Book Review | Sanghi Who Never Went To A Shakha

Book Author: Rahul Roushan | Year of Publication: 2021 | Publisher: Rupa Publications | Book Review by: Nishant Kumar Hota
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The book is based on the ideological journey of the author Rahul Roushan, spread across a timeline of nine chapters illustrating the writer’s voyage from being a “Congressi Hindu” (libertarian) to a “Sanghi” (Rightist particularly associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) who never went to a Shakha. The author has tried to put forth his view of the societal contrast that he observed before 2014 and after 2014. Having been associated with media for the most part of his professional life he has written a great deal about media and journalism and how it has transformed.

The book starts from the early life of the author, his secular upbringing by his parents and how he romanticized the song “Yeh teri meri yaari ye dosti hamari, Allah ko pasand bhagwan ko hai pyaari”. He writes about how his school in Bihar which was owned by a “religious Hindu” never propagated any religious notions among the students and compares it with other ‘convent’ schools. Talking about the political scenario during the early nineties in the era of “Samajwadi” and “Mandal-Kamandal” politics, he says that in the nineties even though “Mandir-Andolan” took place the “Political Hindutva” was far behind “caste” politics. He notes that just like any other “not so religious” Hindu, he had no political or ideological views but  that began to change after his entry into journalism school and knowing more about “responsible journalism”, the word which was used by journalists to justify the one sided approach used by them so that the communal harmony may not get disturbed. That led him to become disenchanted with mainstream media and their “unbiased journalism”.

The author mentions a lot of instances which accentuated the “ideological and religious biases” by mainstream media, citing the contrast between the Gujarat Riots of 2002 which had an immense and long lasting coverage while the Assam Riots of 2012 which weren’t covered in the same way. He points out how media houses and journalist distort the facts to propagate a particular narrative and how he became the victim of one such narrative about “Gujarat and Gujarati people” when he formed a the negative image of them as rioters, after hearing and reading a lot about 2002 when media portrayed the majority population of the state in a bad light. Yet he got a totally different image of them during his stay in Ahmedabad for his MBA. Talking about his days in the business school, the author writes that he got disenchanted with the idea of communism which aims at creating an equal society where wealth is equally distributed among all. Business school days drew him towards the economic right i.e capitalism and wealth making.

The Jan Lokpal movement or the “Anna Movement” was a major feature of the socio-political change which India was going to witness in the next decade; talking about it the author explains how some ideologically driven people inspired by the “Arab Spring” were trying to repeat the “Tahrir Square” mass rising in India in the guise of fighting corruption and how they hijacked the movement and created a close group among themselves, not allowing others who did not subscribe to their ideology to become a part of it. He points out that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was not allowed to join the agitation; however it was a major incident which ended with the RSS getting more acceptance and sympathisers than before because of a small mistake of the Congress which was then the ruling party. He talks about how the event followed by the 2G-spectrum scam, the Neera Radia-tapes and the notorious Delhi Gang rape and murder enraged people against the existing government, eventually turning the political momentum towards the political wing of RSS i.e the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP).

The author has tried to encapsulate a change that Indian society witnessed when a lot of social media accounts which weren’t controlled by the media establishments came forward and people started to know how much information they have lacked and how the dominant journalists and media houses  pushed  a particular type of narrative with their journalism. Giving the example of an interview given by Sharad Pawar in 2006 about the 1993 Mumbai Bomb Blasts when he was Chief Minister of Maharashtra where he admitted that he lied about an extra bomb so that the communal harmony might not be disturbed, he says  that a lot of people could only know it after the clip got viral 10 years later in the social-media.

He also talks about the change in society post-2014 elections which involved the debate about intolerance started after a statement of the then president of US, Barack Obama. Award-wapsi involved a lot of writers, artists and activists  returning their awards as a protest against “growing-intolerance” in the country and JNU sloganeering shifted a lot of media attention towards that university.

Talking about how he was criticized by his ideologically committed  friends for not attacking Modi in the political satire website “Faking News” he observes that the erstwhile establishment was not ready to accept the change of government that took place in 2014.

Overall, it might merely be a story of the author’s ideological journey; however a lot of people can relate to some of the incidents he mentions like the bursting of crackers in certain Indian localities to support Pakistan during an India-Pakistan cricket match. This had some insidious meaning attached to it that was not heeded.

The book is also a critique of society which brands itself tolerant and liberal but has ended up being illiberal and intolerant. It is a good read to understand the social climate which prevailed before social media when the limited information flow which was mostly one-sided and how it changed post social media with information flowing both ways. Tom Clancy once said that control of information is something that elite always practice, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information and knowledge are power. If you can control information you can control people.

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  • Agree with the author. Attitudes, self confidence and pride in our own history and civilization along with the awareness that we have been taken for a ride in the last 6 decades by the Liberals has become the dominant thought these days especially after 2014.

Nishant Kumar Hota

Mr Nishant Kumar Hota is Graduate in Maths and Computing from BIT Mesra. He is currently pursuing MA in Sociology from IGNOU.

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