What is the Vishwa Sangh Shibir (VSS)?
The VSS is a once-in-five-years conclave of the RSS-supported Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, aimed at uniting Hindus across the world. The first Vishwa Sangh Shibir was held in Bengaluru in 1990, followed by Vadodara (1995), Mumbai (2000), Ahmedabad (2005), Pune (2010) and, most recently, for five days in Indore from December 29, 2015. Around 200 members attended the first meet; at the Shibir in Indore, 506 male and 240 female members from 43 countries were present.
The VSS’s stated aims are to unite Hindus abroad, popularise the Hindutva way of life, and ensure that India’s cultural heritage is passed on to younger generations. “At this Shibir we discuss how to spread the work and the message of RSS. Often, it marks the first visit to India for many HSS members. It is also an opportunity to inform them about Bharatiya culture,” says the Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh of the RSS, Manmohan Vaidya.
Why was the Indore meet significant?
The Shibir, the first after an “RSS pracharak” became Prime Minister, was organised on a grander scale and with more enthusiasm than before. The conclave saw participation by top RSS and BJP leaders including Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat, BJP president Amit Shah, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. The broad theme of the conclave was “Hindu Jagega Toh Vishwa Jagega (When Hindus awaken, so will the world)”. It had sessions on the Hindu way of life, Hindu thoughts on the environment, the saintly tradition of India, ancient Indian science, etc.
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Former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair, chief guest at the valedictory session, emphasised on swadeshi science and technology, and hailed ancient Indian knowledge of plastic surgery, space science, etc. Indian scriptures had mentioned water on the Moon thousands of years before the Chandrayaan Moon mission, Nair said.
The meet also discussed problems of Hindu minorities in many countries, including racism, and decided to form a common front to lobby for the cause of Hindus.
What exactly are the links between the HSS and the RSS?
The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh is a registered organisation in 40 countries around the world; in three others, it has its units, but is not yet registered. The RSS is not a registered body, the only one of its kind with such massive presence across India. The HSS was formed by swayamsevaks in need of a legal identity abroad. “Our soul is connected with the RSS. We take inspiration from it. The RSS is our role model. We seek its guidance on crucial issues,” says Ravi Kumar, joint coordinator of the HSS.
When was the HSS formed?
In January 1947, months before Independence, on a ship full of Indians on its way to Africa, a swayamsevak from Punjab had the urge to recite the RSS prayer. As he ended the prayer, Namaste Sada Vatsale Matri Bhume, he realised he had been joined by several others on board. This man, Jagadish Sharada Shastri, in effect led the first RSS shakha beyond the shores of India. That same year, the Bharatiya Swayamsevak Sangh was formed in Kenya, and was subsequently renamed HSS. It was established in the UK in 1966, and in the US in 1989.
After nearly seven decades, this body of overseas swayamsevaks organises nearly 1,000 shakhas weekly, which are attended by children, women, youths and the elderly.
How is the HSS organised?
Individual units in each country have a head. There is a global coordinator, and three joint coordinators. New York-based Soumitra Gokhale is the HSS coordinator currently, while Ravi Kumar (Australia), Dr Ram Vaidya (London) and Dr Sadanand Sapre (Bhopal) are the joint coordinators.
Like the RSS, HSS raises its own funds. The Indore meet saw participants from Guyana, Thailand, South Africa and Norway, who spent their own money to travel to India.
Like the RSS’s women’s wing Rashtra Sevika Samiti, the HSS has a women’s unit called the Hindu Sevika Samiti.
The HSS doesn’t offer an exact count of swayamsevaks, but claims a huge number. In Sydney, for instance, 20,000 members are said to have gathered for the annual Diwali gathering. “Many natives of the host country also attend the programmes. Parents send their children to our programmes to learn good values,” Ravi Kumar says. The work of the HSS is recognised by some governments. Myanmar, for instance, has awarded a free first class railway pass to an HSS pracharak in recognition of the organisation’s work for orphanages in that country.
Is there a relationship between the HSS and the Narendra Modi government?
HSS is perhaps the biggest supporter of the Prime Minister abroad, and helps to bring in the crowds at his programmes overseas. “Wherever he (Modi) goes, he is able to connect with Indians. In Sydney, we told him we have Australian passports but whenever we want to visit India we need a visa, which takes time. He assured us of help, and within 10 days, announced the facility of electronic visa not just for Australia but for 40 countries. His programme in Sydney saw the biggest crowd ever,” says Ravi Kumar.
As it organises Indians abroad under the RSS banner, the HSS also creates a massive support base for the BJP. With the help of another RSS affiliate, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, HSS organises functions that are sometimes attended by the heads of those countries. As a lobby group, it works towards building the image of the Modi government abroad.
How does the HSS extend the ideological argument of the RSS?
Through the VSS, the RSS seeks to flex its Hindutva muscle globally. The HSS takes care not to overtly reject other (non-Hindu) cultures, and does not hesitate to sometimes appropriate successful Indians abroad as trophies of Hindu culture, even though some of these Indians may not agree with the RSS view of the world. This is a familiar manoeuvre — it is employed by RSS chief Bhagwat for example, who invokes Dr B R Ambedkar and Buddhist ideals, ignoring the fundamental contradiction between the RSS veneration of the Vedic culture and its rejection by both Ambedkar and The Buddha himself.