The media is full of articles and videos on the occasion of 150th birth anniversary of the ‘father of the nation’, Mahatma Gandhi. While there is a genuine attempt by most to recapture the teachings and path of Gandhi as relevant to contemporary India, there are those also those who are using the occasion to increase their own legitimacy. This is done be a clever maneuver of picking bits and pieces from his writing or incidences and also by quoting him partly leaving out the part critical to those quotes.
This is true about Hindu nationalists; the RSS combine in particular. While on one hand in a clever move they have picked up Gandhi as the symbol of cleanliness drive, leaving out his core message of communal amity, on the other now attempts are on to show that Gandhi was impressed by the discipline and lack of divisiveness in RSS. RSS Supreme leader, Mohan Bhagwat, writing on the RSS website says, “Gandhiji… visited a shakha near his place of residence in Delhi during the tragic days of Partition. He spoke to the swayamsevaks in the shakha. Its report was published in the Harijan, dated September 27, 1947. Gandhiji expressed his joy over the discipline of the Sangh swayamsevaks and complete absence of divisive feelings of caste and creed in them.” To begin with the Harijan issue mentioned here is dated 28th September and not 27. Then while the quote is correct it leaves out the background and the further caution which gives the real portent of the quote.
Here Gandhi is recounting his visit to RSS in Wardha along with Jamanalal Bajaj, saying that these were his impressions in 1936. Since then the organization has grown. Then he adds, “But in order to be truly useful, self-sacrifice had to be combined with purity of motive and true knowledge. Sacrifice without these two had been known to prove ruinous to society.” Gandhi had visited the RSS shakha on 16th September, in the backdrop of many complaints from Muslims.
The meaning of the quote in the background of those complaints and the sentence following the part quoted by Bhagwat, gives the true picture of what Gandhi meant to convey to the volunteers of RSS Shakha.
This was not the first time that he had talked about RSS. In Harijan on 9th August 1942, Gandhi writes, “I had heard of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its activities; and also know that it was a communal organization”, this was in response to the slogans and some speech against ‘other’ community, about which a complaint was made. In this Gandhi is referring to the drill of RSS volunteers, who shouted that this Nation belongs to Hindus alone and once the British leave we will subjugate the non-Hindus. In response to the rowdyism indulged by communal organizations he writes, “I hear many things about RSS. I have heard it said the Sangh is at the root of all this mischief.” (Gandhi, xcviii, 320-32)
Rajmohan Gandhi in his book Mohandas (page 642) points out that “After independence, in the context of Delhi violence, Gandhi confronted the RSS chief Golwalkar, with reports of the RSS hand in Delhi violence, Denying the allegations Golwalkar also said that RSS did not stand for killing the Muslims. Gandhi asked him to say so publicly. Golwalkar said Gandhi could quote him on this. Gandhi did this in his prayer talk that evening, but he told Golwalkar that statement ought to come from him. Later he told Nehru that he did not find Golwalkar convincing.’
The most accurate perception of Gandhi on RSS is brought forward by Pyarelal, his secretary. He narrates an event in the wake of 1946 riots. A member of Gandhi’s entourage had praised the efficiency, discipline, courage and capacity for hard work shown by the RSS cadres at Wagah, a major transit camp for Punjab refugees: “Gandhi quipped back, ‘…but don’t forget, so had Hitler’s Nazis and the Fascists under Mussolini’. Gandhi characterized RSS as a communal body with a totalitarian outlook.” (Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase)
The need for RSS to show that they were on the right side of Mahatma is cosmetic. RSS combine propounds ‘exclusive Hindu nationalism’, in contrast to Gandhi’s ‘all-inclusive Indian Nationalism’. Still they need to get the legitimacy from the greatest Hindus of his times, Gandhi. Gandhi is also the figure most well known in India and globally. As impact of RSS is on the rise, it wants to draw further strength by associating with names whose ideology was at cross purposes with their own. Sardar Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose are the major figures with whom RSS is trying identify, despite core differences in the type of nationalism propounded by them and the likes of Patel and Bose. Gandhi the tallest figure of freedom movement, was killed by one of the Pracharak’s (propagators) of RSS, Nathuram Godse. Godse’s was a well-planned ideological assault of Hindu nationalism on Indian nationalism
The major attempts of RSS have been to recreate a historical narrative of nationalism. In this they began with presenting medieval history as the period of oppression of Hindus by Muslim invaders, by trying to project that Hinduism is native religion and Islam and Christianity are foreign religions. The attempts to do all the ideological acrobatics to prove that Aryans were the natives has been another of the forceful exercises in operation. To cap it all the achievements of science and technology are also presented to be having their roots in this land. The crux of the matter boils down to glorify the so-called Hindu past along with the values of caste and gender hierarchies prevalent that time. To identify with Gandhi is yet another step in this direction.
These ideological manipulations have picked up with greater intensity during last few years. We do need to save Gandhi from the distorted forms in which he is being presented. We do need to focus on his struggles against injustice, and inclusive humane approach to problems of the nation and society.
Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades.He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD. Response only to firstname.lastname@example.org