Whether it was the ABVP’s recent attack on Ramjas college, or the February 2016 incident in JNU, or the number of other attacks on “anti-national” artists and journalists that have taken place under the Modi-government, numerous media outlets – print and electronic – have been all too happy to cast these confrontations into the false binary of “free speech vs nationalism”.
This uncritical acceptance of the label of “nationalist” – which the Sangh parivar has conveniently ascribed to themselves – reflects a poor knowledge of history among many senior journalists. This is being used as an asset by the Hindutva coalition in their attempts to shrug off the burden of historical shame they ought to bear for having betrayed the national struggle for independence. This acceptance of their self-proclamation is being used by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to reinvent themselves, falsely, as hyper-patriots who have put the interests of the nation before all other concerns.
The link between nationalism and the struggle for national liberation is inextricable in India. Recounting the role played by the RSS when India was struggling to break free from colonialism can test the credentials of the self-appointed nationalists.RSS in the Dandi March
On March 18, 1999, the then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, issued a postage stamp commemorating K.B. Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, as a great freedom fighter before an audience that consisted mostly of Sangh cadres. This move, Shamsul Islam wrote
, was an attempt “to pass off a pre-independence political trend represented by the RSS as a legacy of the anti-colonial struggle whereas in reality the RSS was never part of the anti-imperialist struggle. On the contrary, since its inception in 1925, the RSS only tried to disrupt the great anti-imperialist struggle of the Indian people against the British colonial rulers.”
Hedgewar, the freedom fighter, was a pre-RSS Congressman, arrested and sentenced for a year’s imprisonment for his role in the Khilafat movement (1919-1924) – and that was his last participation in the freedom struggle. Soon after his release, Hedgewar, inspired by Savarkar’s idea of Hindutva, founded the RSS in September 1925. And this organisation, throughout the rest of its life under the British Raj, remained subservient to the colonising power and opposed the mass movements for India’s freedom in every phase of the struggle.
According to Hedgewar’s biography published by the RSS, when Gandhi launched the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, he “sent information everywhere that the Sangh will not participate in the Satyagraha. However those wishing to participate individually in it were not prohibited. This meant that any responsible worker of the Sangh could not participate in the Satyagraha”.
There was, however, no lack of enthusiasm among the cadres to participate in these momentous events. However this enthusiasm was actively discouraged by Hedgewar. M.S. Golwalkar, who succeeded Hedgewar, documented an incident which is insightful about the role of RSS leadership :
“..there was the movement in 1930-31. At that time many other people had gone to Doctorji (Hedgewar). This delegation requested Doctorji that this movement 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 the requirements’.
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.”
However, Hedgewar himself participated in an individual capacity and went to prison. Although, this time, not with the motives of a freedom fighter. He went to prison, according to his RSS-published biography, with “the confidence that with a freedom-loving, self-sacrificing and reputed group of people inside with him there, he would discuss the Sangh with them and win them over for its work”.
Alarmed by the motivation of both Hindu and Muslim sectarian groups to use Congress cadres for their own disruptive purposes, the All India Congress Committee passed a resolution in 1934 which prohibited members of the Congress party from becoming members of the RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim league.
By the end of the decade in December 1940, when Gandhi had launched the satyagraha for Quit India, a note from the home department of the colonial government reveals that RSS leaders met the secretary of the home department and “promised the secretary to encourage members of the Sangh to join the civic guards in greater numbers,”. The civic guards was set up by the imperial government as one of the “special measures for internal security.”RSS and its opposition to Quit India movement
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.”
However, as in the previous case of the Dandi March, the cadres of the RSS were frustrated by their leaders who were holding them back from participating in the movement. “In 1942 also”, Golwalkar himself pointed out, “there was a strong sentiment in the hearts of many…. Sangh is an organisation of inactive persons, their talks are useless, not only outsiders but also many of our volunteers did talk like this. They were greatly disgusted too.”
But the RSS leadership had a curious reason for not participating in the struggle for independence. In a speech given on June 1942 – months before an unnecessary, British-made famine was to kill at least three million Indians in Bengal – Golwalkar said that the “Sangh does not want to blame anybody else for the present degraded state of the society. When the people start blaming others, then there is basically weakness in them. It is futile to blame the strong for the injustice done to the weak…Sangh does not want to waste its invaluable time in abusing or criticising others. If we know that large fish eat the smaller ones, it is outright madness to blame the big fish. Law of nature whether good or bad is true all the time. This rule does not change by terming it unjust.”
Even in March 1947, when the decision was already made by the British to finally quit India following the naval mutiny of the previous year, Golwalkar persisted in his criticism of those RSS cadres who wanted to participate in India’s struggle for independence. Addressing the annual day function of RSS he narrated the following incident:
“Once a respectable senior gentleman came to our shakha
(the drill). He had brought a new message for the volunteers of the RSS. When given an opportunity to address the volunteers of the shakha, he spoke in a very impressive tone, ‘Now do only one work. Catch hold of the British, bash them and throw them out. Whatever happens we will see later on’. He said this much and sat down. Behind this ideology is a feeling of anger and sorrow towards state power and reactionary tendency based on hatred. The evil with today’s political sentimentalism is that its basis is reaction, sorrow and anger, and opposition to the victors forgetting friendliness.”