RSS and Freedom Movement: Glossing Over the Non Participation


RSS the parent organization of ruling BJP is quiet often being discussed in the public domain. While it has grown tremendously during last few years, there are attempts by many ideologues from its stable to prove that it was a major player in the freedom struggle. Rakesh Sinha, known as RSS ideologue and currently BJP MP in Rajya Sabha claims that the Civil Disobedience movement was invigorated due to participation of RSS founder Hedgewar in that. There are other claims which go farther. One Saji Narayan, goes to state that RSS was in the thick of freedom movement. One also recalls that the onetime RSS pracharak and Ex Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself had claimed to have participated I in the freedom movement.

The debate came to the fore once again when Maharashtra Chief Minster Uddhav Thackeray while replying to the motion of Governor said that RSS never participated in the freedom movement and that merely chanting Bharat mata ki jai does not make you patriotic. In response to Thackeray’s statement the RSS groomed ex-Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadanvis went to say that RSS founder (Dr/. K. B. Hedgewar) was a freedom fighter.

The deeper analysis of the issue reveals that Muslim and Hindu nationalists (Hindu Mahasabha and RSS) did not participate in the struggle for India’s Independence. India’s struggle against the British was led by Mahatma Gandhi, it was all inclusive, and it cut along linguistic and religious boundaries and gave an overarching Indian Identity to the majority of the people. The communal streams remained aloof from this as their major agenda was Nationalism in the name of their religion. Each of them believed that they should cooperate with British to oppose the ‘Other’ Nationalism. Like Muslim Nationalism aimed to have their way to oppose the Hindu nationalism by cooperating with British and vice versa.

As far as Hindu nationalists are concerned there are stray exceptions when they were part of National movement. At most of the times they either remained aloof from it or cooperated with British. Savarkar in his pre Andaman days did struggle against British rule but once he apologized to British to get released he never participated in the anti British movement, on the contrary he supported British war efforts by recruiting soldiers for British. That was at a time when Subhash Bose formed Azad Hind Fauz to fight against British.

Fadanvis is partly correct when he says that RSS Fonder Hedgewar was a freedom fighter. Hedgewar did participate in the 1920’s Non Cooperation Movement and was sentenced to jail for one year. After the formation of RSS in 1925 there two occasions when he partly aligned with the Indian national movement. But at both these occasions his differences with Indian nationalism were apparent as he flaunted his Hindu nationalism.

Shamsul Islam points out that “We are told that Hedgewar joined the call of the 1929 Lahore Congress that called for a public unfurling of the Tricolor on every January 26. RSS, under the command of Hedgewar, refused to follow it. Instead on 21 January, 1930, he ordered all the RSS shakhas to worship “Rashtriya dhwaj arthat bhagwa dhwaj, national flag i.e. saffron flag.” So the difference in the approach is very obvious despite partly showing support for celebrating 26th January as the day of complete Independence. The national Call of hoisting tricolor is replaced by hoisting of Saffron flag, symbol of Hindu nationalism for that.

It is also true that Dr. Hedgewar joined the Civil Disobedience movement in 1930. This incidence makes it clear that as an organization RSS was instructed to remain aloof from this movement. Hedgewar made it clear that he is joining the movement in his individual capacity and for this he handed over the post of Sarsanghchalak (The Supreme Chief) to his friend and colleague Dr Paranjape till he was in jail. His biography by CP Bhishikar points out that Hedgewar gave the instruction that ““Sangh will not participate in the [Salt] Satyagrah.”  Again his motive for joining the movement is stated by Bhishikar, it was not to lend strength to the national movement but, ““With a freedom loving, self-sacrificing, and reputed group of people [of the Congress] inside with him there, he would discuss the Sangh with them and win them over for its work.”

The biggest movement against British also saw RSS obeying the British dictates. Golwalkar instructed the Shakhas of RSS to continue with their routine work and not to do anything with will annoy the British.  In Guruji Samgra Darshan (Vol 4, page 39) Golwalkar points out “There was some unrest in the mind due to the situation developing in the country from time to time. There was such unrest in 1942. Before that there was the movement of 1930-31. At that time many other people had gone to Doctorji (Hedgewar). The delegation requested Doctorji that this movement will give independence and the Sangh should not lag behind. At that time, when a gentleman told Doctorji that he was ready to go to jail, Doctorji said ‘definitely go, but who will take care of your family then?’ The gentleman replied, ‘I have sufficiently arranged resources not only to run the family expenses for two years but also to pay fines according to requirement’. Then Doctorji told him, ‘If you have fully arranged for the resources then come out to work for Sangh for two years’. After returning home, that gentleman neither went to jail nor came out to work for the Sangh.”

This again is related to RSS ideology of Hindu nationalism. In Bunch of thoughts Golwalkar denounces the freedom struggle  as “territorial nationalism” which “…had deprived us of the positive and inspiring content of our real Hindu Nationhood and made many of the ‘freedom movements’ virtually anti-British movements”. It was this ideological commitment to building Hindu rashtr in India that, apart from Hedgewar, who went to jail as Congressman not as a part of RSS. Which all through remained aloof and there by opposed to freedom movement which had the goal of Indian Nationalism?

The instruction of British Golwalkar instructed RSS to military drill and uniform. On 29th April 1943 he issued a circular “We have to remain the bounds of law and do our work’. A year-and-a-half after the Quit India movement was launched, the Bombay government of the British Raj noted in a memo, with considerable satisfaction, that “the Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law, and in particular, has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942.”

Vajpayee story has another twist. In the context of elections (1998) he issued a statement saying that he had participated in freedom movement. As matter was investigated it came out that he was a mere onlooker in one of the processions in Bateshwar (His native village). He was following the agitators and as police did lathi charge etc., it arrested the protestors. As per Vajpayee he was also arrested. Immediately he wrote to letter seeking apology and disowning the protestors while naming the leaders of the protest.

While the intent of RSS is Hindu Rashtra, its current efforts to somehow show that RSS was a part of freedom struggle which was for Indian Nationalism, are for electoral purpose and far away from truth.

(Edited version of this article appeared in MadrasCourier )




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Dr Ram Puniyani

Dr 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. Email: [email protected]

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