Mumbai, Aug 16, 2015: A bunch of lively schoolboys form a circle around an authoritative 12-year-old in khaki shorts and a superman T-shirt at a Navi Mumbai maidan on a weekday night.
At first glance, they look merely like children at play. But as the boy leading the group conducts a series of activities from games and exercises to prayer recitations and a brief session of marching involving bringing one's right hand to one's chest, it gradually becomes evident that this is an RSS shakha in progress, one of 51,335 shakhas held daily across the country in 2015. Shakhas are the smallest unit of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
While the organization is called 'extremist' by its critics, its admirers respond to the taunt by calling it 'Hindu nationalist'. But even its detractors agree that the RSS organizational network is virtually unparalleled. While there is no formal membership, an analysis of data on the number of shakhas conducted each year over the last five years shows a nearly 29% increase in daily shakhas, 61% increase in weekly shakhas and 40% growth in monthly shakhas across India from 2010-11 to 2014-15.