RSS and patriotism: Saffron over tricolour

Independence Day is not a big day for India’s pre-eminent Right-wing group

WrittenBy:Anurag Tripathi
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While a massive Dalit rally marked Independence Day in Una, at Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) office in Delhi, August 15 was a bland affair.  At around 5.30 am, a handful of shakha members gathered at the Jhandewalan office, as they do every morning. A senior swayamsevak (RSS member) fetched what is known as the Bhagwa Dhwaj – the saffron flag – from the office reception and shakha proceedings began with members saluting the flag. This was followed by the surya namaskar, games and physical training. The shakha meeting concluded after swayamsevaks assembled around the saffron flag and recited the RSS prayer, “Namaste sada vatsale matrabhumi” (Forever I bow to you, motherland).  


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In the office of an organisation that claims to be the torchbearer of nationalism, nowhere was an Indian national flag in sight and neither was there any buzz of excitement at the fact that this was India’s Independence Day.

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Keshav Kunj office of RSS wore a deserted look on Independence Day. Picture by Anurag Tripathi

For those who know their Indian history, this isn’t surprising. Champions of a Hindu India as RSS members may be, the organisation has a tradition of rooting for its own flag over the tricolour. Since its formation in 1925, the RSS has pressed for the adoption of Bhagwa Dhwaj as the national flag. In an editorial titled “National Flag” published in July 1947 in its mouthpiece publication Organiser, it vehemently argued that saffron was the colour that represented the culture and valour of India. Therefore, Bhagwa Dhwaj should  be adopted as a national flag. This aversion to the tricolour was one of the reasons why Sardar Patel insisted the RSS express “explicit acceptance” of the national flag, before lifting the 1948-49 ban on the organisation.

The national flag was first hoisted at the Sangh headquarters on August 15, 1947 and then on January 26, 1950. After that, the RSS continued, for 52 years, to hoist the Bhagwa Dhwaj in its offices. When the issue of it not raising the national flag was raised in parliament in 2000 and in subsequent years, the RSS started hoisting the tricolour in its offices on Independence Day since 2002.

Even now, RSS continues to pitch for the Bhagwa Dhwaj to be the national flag. In 2015, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat claimed, “BR Ambedkar was also of the view that bhagwa should be adopted as the national flag and Sanskrit should become the national language. Unfortunately, we couldn’t propagate his views.”

While RSS’s indifference to the tricolour remains constant, the organisation appears to have become a little more diplomatic in its stance. “For us, every day is an Independence Day. We celebrate the Saanskritik (cultural) independence everyday by hoisting Bhagwa Dhwaj,” Devi Chand, a swayamsevak in his mid-eighties, told Newslaundry.  “We conduct shakhas everyday, everyday we hoist flag, everyday we salute flag and everyday we say ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. Patriotism is not a new word to us.” He smoothly ignored the detail that the flag being saluted was not the national flag; not even on Independence Day.

When the shakha dispersed, this correspondent waited at the gate of Keshav Kunj (the RSS office) to see what Independence Day celebrations would be held at the RSS office, only to be viewed with suspicion. “Why are you interested in covering Independence Day celebrations at RSS office?” asked one swayamsevak. “Do you have any plan to defame us?”

The question was a reflection of how RSS sees the English media. From the very outset, the RSS has been convinced that it couldn’t trust regular press to put across its point of view. This disdain is the reason RSS set up its mouthpiece Organiser. “People who get funding from foreign organisations try to defame us, for instance Kejriwal. If there is no Sanskriti (culture), there is no nation. And Bhagwa Dhwaj is a symbol of Sanskriti,” a swayamsewak told Newslaundry.

“You people are influenced by English education,” said Devi Chand, who manages the reception at Keshav Kunj. “We don’t show off. If you want to see, you can go to the terrace and see that we have hoisted the national flag,” he said.

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Devi Chand, a veteran RSS  swayamsevak, extolling the virtues of RSS. Picture by Anurag Tripathi. 

Chand was right. There was indeed a national flag on the terrace — wedged in bricks, in a plastic milk crate.When the makeshift nature of this flag’s pedestal was pointed out, Chand said, “You see, renovation is going in this office. So we have kept the celebration a very low key affair.”

Actually, the ones responsible for the flag are the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). At around 8am, a CRPF guard — the CRPF has the charge of providing security to most of the RSS offices in India — was seen bringing a national flag and a plastic crate of milk into the RSS office. “We celebrate Independence Day every year and ask them (RSS swayamsevaks) to join us,” said the guard.

And that was how the tricolour finally made it to Keshav Kunj. It was the CRPF security contingent along with some office bearers who unfurled the national flag on the roof.

After being given a crash course in the significance of saffron and RSS philosophy, this correspondent made his way out of Keshav Kunj. At the gate, a young RSS swayamsewak named Gautam Shivam came up with an offer. “I was listening to your conversation,” he said. “Why don’t you attend shakha sometime to understand our philosophy of rashtravad (nationalism)?  It is Hindus primarily who are keeping this nation united. Look in Muslim dominated countries, they are fighting among themselves.”

Behind us, in one corner of Keshav Kunj’s terrace, the tricolour fluttered in the August breeze


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