What exactly has led to the announcement about the official attire (gana vesha) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh being changed from baggy khaki shorts to full-length brown trousers? Khaki shorts, as we know, were first prescribed as part of the uniform for the organisation’s members, by no less a personage than BR Hedgewar, when the Sangh was founded in 1925 on Vijaya Dashami. War was in the air then and khaki , worn by the police and the army, was attractive to young minds as symbol of military might . So the RSS chose to dress its mostly dhoti-wearing members in shorts (some say they copied the idea from the Congress Seva Dal), in khaki worn under khaki shirts, topped by a black cap inspired by the Italian dictator Mussolini.
This attire was to undergo several changes over the years. Khaki shirts had to be discarded early on for white, after India’s British rulers objected to civilians in khaki shirts carrying arms. The leather belts that had held up the shorts over portly bellies for years were also changed after Independence to ones made with fibre after a Muni pointed out that leather implied animal slaughter.
Finally, it was the turn of the shorts.
It was the Wicked West that introduced the idea of shorts as “comfortable attire with good ventilation” into their tropical colonies. Shorts were thereafter donned by both Ronald Colmans and Gunga Dins in the subcontinent and Asia generally. But in Britain, shorts remained school boy-attire, strictly meant for the officially young. To switch to long trousers was a rite of passage every school boy looked forward to, since as long as you wore shorts, you were considered wet behind the ears. Before World War I, women could even be arrested for wearing shorts, considered “outlandish attire”.
In the West, shorts mutated into several forms in the West both outer wear and inner wear in the US: Stubbies in Australia, board shorts in Florida, bermudas, Bun Huggers in athletic circles and cargo shorts in the international globe-trotting tribe of journalists. But back in India, the RSS remained stubbornly clad in its original flappy knee-length pants. After the Bharatiya Janata Party’s landslide victory in 2014, we were subjected to repeated views of the new leaders, many of them looking badly out of shape in billowing shorts, saluting the saffron RSS flag, or sitting sprawled in chairs with their rolling paunches and thunder thighs in full view of the global media.
It was only in 2010 that the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha, the highest decision-making body of the RSS, began debating the issue of whether to discard the afore-mentioned item was fit for their members in the 21st century. It took five years of mulling over and opinion-seeking before a decision was arrived at. Finally on Sunday, RSS General Secretary Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi at a formal media briefing in Nagaur let the country know that the organisation was replacing the fabled khaki shorts with full-length brown.
That’s a real pity. The RSS has chosen to discard its pants (as the Gita says, like worn-out attire, or vasansi jeernani) at a moment when shorts have roared into vogue. At this moment, shorts are a statement of utter liberation from the cant and sartorial prissiness of a bygone age. Suddenly, everyone’s wearing shorts: British and American writers, Italian soccer teams, Hollywood-Bollywood stars with gym-toned bodies, millionaire IT nerds, and Vijay Malya lie glo-e trotting kings of good times .