Fight Against Corona – “The inherent flexibility of Bharatiya society has been showcased to the world”, Suresh (Bhaiyya Ji) Joshi

Suresh Bhaiyya Ji Joshi, Sarkaryawah of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh spoke to Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser (Weekly) on a range of issues from relief work carried out by RSS during the lockdown, Swadeshi, making India ‘Atmanirbhar’, response of Bharatiya society to present challenges and also on the divisive forces within the country and ways to tackle them. Following are the excerpts of the conversation.

More than 2 lakh Swayamsevaks of the RSS have been involved in providing relief to the needy across the country. Aid and relief materials have been provided to more than 1 crore families in the country by the Swayamsevaks.

If anti-national forces attempt to weaken the country, organisations like the RSS will surely play the role of awakening the society to ensure that our underprivileged sections of the society do not come in the grasp of such forces.

RSS played a very important role in fighting the Corona Pandemic. The Bharatiya society too has responded uniquely to the challenge posed by the pandemic. How do you see this entire scenario over COVID19?

Our generation has seen a pandemic of this scale for the first time. But we all know that the Swayamsevaks of RSS have the nature of coming to the aid and serve the society during any calamity in the country and find their own way to mitigate the situation. They have done the same during Corona pandemic too.

When lockdown was implemented in the country, the daily wage earners and labourers who depend of everyday earnings were faced with a life and death scenario. Hence Swayamsevaks immediately began by providing them with basic ration and food. When it was evident that such people will also face financial difficulties for considerable time due to lack of earning opportunities, Swayasmevaks made necessary arrangements to provide them with ration kits and essential items to last for a month and beyond. This task was taken up in every district of the country and more than 2 lakh Swayamsevaks have been involved in this country-wide exercise. They have provided such aid and relief materials to more than 1 crore families in the country. This was the requirement in the initial days.

As the days passed by, new challenges arose. The migrant workforce who wanted to return to their native towns and villages started to walk to their destination along with small children and aged parents. RSS Swayamsevaks made arrangements to distribute food to the migrants at many places. Apart from this Swayamsevaks have aided the migrants in several other ways too. Swayamsevaks distributed new slippers to the migrants and also arranged doctors and medicines for migrants who fell sick along the way. Such service continued for nearly 40 days. Sangh Swayamsevaks in consultation with the administration have helped in the registration process of the migrants at several places across the country.

Swayamsevaks held discussions with the local administration to understand the needs of the local administration and the ways in which they could help as volunteers. It is heartening to say that Sangh Swayamsevaks have served in places facing threat to their own lives and health. They have served in areas which were infected with Corona and aided the healthcare workers working in such areas. They underwent the required training and helped the administration in screening people for Corona infection in many cities.

In Delhi, helplines were setup for various causes. One such helpline was started to address the grievances of students and people from the North-Eastern states. Another helpline was started to cater to the food and ration needs of the people in distress. Many Dharmic institutions have rendered great support and service in the cause. Temples, Gurudwaras, Jain Mandirs, have joined the cause at several places across the country. Institutions like the Lions Club, Rotary Clubs too have served people at various places. There are numerous big and small institutions and organisations throughout the country which have served in their own way during this period.

What inspires Sangh Swayamsevaks to involve in such service activities? Is there any training given to them?

We are not experts in management of calamities and hence we have not provided any such training. But it is the culture inculcated in Sangh that enables Swayamsevaks to involve in helping those in distress. This has been happening for decades and hence Swayamsevaks respond to a situation as it demands. We never give any training and in many cases we do not even provide the necessary tools. It is the Swayamsevaks themselves who approach the society and makes the necessary arrangements.

We do not have a centralised command which plans and gives orders to be executed. But it is the natural tendency of Swayamsevaks which enables them to act as per the situation and not remain as mute spectators as they consider the entire society as their own.

Many RSS inspired organisations which are working in the economic sector have made several initiatives towards emerging out of the financial distress. How does RSS view the economic scenario?

The economic distress is of different types. The displacement of migrant labour has caused several issues. A long term solution to this problem is to ensure that such displacement do not happen. The immediate solution to the problem is to ensure that the migrants are employed. The employers get their labour but they have to ensure that the needs of the labourers are taken care. However, there is a large section who wish to remain earn a livelihood at their native villages. Here, the state governments have to devise a plan to ensure that such workers are provided jobs locally and many governments have already implemented it.

We have to focus more on skill development. If people are trained in locally required skills then the problem of displacement will be addressed as their will be no need to seek skilled labour from elsewhere. Hence this pandemic has given an chance to test and implement this so that we can turn the crisis into an opportunity.

PM Narendra Modi gave a call for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and several RSS inspired organisations hav supported the call. Today in the age of globalisation, countries are dependent on each other. How then can we become ‘Atmanirbhar’?

If we see we already have numerous locally made products in our villages and towns. PM has used a very good phrase by calling for ‘Be Vocal about Local’. Local initiatives should be encouraged. Studies should be conducted to see if local needs can be catered within a region. I understand that not all products which are manufactured in big industries can be made locally but small businesses and units should be encouraged.

Each district can be considered as a centre for such small businesses. For bigger businesses, the state can be considered as the centre. Beyond that we have to think of a global solution. In order to become ‘Atmanirbhar’ we have to make our districts as the centre and work towards developing them towards becoming self-sufficient.

Due to the India-China standoff, the sense of ‘Swadeshi’ has increased in the country. If crores of people in the country decide to go for local products, then the path to becoming ‘Atmanirbhar’ will be easier. If a conducive environment is created to become self-sufficient, then ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ will not remain a slogan but will become a practice.

You have given a very positive outlook of the entire scenario but there is a negative connotation to this entire debate. Maybe due to the situation at the border, the entire discussion has been confined to boycotting China. How do you see this?

This is a natural response. The entire world is calling to boycott China and the same will naturally happen in India too. Without any organised campaign, even common man is saying that they will not buy Chinese products. However, I think that this will not remain just as a response against one country but will take us on the path of becoming ‘Atmanirbhar’. Initially it may seem like a negative campaign against a particular country but gradually it will help us become self-sufficient as we will need alternate sources and products from within. This is an opportunity not just for India but all the countries to become self-sufficient and cater to their needs as much as possible locally and stand on their own strengths and not be dependent on others.

Stand-off with China has bee going on for decades. What difference do you see in the response by India this time? Lot has been done in terms of national, border security and infrastructure building at the border. How does RSS see the entire scenario?

Any country has to defend its borders against aggression and no country wishes to have disputes with its neighbours. In the current scenario, it is the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, our defence forces, security experts will devise a plan to handle the situation. Hence it is not for us to comment on as it is the subject for the government and defence forces. The common man has complete faith in the capabilities of our defence forces of the country to handle the situation ably.

There is talk of Digital education but not everyone can afford it. RSS has always talked about society-centric education as the way forward. What are the initiatives being taken by Sangh and its inspired organisations in this respect?

The immediate challenge we have is different it there are two aspects to it. Along with government educational institutions there are a large number of private institutions which are dependent on the society and it is a challenge for them to function during the present circumstances. Large part of their earning come from the society and will remain a challenge for them in the coming days.

The other challenge is to provide education for those who are underprivileged. There are limitations of digital education using new tools. Today, 8% of the country’s area where Jan Jatis reside do not have access to such modern tools. Large sections of the society which is under the poverty line also cannot afford the modern tools. Hence the modern digital education has its limits but we have to find a solution to the problem.

Self-help organisations can take a part of the burden by coaching students at home. Affordable and quality education has been our principle and during this period we have to think of ways to achieve the same. The immediate challenge for us is to ensure that not a single student is affected during this academic year. I am sure that if all our capabilities are utilised appropriately we can emerge victorious from this situation this year.

Melas, Yatras, Dharmic gatherings are a part of Bhratiya tradition for ages where people come together in large numbers. However, due to Corona there are restrictions on such gatherings. How should the society view this challenge?

Here I wish to offer my respect to our society. Despite the age-old emotional bonding with these gatherings, our society readily adopted the change and compromised on their emotions. This shows how mature our society is to adopting changes. Be it Jagannath Rath Yatra being held without large gathering or no one coming to Kurukshetra on Solar eclipse, shows that people have accepted the change and restricted their faith to themselves and performed pooja and other rituals within the confines of their homes. This is the uniqueness of Bharatiya ethos which has the flexibility to adopt to new challenges. This inherent flexibility in Bharatiya society has been showcased to the world.

RSS always plays a constructive role during challenging scenarios. But there are forces trying to divide the society on one pretext or the other. How should the society deal with such forces? Is RSS taking any initiative in this regard?

Our years of experience have shows that there have been forces which have always tried to divide and weaken our society. But as these forces pose a threat, RSS has also grown in numbers and strength and hence is capable enough to counter these forces. I am confident that the very structure of our society, strength of our sadhus and saints, along with the work done by RSS over the years will be utilised to neutralise such forces.

No doubt some sections will be instigated but the issues facing the underprivileged sections of our society have to be addressed and their aspirations be taken care of. But if some forces attempt to use these sections for anti-national activities and weaken the country, organisations like the RSS will surely play the role of awakening the society to ensure that they do not come in the grasp of such forces.

Sangh has always believed that there is a Bharatiya way of finding solutions to problems we face today. In today’s scenario this become even more relevant. Your comments.

It is known that the mindset of every country and structure of society is different. Hence we cannot find solutions to the problems we face by looking towards other countries. Hence, the problem faced by India today cannot be solved by seeing them in someone else’s prism or by using their tools. RSS has made several efforts in this direction. Given the mindset of our society, no one will succeed to poison the minds of people beyond a certain point. It is certain that nationalistic forces have to play a bigger role and Sangh will try everything to strengthen them.