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Mainstream, VOL LV No 38 New Delhi September 9, 2017

Did RSS Participate in Freedom Movement?

Saturday 9 September 2017

by Ram Puniyani

Freedom movement was an all-inclusive movement with the participation of people of all religions and regions. Its underlying premise was pluralism and the concept of a Secular Democratic India, which bound all the people in the bonds of fraternity. Those who were for Muslim and Hindu nationalism kept aloof from this movement for ideological and political reasons.

 Since the last few decades the Hindu nationalists have been claiming that they also participated in the freedom movement and that it’s only the Congress-Left historians who are trying to paint them in negative colours vis-a-vis the struggle for independence. Rakesh Sinha presents the fantasies of the RSS’ participation in the freedom movement. His major sources for this claim are from the British intelligence reports. His claims that the RSS took part in the Civil Disobedience movement of 1930 and that the movement got invigorated due to Hedgewar’s participation in the same are pure figments of imagination. It is true that Mr Hedgewar did take part in this movement and was jailed for that, but that was purely at a personal level to be able to meet the people who might support his agenda of Hindu Rashtra. There is not a single writing of his or of the RSS exhorting the people to participate in the same. On the contrary there are authoritative references of his dis-couraging those who wanted to participate in the struggle for freedom.

 What was the RSS leadership’s attitude to events connected with the freedom movement becomes clear from the quote from M.S. Golwalkar, the second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS. Says he: “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 move-ment will give Independence and 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?’ That 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 the Sangh for two years.’ After returning home that gentleman neither went to jail nor came out to work for the Sangh.”

On similar lines during 1942 when the turmoil began, Golwalkar issued instructions that routine work of the Sangh should continue and nothing should be done to annoy the British. “In 1942 also there was a strong sentiment in the hearts of many. At that time too routine work of the Sangh continued. The Sangh vowed not to do anything directly.” (Both these quotes from Shri Guruji Samgra Darshan, Vol IV, pages 39-40) This ideologue of the RSS clearly spells out that fighting against the British has not been part of their agenda, “We should remember that in our pledge we have talked of freedom of the country through defending religion and culture, there is no mention of departure of the British from here.”

 The same is confirmed by C.P. Bhishikar’s biography of Golwalkar, Shri Guruji—Pioneer of a New Era. “It was with this clear understanding that the Sangh, as an organisation, decided not to plunge into the movement. Right from the beginning, the Sangh has decided to observe certain constraints in some matters.” (page 47) “So, when Doctorji decided to participate in the satyagraha, he directed the Swayamsevaks to keep out of it and conduct the Shakha work with regularity. He had kept the Sangh as such out of the agitation.” (page 48)

 Now Sinha wants us to believe that lakhs of volunteers of the RSS participated in 1942 and many of them were punished severely by the British. The Sangh is known for its disciplined volunteers. So did the RSS volunteers defy their Sarsanghchalak to be part of the movement led by Gandhi? Even the British intelligence, which was the basis of a British circular warning the officers of the political nature of the Sangh, needs to be taken with a pinch of salt as that was the interpretation of the administration which was contrary to what the RSS itself has always maintained—that it is a cultural organisation and not a political organisation.

 Till quite late there were no claims about the RSS’ participation in the struggle for India’s independence. It is only once the RSS/BJP inched closer to political power that such claims started being made. One of the earliest attempts in this direction has been that of our ex-Prime Minister Vajpayee. In the wake of the 1998 general elections he had issued an appeal for seeking votes; he wrote that not only was he working for the RSS at the shakha level, he also participated in the freedom movement! His claim was around the Bateshwar incident where he was arrested. Soon after his arrest he gave a confessional statement in the court. This statement helped him getting released from jail and it also named the leaders of the Bateshwar campaign which was part of the ‘Quit India’ Movement. In this confessional statement Vajpayee says that he had nothing to do with the damages caused to property which was done by the people who had gone to hoist the tricolour on the building. He confesses that he was not part of the procession and was a mere onlooker. Consequent to his apology he was released from the jail.

 Mr Sinha has a fertile imagination and so he can claim the RSS’ participation in the ‘Quit India’ Movement and that this was the proverbial last straw for the British rulers. The fact is that the RSS’ routine work of shakhas and camps continued as usual despite some people feeling uncom-fortable about the same. Followers of the Gandhi Congress were on the streets and in jails.

 Now the RSS is trying to insert itself into the slot where it does not belong.

Ideologically the Hindutva political organisations, despite their inner differences, were mainly intent on undermining Muslim nationalism and for that goal had no problem in cooperating with the British. All their efforts were to ignore the diversity of the nation manifested in Gandhi’s central slogan of Hindu-Muslim unity. Today a new construct is being brought to the fore for electoral goals, and that is to erase the fact of their absence from the freedom struggle. At a deeper level how could the RSS be a part of the movement for Indian nationalism, as the RSS’ aim is totally in contravention to that as it stands for Hindu nationalism?

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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