What Was Gandhi’s Evaluation Of RSS?
By Ram Puniyani
21 January, 2015
With the new ruling dispensation, Modi Sarkar, attempts are being made to present Gandhi in a light which is favorable to the RSS combine. First, the Swachata Abhiyan (Cleanliness drive) was inaugurated on Gandhi Jayanti 2nd October, then it was claimed that RSS had nothing to do with Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse. Now; efforts are on to extract a certificate from Gandhi on the lines which should mean that Gandhi thought ‘RSS very good’. In this direction a multimedia program is being shown in ‘Dandi Kutir’ which was inaugurated by the Prime Minister Mr. Modi recently, (January 2015). In this multimedia presentation in the exhibition it is claimed that Gandhi had come to RSS camp in Wardha in 1930, along with Ghanshyamdas Birla. Gandhi was very impressed by its functioning of RSS and wanted to meet Dr. Hedgewar, the founder of RSS. As per these claims Mahatma did meet the RSS founder the next day.
Irrespective of these claims the definitive knowledge is something else. On one side what is known is that RSS was very critical of Gandhi’s politics, his broadening of the national movement to include the average people of the country in the non- cooperation movement. This movement was the major event which awakened the people of India and linked them with anti British movement. This was the major landmark in the step towards ‘India as a nation in the making’. This major phenomenon of Indian nationalism came under heavy criticism from RSS leadership. RSS founder was critical of Gandhi for his efforts in the direction of ‘Hindu Muslim unity’ and this mass movement, non cooperation movement. Hedgewar went on to write, ‘As a result of non cooperation movement of Mahatma Gandhi, the enthusiasm in the country was cooling down and the evils of social life, which that movement generated, were menacingly raising their head. ‘As per him ‘it is due to this movement that Brahmin–non Brahmin conflict was nakedly on view’. (C.P.Bhishikar in Keshav Sangh Nirmata, Pune 1979, p 7) What he is calling Brahmin-Non Brahmin conflict was actually the struggle of dalits for their lands rights and social dignity, for change in graded hierarchy of caste. Hedgekar, true to the RSS ideology of upholding the values of declining-pre-industrial social system was against the movement. This non Brahman movement was actually challenging the status quo of caste relationships in the society.
Hedgewar’s successor, Golwalkar, went further to criticize the Indian national movement as being just anti British. Golwalkar writes, ‘The theories of territorial nationalism and common danger, which formed the basis of our concept of nation, had deprived us of the positive and inspiring content of our real Hindu nationhood…Anti Britishism was equated with patriotism and nationalism, this reactionary view had disastrous effects upon the entire course of freedom movement, its leaders and its people.” (Bunch of thoughts Bangalore 1996, p. 138) This is so far as what Sangh thought of Gandhi and his struggles for uniting ‘India as a Nation state’ with the ideology of Indian nationalism.
Now how did Gandhi look at RSS? As RSS for long was working ‘quietly’, there are not too many references about the role of RSS during this period. Also since it was not a part of National movement we can’t comment about its role in that movement. However whatever one can glean from the available sources one can say that Gandhi’s thoughts were not favorable to 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, 320-322)
Amongst the recorded opinions about Gandhi’s evaluation of RSS, the most authentic is the one of his secretary Pyarelal. Pyarelal 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 RSS cadres at Wagah, a major transit camp for Punjab refugees. Gandhi quipped back, ‘but don’t forget, even so had Hitler’s Nazis and Fascists under Mussolini’ Gandhi characterized RSS as a communal body with a totalitarian outlook’ (Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase, Ahmadabad, page 440)
After independence, in the context of Delhi violence (Rajmohan Gandhi, Mohandas, page 642), 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 publically. 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.’
Today having occupied the seat of power, RSS is desperate to link itself to the legacy of freedom movement from which it had kept aloof. It had criticized the freedom movement as people from all the communities were part of It. RSS aims for Hindu nation, the way Muslim League’s goal was Muslim nation. Today treading a careful path it wants to appropriate Gandhi for which a ‘certificate’ is needed from Gandhi. So his sentence is being manipulated to highlight ‘hard disciplined work’ and to hide the rider that ‘so had been the ‘Nazis of Hitler and Fascists of Mussolini.’ The basic contradiction in the two types of nationalisms should guide us as what was Gandhi’s attitude was towards RSS, despite the well manicured claims from RSS combine.
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
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