The “knickers” traditionally worn by RSS pracharaks may soon be replaced by trousers. There is a suspicion within the Sangh that India’s youngsters don’t join because they find the baggy, khaki shorts ridiculous. According to reports in several newspapers, the organisation is attempting to adapt to the times, the first step being a long overdue uniform update.
From the images one sees of the pracharaks, they have an air of determined, disciplined nationalism. They just don’t seem like the kind of men who care about what they’re wearing, or how they’re looking. Fashion could be the absolute last thing on their minds. Point to note: there also aren’t any women around to motivate them to shed their ill-fitting attire.
The RSS’s last big uniform change was in 1940 when white shirts replaced khaki ones. (Not counting shoes during the Emergency and a belt in 2010.) But for seven decades since, the organisation, rooted in a strong and inflexible ideology, hasn’t felt the need to adapt to the modern world to attract new recruits.
What’s changed? Is it that the new generation of Indians are a shallow, superficial lot who are rejecting an ideology for something as frivolous as clothing, or is it that they’re unimpressed with the organisation’s philosophy itself? The maroon and saffron robes of Buddhist monks have remained largely unchanged for 25 centuries since the time of Gautam Buddha. The Doctors Without Borders distinctive logo, representing a patient in red on a white T-shirt or jacket has been the same since its inception 40 years ago and its impact is only growing.
Uniforms lend their wearers a sense of identity, of belonging to a like-minded group and staying loyal to it. Even when they embody just symbolic meanings like a red sari for a bride or a white wedding dress indicating purity, it stands for something. Of course, the current RSS uniform may well be a massive deterrent for anyone with a pair of eyes but the bigger issue perhaps lies somewhere else. If they struck a chord with the youth, meaningless sartorial problems would fade away.
The RSS is rightly debating their own spiffiness, or lack thereof. Admittedly many of us attach unnecessary importance to what the label says in the back of our shirts. In an age adoring of individualism, where the greatest successes can collect awards wearing a dress of meat (Lady Gaga), we have to examine the very concept of uniforms as a symbol of respectability. If any organisation expects members to don clothing expressive of their political affiliations, those ideas and ethics have to resonate, deeply. For a questioning new generation exposed to infinite possibilities, principles and aesthetics go together.