Ekal Vidyalayas: How the RSS helps in building a ‘New India’

In hopes of mobilising the Bahujan community, BJP puts education first.  


Chennai, April 9: In a webinar hosted by Cornell university on 2nd March 2021, Rahul Gandhi criticised the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for reinforcing the idea of caste in India to create hierarchies. 

“ The project is that everybody should know their space. A Dalit should know his space, a woman should know her space and a Muslim should know his space,” he said the attack on equality was started by the RSS through their schools on similar lines of Pakistani Madrassas. Questioning the transparency of the organisation.

 “Nobody asks the question where the RSS gets the money to run hundreds and thousands of schools,” he said.

Rahul Gandhi in conversation with Cornell university students

Ekal Vidyalaya is a non-profit organisation which takes pride in its motto ‘One Teacher, One School, One Village’. From 1,200 vidyalayas in 1995-96 to 1 lakh schools in 2021, the organisation has grown at a rapid pace to be the largest grassroots with more than 27 lakh students.

In 2004, Vishwa Hindu Parishad Chhattisgarh state president Ramesh Modi said Ekal Vidyalayas teach Hindu culture and religion apart from the usual academics. The foundation of these schools were laid in 1986 by a US nuclear scientist of Indian origin Rakesh Popli along with his wife Rama. It started as a counter-strategy against Christian conversions and Maoist insurgency. Half of the schools are in the Maoist affected tribal hamlets of Chattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and so on. Uttar Pradesh tops the list with the most number of Ekal Vidyalayas.

Ahead of the 2021 assembly elections in West Bengal, many political analysts suggested a change in the political landscape of Bengal from ‘Party society’ to ‘Caste politics’. In the journal, ‘Teaching to Hate : RSS pedagogical programme’, Nandini Sundar points out the example of PROBE investigation to say the parental motivation to send children to school are high in the country but the financial situation does not allow them to do so. With the Ekal vidyalayas, education is feasible and easy to access, which is one of the reasons why the Ekal vidyalayas are seeing a rapid growth in the rural parts of the country. 

Prashant Mukherjee, special correspondent of the Lallantop, who has been covering the West Bengal elections, however, feels that these Vidyalayas have nothing to do with the rise of the BJP in Bengal. 

“It is largely a perception battle. BJP has been the de-facto beneficiary in the Mamata Banerjee government. Mamata Banerjee, in the first three years of her rule in Bengal was under the UPA regime. She was getting all of the possible aids from the UPA then. That helped Mamata Banerjee establish her rule and the state.”  

He further states that the history of the political violence in the state where many of the left cadre members were attacked by TMC failed to have an impact due to a weakened left unit in the state.

Prashant Mukherjee discussion on West Bengal elections

In Kerala, despite having the maximum number of Shakhas in the country and around 300 Ekal vidyalayas,the BJP is still looking to make inroads into the state. Several BJP leaders have been trying to appeal to the Christian voters by raking up issues like Love Jihad, which has been pitched by senior BJP leaders in Bengal as well.  Requesting anonymity,  a 21-year old who is actively working in an RSS shakha in Palakkad, where E.Sreedharan is expected to give a tough fight to incumbent Congress MP Shafi Parambil in the recently concluded assembly polls said the reason for the poor performance is due to lack of active participation. 

 “The Shakha that I go to has 150 members. We are asked to recite different sanskrit slokas daily and are asked to do something for the nation in a disciplined way. There are 2-3 camps which take place. Most of the people are not interested in some of the teachings of RSS.”

 He further explains how people get different posts based on the performance in the camp, which means even a Dalit or someone from Bahujan community can get to the top leadership, something which is missing in the CPIM system of electing representatives in the polit bureau.

Akhil Kiran VS, a dalit activist from Kerala said Dalitsim should be replaced by Ambedkarism. “Dalit is a political identity in many places in India today, It is not a constructive work rather a state of being. The term was introduced by Jyotirao Phule who belonged to the Malik community. It creates the perception of a marginalised and scattered underprivileged community. Ambedkarism on the other hand is a collective force, which can be a very useful solution.”  

Ekal Vidyalayas, on the other hand, deals with modern education, which is pitched as a holistic experience that tends to gather more acceptance.