With first woman as chief guest at its Dussehra Day event, RSS takes another stride

With first woman as chief guest at its Dussehra Day event, RSS takes another stride

Originally from Haryana, Yadav is the first woman to have scaled Mount Everest twice. She was awarded with the Padma Shri in 2000.

With the RSS founded at Nagpur on Dussehra day in 1925, the Sangh sarsanghachalak lays out the outfit’s vision on various issues of national importance at this annual event. While the main function with the sarsanghachalak is at Nagpur, which Yadav will be attending, RSS shakhas hold their own functions, including shastra puja (worshipping of weapons).

The gesture comes amidst other measures by the RSS to shed its image of an ultra-muscular, all-men outfit, a fact that is often raised by Opposition parties to target it. Its Kutumb Prabodhan programme, aimed at spreading “values of family and society” among couples, has got a renewed focus now with an all-India convenor.

However, with women largely not part of its core activities, despite a wing called the Rashtra Sevika Samiti for them since 1936, the Sangh continues to be identified with men in khaki trousers (earlier shorts).

The Samiti has the same organisational structure as that of the Sangh – with shakhas, dedicated whole-timers called “pracharikas”, and annual training camps called Sangh Shiksha Varg. However, its ranks are largely confined to women relatives of RSS office-bearers and swayamsevaks.

The RSS’s annual report for 2021-22, which gives details regarding its women-centric programmes, said 41 of its Sampark Vibhag (outreach wings) in states had women representation.

The RSS has been inviting people from across fields and the political spectrum to be chief guests at its events. For the closing ceremony of an event held in Nagpur in June 2018, it had invited the late president Pranab Mukherjee, leaving many Congress leaders hot under the collar.

RSS guests have included HCL founder-chairman Shiv Nadar; former DRDO director-general Vijay Kumar Saraswat; Noble Laureate Kailash Satyarthi; former CBI chief Joginder Singh; former Nepal Army chief Rookmangud Katawal; and Republican Party of India president R S Gavai.

In 2007, former Air Chief Marshal A Y Tipnis was invited to the Nagpur camp by then Sarsanghchalak K S Sudarshan. Without targeting the RSS directly, Tipnis had delivered a veiled critique that dwelt on secularism, tolerance and faith in the Constitution, leading to a point-by-point rebuttal by Sudarshan.

In recent decades, the only time the RSS could not hold a grand Dussehra event was in 2020, due to the Covid lockdown. That year, there was no chief guest while RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat addressed a gathering of 50 swayamsewaks.