In what appears to be a clear indication that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is now seriously looking at its standing in Tamil Nadu, the Hindutva organisation held its first ever closed-door interaction with news editors of the state’s top media houses on Tuesday, August 16. The meeting was helmed by no less than Dattatreya Hosabale, the organisation’s second-in-command or Sarkaryawah.
The ‘off the record’ meeting with the editors belonging to prominent Tamil and English media houses was planned as part of the RSS’ outreach programme in Tamil Nadu.
The RSS leader spoke about the organisation and what it plans to achieve in Tamil Nadu in future. “This was the first time RSS has made a direct attempt to reach out to media houses in Tamil Nadu,” said one of the editors who attended the meeting.
TNM spoke to some of the editors who attended the meeting to know what transpired at the meeting. “The idea of the RSS is to reach out to Tamil Nadu media houses as part of their outreach programs ahead of 2024 general elections and they want to reach out particularly to the Tamil media,” said an editor. When asked why RSS has organised a meet-up particularly with media personnel, the editor relayed what Hosabale told them: “Our aim is to win the hearts and minds of the people of Tamil Nadu.”
Another journalist told TNM that the event was initially planned as an interaction with owners of media houses but later it was converted as a meeting with editors. “Only select media houses were sent formal invites which categorically mentioned that this was to be a strictly off-record meeting.”
The two hour discussion with Hosabale making his opening remarks on a host of issues and the RSS’ position on them. He explained the work of RSS in the country and how it has serious plans of expanding its base in Tamil Nadu. “The work of RSS is to decolonise the Indian minds and the organisation stands for social equality and social justice,” he was quoted as saying by one of the editors we spoke to.
The participants posed several direct questions to the RSS leader on contentious issues like religious conversions; why RSS is unable to grow in a state like Tamil Nadu; majoritarianism and ghar wapsi. When an editor raised a question about RSS’ take on the Constitution, Hosabale said “We respect the Constitution and we will never go against it.”
For a question regarding the growth of RSS in Tamil Nadu, the RSS general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale admitted that the organisation’s growth in Tamil Nadu has been limited due to the influence of Dravidian politics. He argued that there is more to Tamil Nadu than the Dravidian movement and the state is also a land of temples and devotion. He, however, conceded that certain ideas infused in Punjab and Tamil Nadu because of social and cultural issues were ingrained in the states’ polity. “If you say RSS was rejected in Tamil Nadu, then what about Congress?” he is said to have shot back at one editor.
The leader also outlined the efforts taken by the RSS to ramp-up its operations in Tamil Nadu ahead of the organisation’s centennial celebrations in the year 2025. He claimed that the number of RSS Shakhas in the state has gone up significantly. “We initially had around 1,000 shakhas in the state and now we have grown to holding nearly 1,500 to 2,000 shakhas in the state. Unlike other states, Tamil Nadu is different and due to the influence of Dravidian political ideology our growth has been limited in this state. Our aim is to increase the number of shakhas in the state. We aim to establish one shakha per block in Tamil Nadu.”
On ground for the past 10 years, RSS had 1,000 shakhas and according to RSS functionaries the numbers have gone up due to their consistent efforts. On a daily basis RSS holds at least 1,500 shakha’s across the state. Weekly meetings are held at 600 places across the state and once in a month at least RSS meetings are held in 400 places.
One of the strategies adopted by RSS in Tamil Nadu is to participate in the affairs of temple management, this is one of the reasons why the RSS has extended its support for the free temple campaign in Tamil Nadu. The BJP and other right wing groups in Tamil Nadu have been demanding that temples should be freed from the control of Tamil Nadu government’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department.
It may be recalled that for the first time since its inception in 1925, the RSS held its annual meeting Akhila Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha in Tamil Nadu, Coimbatore in 2017. A decision to this effect was taken keeping in mind the expansion plans.
This meeting comes weeks after Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur met owners of prominent media houses in Chennai on July 29, 2022.