RSS eyes Christian vote; sets sight on YMCA properties worth billions

RSS has been attempting to launch a Christian outfit since 2015, on the lines of Muslim Rashtriya Manch. But, it never took off. Now, through the regional outreach of YMCA, they are hoping to do so

Picture Courtesy: Social Media
Picture Courtesy: Social Media

Ashlin Mathew

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, under the leadership of Indresh Kumar, member of RSS' National Executive, has been attempting to rewrite the constitution of the National Council of YMCAs of India in cahoots with the office bearers of the Council.

The Council was one of the organisers of the United Christmas & New Year Celebrations held on January 9, 2018, at the NDMC Convention Hall, where Kumar was the chief guest and Archbishop Anil J Couto was one of the guests of honour.

This was not the only time Kumar and the office bearers of the Council had been collaborating. In Feb 2017, the Council organised an event with RSS affiliates - Gau Raksha Manch, Muslim Rashtriya Manch, Dharma Sanskriti Manch, Himalaya Pariwar, Rashtriya Ekta Mission, Jai Bharat Manch and Yuva Abhivakthi Manch – to promote culture of oneness, peace, unity and development. At this event Kumar was the chief guest and Lebi Philip Mathew, President of the Council, was one of the special guests.

The Annual Report of the YMCA states that in 2016 the Council had organised a session with Kumar at YMCA, in which they say “history was created when an initiative was taken on the request of Indresh Kumar to facilitate an open session with the ecumenical and Christian organisations on May 16, 2016. The session began with an exquisite rendition of Vande Mataram”. In the same report, the office bearers of the Council laud themselves for “making the impossible possible”. They allude to the importance of the meeting because the country was in the election mode and YMCA had considerable presence in the two states (Kerala and Tamil Nadu). Kerala had 440 and Tamil Nadu 128 YMCA-affiliated centres.

The annual report goes on to add that “the huge attendance was all for hearing the man (Indresh Kumar) who would mesmerise them in a jaw-dropping session. It was with a view to fostering brotherhood, peace and harmonious existence.

In the Annual Report of 2016, the Council mentions that they have begun a Sir George Williams Education Institute to offer courses, keeping in mind the Prime Minister’s Kaushal Bharat flagship programme, while embracing Stand Up India, skill development, Startup India and Digital India missions.

Soon after in 2017, the Council had sent their proposed amendments of the Constitution to all the YMCAs in the country. It included proposals to include the Prime Minister’s skill development programme in rural India into one of the clauses of the Constitution, altering the original statement which was to promote agricultural practices and help marginal farmers to improve farming methods and outputs. Another proposed objective is to increase mobilisation and motivation of rural people in achieving wider participation in decision-making at different levels of the development process. This was never a part of the YMCA Constitution.

The RSS, which has been attempting to set up reach-out programmes to influence even the farthest Christian voter, is hoping to do so through the YMCA. Mathew has been stating that India needs at least 10,000 YMCAs instead of the 700-odd institutions currently, even more than America, which has around 9,000-odd YMCAs. But, due to a restriction in the YMCA Constitution, they have not been able to expand. The Constitution states that only one YMCA can exist in a city/town/municipality/Panchayat/Corporation. The amendment states that every Gram Panchayat can have one YMCA, in a municipality there can be three and in a corporation, four.

In another proposed amendment, the Council, to ensure minimum resistance to their plans, states that the National Executive shall meet only twice a year, when earlier they were required to meet thrice in a year.

To enable this transition and consolidation of power of all the YMCAs with the National Council, the current president has also brought in the amendment that the tenure of the president will be for a maximum of eight years, that is two terms of four years each, and this change will be counted from the Quadrennial Convention of 2018. Earlier, a president could serve only for six years, that is two terms of three years each. The proposed amendment ensures that Mathew will remain the president for another eight years and his previous three will not be counted. They have also stated that extension of the term of the National General Secretary will be the prerogative of the National Executive, when earlier it was necessary to constitute a search committee to search for a suitable National Secretary from the national roster of secretaries.

Here is where it becomes interesting, because the current National General Secretary, RP Manikumar, has been accused of appropriating funds from the Hyderabad YMCA. There is a case in the Hyderabad High Court against him under Sections 191 (false evidence), 192, 196, 199 (defamation), 203, 418 (cheating), 420 (Cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 467 (forgery of valuable security and will). It has been alleged that he misappropriated funds even while he was the general secretary at the Nalgonda YMCA.

But, what got most of the regional YMCAs to come together to file a case against the amendment was the clause inserted by the Council that ‘all the properties, movable and immovable, in the possession of the said YMCA will be under the custody of the Central Trust’. The Mumbai, Pune, Goa and Ahmedabad YMCAs filed a case against the National Council of YMCAs at the Delhi High Court to stay the amendment. They were able to get the stay because the Council had flouted the rules of the Societies Registration Act, 1860, under which it has been registered.

To pass any changes, the Council is required to convene a special general body meeting and submit the proposition to the members of the society. The proposition has to be agreed to by the votes of three-fifths of the members delivered in person or by proxy at the second meeting and confirmed by three-fifths of the members at the third meeting. The general body consists of a member from each of the YMCAs in the country and it is this body which has to deliberate on the proposed amendments. The current Council hadn’t followed these rules.

Once the amendment was stayed, the Council was forced to hold a general body meeting and it was scheduled at Thiruvananthapuram on December 15, 2017. The meeting ended in a fist fight between the national leaders and a few regional leaders who were opposed to the issue of control of the regional YMCAs. It was alleged that the Council had even employed bouncers to threaten the regional leaders. As per the HC order, Justice Rekha Sharma, was to be appointed as the arbitrator in the case.

These fisticuffs drew severe criticism from the president and general secretary of the World Alliance of YMCAs, Peter Posner and Rev Johan Vilhelm Eltvik. They have directed Mani Kumar to provide them with an explanation of the incidents of violence during the December 15, 2017, meeting and have instructed them to postpone the procedure of any amendment at this time.

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Published: 13 Jan 2018, 4:10 PM