By Masidur Rahaman
India entered a new phase with the ascension of Narendra Modi to power as the Prime Minister in 2014. People were searching for an alternative to the Congress-led UPA government at the centre. Narendra Modi’s ‘Gujarat Model’ and his push of narratives aiming at Congress government’s ‘minority appeasement’ convinced the ‘majority’ that under the leadership of Modi, India will find a beacon of hope. Modi’s big promises during his poll campaigns before assuming the office of the Prime Minister regarding the generation of employment, fighting poverty at the grassroots level, bringing stability to Kashmir, display of diplomatic charisma on international level to create pressure on both on Pakistan and China helped create his image as a strong man. He shored up his cult in such a way that would ensure the creation of a committed mass to his support under any circumstances. Narendra Modi’s political party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an off spring of the RSS, an extremist Hindutva outfit, has fulfilled almost no promises which it made before coming to power in 2014. To understand the BJP in particular and today’s political scenario in India in general, one needs to understand the RSS, an extremist Hindutva outfit. RSS’ history of betrayal is well known and this can be proved from the documents of the archive of the RSS available in public domain. It not only refrained from taking part in anti-British movements during India’s colonial struggles but also conveyed its allegiance to the British and called the Indian freedom fighters reactionary. Here in this article, I would discuss the role played by the RSS during India’s colonial struggles and how it influences Indian politics, social, cultural and religious structure today.
A general introduction to the RSS
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, commonly known as the RSS, was founded on 27 September, 1925 by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a doctor, in the city of Nagpur in British India. Hedgewar was an active member of the Anushilan Samiti, an anti-British revolutionary group based in undivided Bengal of which Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki were active members. Here Hedgewar learnt secretive methods used by the revolutionary freedom fighters which scholars believe were used by him to organize the RSS. After returning to Nagpur, Hedgewar participated in anti-British activities through Kranti Dal. He actively took part in Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Home Rule campaign in 1918. But soon Hedgewar came to realize that anti-British revolutionary activities would not be enough to overthrow the British rule. After reading V.D. Savarkar’s Hindutva, published in 1923, he was influenced by him and founded the RSS with the aim to strengthen Hindu society. It is quite paradoxical to note that Hedgewar founded the RSS with the deployment of the argument that anti-British revolutionary movements alone could never bring India independence and, on the other, his outfit remained broadly detached from the Indian freedom struggles.
Hedgewar as the head of the RSS
Rejecting the call for unity of all communities across India by the Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, Hedgewar said, “The Hindu culture is the life breath of Hindustan. It is therefore clear that if Hindustan is to be protected, we should first nourish the Hindu culture. If the Hindu culture perishes in Hindustan itself, and if the Hindu society ceases to exist, it will hardly be appropriate to refer to the mere geographical entity that remains as Hindustan. Mere geographical lumps do not make a nation. Unfortunately, the Congress organization has given no thought to protecting the Hindu Dharma and Hindu culture. The organization keeps its eyes closed to the daily onslaughts by outsiders on the Hindu society.”
With this statement, Hedgewar’s motive behind creating the RSS becomes quite clear. At a time, when every section of the society was fighting tooth and nail to free India from the British clutches despite the Britshers’ ugly tactic to pitch one community against other, Hedgewar’s perception of unity of all communities can be broadly classifed as divisive, thus supplying more sustenance to the British to accelerate their agenda of hatred and communal disharmony across India.
Hedgewar described mass movements against the British force organized by the Congress as “programmes born out of momentary enthusiasm and outbursts of mercurial emotions” and described all such attempts to overthrow the British rulers as “shallow nationalism”. In March, 1936, an RSS Pracharak was assigned with the task of establishing RSS branches in Maharastra. Hedgewar in a letter to the RSS pracharak wrote the following words, “The Sangh must stay away from programmes born out of momentary enthusiasm and outbursts of mercurial emotions. Association with such programmes will only harm the stability of the Sangh.”
Hedgewar’s sole aim behind the creation of the RSS was motivated by a disassociation from anti-British struggles. This was the time when Indian mass uprisings against the British were slowly gaining momentum and an unprecedented zeal was seen in the wake of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The infamous Rowlatt Act brought into effect by the Imperial Legislative Council gave the British police power to arrest and send anyone behind bars without any trial. This was done with the purpose to kill the mass protests that erupted because of the brutality of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the Britishers’ anti-farmer and anti-labour policies, Gandhiji’s call for non-cooperation movement, and civil-disobedience movement with his famous Salt March. Hedgewar betrayed the Indians on two fronts: first, he distanced his outfit from the anti-colonial struggles; second, he promoted Hindutva nationalism.
Golwalkar as the second head of the RSS
M.S. Golwalkar was born in 1906 into a Brahmin family in Maharastra. After completing his graduation in Zoology, he started working actively for the RSS and for a period of time turned to spiritualism. In 1937, he again started working for the RSS and was eventually named as the successor to Hedgewar.
Golwalkar in fact urged his followers not to take up arms against the British who had been ravaging our motherland for almost two-hundred years. At a time when the youth of this country were embracing gallows with a smile on their faces, men and women of all ages were hitting the streets across India with the clarion call of making India free, Golwalkar said, “Hindus, don’t waste your energy fighting the British; save your energy to fight our internal enemies that are Muslims, Christians and Communists.” As per Golwalkar, fighting the British was a stupid act. Glowalkar’s statement was not only offensive and communal but it also worked as a catalyst to divide Indian society on religious lines. Would anyone be surprised if any Muslim, Christian or a Communist today gets lynched in broad daylight by a frenzied mob? Golwalkar sowed the seeds of hatred among his followers. Today’s incidents where Muslims are lynched are nothing but a clear confirmation of the fact that Golwalkar’s followers have grasped what he had taught them.
Revolutionary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh is an ideal for many in the Indian sub-continent. He is a revered figure in the history of India’s anti-British struggle. There is a prolonged contention between the Indian leftists and right wingers as to which ideology he had followed. The RSS considered Bhagat Singh’s path to bring Indian freedom through revolutionary means as not only futile but also reactionary. The third chief of the RSS, Balasaheb Deoras narrated an incident where he claimed that Hedgewar saved him and his friends from following the path of Bhagat Singh. This narration is available in RSS’ archieve itself:
While studying in college, we were generally attracted towards the ideals of revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh. Like Bhagat Singh we should do some or the other act of bravery, this came to our mind often. We were less attracted towards the RSS since current politics, revolution, etc. that attracted the hearts of youth were generally less discussed in the Sangh. When Bhagat Singh and his companions were awarded death sentence, at that time our hearts were so excited that some friends together vowed to do something directly and planned something terrible and in order to make it succeed, decided to run away from our homes. But to run away without informing our Doctorji will not be proper. Considering it, we decided to inform Doctorji about our decision. To inform this fact to Doctorji was assigned to me by the group of friends. We together went to Doctorji and with great courage I explained my feelings before him. After listening to our plan, Doctorji took a meeting of ours for discarding this foolish plan and making us realize the superiority of the work of the Sangh. This meeting continued for seven days and in the night from ten to three. The brilliant ideas of Doctorji and his valuable leadership brought fundamental change in our ideas and ideals of life. Since that day, we took leave of mindlessly-made plans and our lives got new direction and our mind got stabilized in the work of the Sangh.
At a time when the entire world branded Hitler as the worst enemy of humankind, M.S. Golwalkar showered words of praise on him, “German race pride has become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germans shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races – the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh possible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hinduism to learn and profit by.”
The RSS kept itself away from the Quit India Movement in 1942. It not only mocked and opposed those participating in this mass struggle but urged the British government to resist the movement as soon as possible with an iron fist.
Insult to Indian tricolor, Indian national anthem and Indian constitution
The RSS never considered Indian tricolor as India’s national flag. It was a saffron flag that was considered to be the actual national flag by the RSS. In one of his speeches in 1946, Golwalkar denounced Indian tricolor and added that the saffron flag represents the actual culture of India: “We firmly believe that in the end the whole nation will bow before this saffron flag.” This was the statement uttered by Golwalkar undermining the Indian tricolor. Saffron flag represents RSS’ unquenchable quest to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra. This non-acceptance of the Indian tricolor by the RSS showed the desire of the organization to make India a Hindu Rashtra.
On 14 August, 1947, a day before Indian independence, RSS’ English language organ, Organiser, in its editorial wrote in response to the decision of the adoption of the tricolor as Indian national flag, “The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the Tricolor but it will never be respected and owned by Hindus. The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.”
Furthermore, in one of his essays, titled “Drifting and Drifting”, Golwalkar wrote, “Our leaders have set up a new flag for our country. Why did they do so? It is just a case of drifting and imitating. Ours is an ancient and great nation with a glorious past. Then, had we no flag of our own? Had we no national emblem at all these thousands of years? Undoubtedly, we had. Then why this void, this utter vacuum in our minds?” In 2016, RSS General Secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi said, “Jana Gana Mana is today our national anthem. It has to be respected. There is no reason why it should evoke any other sentiment. But it is the national anthem as decided by the Constitution. If one considers the true meaning, then Vande Mataram is the national anthem.”
RSS holds no respect for the Indian constitution. It does not recognize the Indian constitution because it does not mention Manu’s Laws (laws derived from Manusmriti, an ancient Hindu text. Manusmriti legitimizes caste-based discrimination and establishes Brahminical hegemony over other castes). The RSS mouthpiece, Organiser in its editorial, dated 30 November 1949, wrote the following: “But in our constitution, there is no mention of that unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat… To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.”
In 1966, Golwalkar in his book Bunch of Thoughts, while denouncing the adoption of Indian constitution by the Constituent Assembly, wrote, “Our Constitution too is just a cumbersome and heterogeneous piecing together of various articles from various Constitutions of Western countries. It has absolutely nothing, which can be called our own. Is there a single word of reference in its guiding principles as to what our national mission is and what our keynote in life is? No!”
RSS on women
In 2013 in the wake of the Delhi rape where a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was gang raped in a moving bus that shocked the national conscience, an Outlook article explored different dimensions of Rashtra Sevika Samiti, the women’s wing of RSS. The article mentioned that the RSS appears to be quite contradictory in its dictations and activities when it comes to women’s rights. The RSS rejects western feminism and considers it a hurdle in their way. On one hand, it urges women to come out of their homes and take part in activities with their male counterparts; on the other, the RSS speaks of the domestication of women. The writer of the article interviewed a woman in her early twenties who was a member of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti. She revealed the following:
I turn to Sharda from Jabalpur. In her late twenties, Sharda has been a whole timer for five years. She tells me that apart from the shakhas, the Samiti also counsels women in their respective areas. There is a manual that is followed. When I ask her, “What advice would you give to a victim of wife beating?” she answers, “Don’t parents admonish their children for misbehaviour? Just as a child must adjust to his/her parents, so must a wife act keeping in mind her husband’s moods and must avoid irritating him. Only this can keep the family together.” Similarly, divorce is also a non-option for women. She says, “Our task is to keep the family together, not break it. We tell the women to adjust. Sometimes, we try to counsel the husband too.
In 2013, RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat stoked a controversy. He blamed the “westernization” of Indian society for the violence against women. He said, “Such crimes (rapes) hardly take place in Bharat (rural India), but they occur frequently in India (urban areas).” In the same year, he landed in another controversy. He considered divorce to be legal if any woman fails to fulfill the promises she was expected to fulfill through marriage with a man. “A husband and wife are involved in a contract under which the husband has said that you should take care of my house and I will take care of all your needs. I will keep you safe. So, the husband follows the contract terms. Till the time, the wife follows the contract, the husband stays with her, if the wife violates the contract, he can disown her,” Bhagwat told a rally in Indore.
In February, 2020 Mohan Bhagwat blamed ‘education’ and ‘affluence’ for the growing number of divorces across the country. He said, “Nowadays the number of divorce cases have increased a lot…People fight over trifle issues. The cases of divorce are more in educated and affluent families, because with education and affluence comes arrogance, as a result of which families fall apart. The society also falls apart because society is also a family.”
Savarkar, Syama Prasad Mukherjee and Nathuram Godse
V.D. Savarkar began his political career as a revolutionary who advocated for an inclusive India free of any sort of discrimination. But I feel that his mind underwent severe psychological transformation while he was in Cellular Jail in 1911. He wrote five consecutive petitions to the British government asking for forgiveness and his immediate release from the jail. He assured that once released, he would withdraw himself from taking part in any sort of activity or movement that might pose a serious threat to the existence of the British rule in India. After he was released, he took over the leadership of Hindu Mahasabha. He played an active role in the formation of the RSS. Hedgewar took advice from Savarkar before establishing the RSS.
Savarkar too distanced himself and his organisation from Indian Freedom Movement. After a meeting with Savarkar, Lord Linlithgow, the then viceroy of India, wrote to the then Secretary of State for India, “The situation, he (Savarkar) said, was that his Majesty’s government must now turn to the Hindus and work with their support… Our interests were now the same and we must, therefore, work together… Our interests are solely so closely bound together, the essential thing is for Hinduism and Great Britain to be friends and the old antagonism was no longer necessary.” Savarkar even went on to the extent of justifying the rape of Muslim women as a means to subjugate them.
Dr. Syama Prasad Mukherjee was a prominet Hindutva icon revered by the RSS. He founded Bharatiya Jana Sangh that was the predecessor of the BJP. He was a stooge of the imperialist British government. When he was the deputy chief minister in the Muslim League ministry in Bengal, he assured his assistance to the British for crushing the Quit India Movement that already spread like a wildfire in every nook and corner of the country. In a letter, dated July 26, 1942, he wrote to the then British Governor of Bengal the following words, “Let me now refer to the situation that may be created in the province as a result of any widespread movement launched by the Congress. Anybody, who during the war, plans to stir up mass feeling, resulting internal disturbances or insecurity, must be resisted by any Government that may function for the time being.”
Is not it both paradoxical and ludicrous that while the BJP today is baying for people’s blood in the name of nationalism, its founder not only distanced himself from the mass struggle but also wanted the British government to crush the movement by any means?
Nathuram Godse was born into a Maharashtrian Chitpavan Brahmin family on 19th May, 1910. He was the member of both the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha. On 30 January 1948 at 17:17, as Mahatma Gandhi made his way to a prayer meeting behind Birla House, New Delhi, Godse shot three bullets at his chest. Godse was subsequently hanged on 15 November 1949 at Ambala Jail.
The British rule in India was symbolic of repression, plunder, destruction and economic pauperization. RSS as an organization not only kept a good deal of distance from the Indian freedom struggle but also backstabbed the movement calling the freedom fighters reactionary and the freedom struggle momentary enthusiasm. The RSS today adores Bankim Chandra Chatterjee for his pro-British attitude. Chatterjee romanticized the killing and attack on Muslims in his novel, Anandamath calling the “Englishman is our ally king”. Today the BJP propagates a fake nationalism which is motivated by prejudices, dogmas and hatred towards India’s minority communities and Dalits. People being lynched by the BJP supporters on the pretext of nationalism will go down as a dark chapter in our history because the ‘majority’ remains silent.
Masidur Rahaman is an undergraduate student pursuing English Literature at Dukhulal Nibaran Chandra College, University of Kalyani, West Bengal, India.
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