What Guru Purnima means for the RSS
For the RSS, Guru Purnima is devoted to offering obeisance to the Guru (the saffron flag) and offering a voluntary donation.
Guru Purnima – a day when people are supposed to express gratitude for their teachers – falls on July 16 in 2019.
Minister of Human Resource Development Ramesh Pokhariyal ‘Nishank’ urged people to “click selfies” with their teachers on the occasion.
However, the day has a deeper, political, significance.
Guru Purnima is one of the most significant days in the annual calendar of the BJP’s ideological mentor RSS.
It is a day when RSS volunteers “salute” their guru. And it is also a day when the Sangh raises donations from its volunteers.
The RSS celebrates Guru Purnima across the country on this day. It is often called Guru Dakshina within Swayamsevak parlance.
The function takes place in the evening and crowds of Sangh volunteers throng the place. They are handed identical white envelopes not bearing any name for offering charity (dakshina) to the “guru” and they place whatever amount of money they wish to in it.
Then, one by one, they walk up and place the envelope at a common place, from where the saffron flag (bhagwaa dhwaj) is visible right in front. After offering the Dakshina (donation) in the envelope, the volunteer salutes the flag in typical Sangh fashion, with the right hand close to the ribs and a quick bending of the head.
The money collected in these envelopes – insiders say that the envelopes are numbered in a way as to be able to sense the contribution of each volunteer, though they don’t carry a name – constitutes the voluntary donation of the volunteers to the saffron flag as “guru”, and thereby to the organisation that it represents.
It is crucial that the Sangh sees the flag and not a person as the Guru. RSS insiders say that this is to bear allegiance to a symbol rather than a person.
The symbol, the flag representing “sacrifice” (saffron), is what they are committed to, they say.
Of course, there is a symbolic meaning to this. Saffron is a colour with a connotation: it is the colour of the robes worn by Hindu ascetics. It denotes a Hindu self – rather, a “renunciatory” Hindu self – more than anything else.
The symbolic meaning is best captured by the flag controversy. The tricolour – the flag that evolved from within the national movement – represents inter-religious diversity, with saffron at the top and green at the bottom. It represented the multi-cultural nature of a multi-religious and multi-cultural state and society. Saffron represents a more uniform ideological underpinning.
The Sangh did not quite agree with the principle of a multi-cultural flag. Later, it accepted the tricolour. The Narendra Modi government has in the past few years sought to order a conscious nationalism as a necessary practice, even calling for giant tricolours in universities.
However, significantly, Sardar Patel had insisted on explicit acceptance of the tricolour as a condition for lifting the 1948-49 ban on the RSS after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.
Patel said at a Congress on December 17, 1949, in Jaipur that anyone seeking to “supplant” the national flag with another would be sternly dealt with, even as the crowd cheered. The event is recounted in a newspaper report cited in PN Chopra and Prabha Chopra ed. Volume XIII of Collected Works of Sardar Patel.
Home Secretary HVR Iyengar had written to the second RSS Sarsanghchalak MS Golwalkar in May 1949: “An explicit acceptance of the National Flag (with the Bhagwa Dhwaj as the organisational flag of the Sangh) would be necessary for satisfying the country that there are no reservations in regard to allegiance to the State”. The letter is reproduced in the Patel volumes of PN Chopra and Prabha Chopra.
The Dhwaj Pranam (saluting the saffron flag) by RSS volunteers on each Guru Purnima contains layers of meanings.
It is these meanings that bring out the ongoing battle for the Idea of India.
Recent rhetoric on nationalism sans a deeper engagement with nuances just obfuscates this battle of ideas.