing appropriate punishment. But how can the generalization of a shortcoming portraying an inflated, fallacious picture and deflation of the spirits of the larger, well-meaning society be justified? However such conduct is truism in the present scenario and the reason behind this erroneous conduct is the dulling of the feeling of “vayam rashtrang bhootah”. For those engaging in such irresponsible conduct, society, its oddities and poverty, its illiteracy and squalor all seem like resource material in fulfilling their “agenda”. This is owing to the failure in the incorporation of one’s society in their concept of “self”.
Unfortunately in endorsing a disparate, one-sided narrative, several members of society are overlooking their moral and social responsibility of moulding and viewing society as a cohesive whole. Floating divisive conspiracies such as misconstruing the characteristic diversities as divisions and turning a blind eye to the spirituality-based view of life, which is the source of unity at the core of our diversity has been a norm for quite some time now. In such an ancient society, some defects got created. Such an ancient society became subject to a couple of flaws over time. Consequently, problems emerged. Corrective measures as efforts in redeeming our ancient glory must be taken, but with care not to dampen the perpetual spirit of weaving the society. Historically, erroneous policies have led to social and economic problems. By nullifying those errors cohesive societal building efforts must be exerted. In doing so we must be diligent and ensure that the unifying thread of our fundamentally diverse society doesn’t weaken or lose strength.
Stretching from the Himalayas to the Andamans the entire society is my own. I have to weave and create beautiful motifs in my social fabric—this should be the underlying thought behind all actions. The invincible “we” is the key to its capacity of standing tall in the face of the tribulations of the future and emerging victorious. All of us, at all times, under every circumstance should strive to strengthen and revitalize this emotion of “we”.
Dr Manmohan Vaidya is Sah Sarkaryawah (Joint General Secretary), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.