In The Light Of BJP Perception
26 June, 2003
Voltaire once remarked that
history is just the tricks we play with
the dead. This is amply vindicated by a book release on Dr Keshav Baliram
Hedgewar (1889-1940) as part of Builders of Modern India by the Prime
Minister. The book written in Hindi does not either have references
or a bibliography. Obviously the felt need of bringing out such a volume
is to revise history in the light of the BJP perception. This is reflected
by the fact that even two decades ago no scholarly work on Modern Indian
History or the nationalist movement ever included references either
to Dr Hedgewar or the RSS.
Dr Hedgewar, an Andhra Brahmin
settled in Maharashtra, a discipline of Balkrishna Shivram Moonje and
a close friend of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, established the Rashtriya
Swamyamsevak Singh in 1925 in Nagpur. Hedgewar was sent to Kolkata by
Moonje in 1910 to pursue his medical studies and unofficially learn
the techniques of terror from the secret revolutionary organisations
like the Anushilan Samiti and
Jugantar in Bengal. He became a part of the inner circle of the
Anushilan Samiti to which very few had access. In 1915 after
returning to Nagpur he joined the Indian National Congress and
engaged in anti-British activities through the Kranti Dal. He was
also a member of the Hindu Mahasabha till 1929. Such dual membership
was common at that time. He was imprisoned for sedition in 1921 for
one year and again for nine months in 1930.
The anti-Muslim feeling following the riots in Nagpur in 1923 and in
the aftermath of the suspension of the non-cooperation struggle the
dissension within the Congress over the issue of boycott of councils
were the background to the formation of the RSS. During Gandhi's stewardship
there was constant stress on Hindu-Muslim unity as evident in the support
lent to the Khilafat movement. But certain sections of the Hindu intelligentsia
felt threatened by the Muslim mobilisation for the Khilafat movement
and invented like Scottish nationalism a sense of Hindu identity through
organisations like the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. In response to the
shuddhi and sangathan movements following the suspension of the non-cooperation
movement in 1922 with the aim of fostering unity among the Hindus were
the tanzim and tabliqh among the Muslims.
Many Congress leaders were
distressed and considered the growing Hindu-Muslim animosity as a set
back for creating a climate for swaraj. The 1923 December convention
of the Congress tried to review the activities of the shuddhi and tabliqh
movements but felt helpless in bridging the Hindu Muslim gulf. Interestingly
many prominent Congress leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malaviya
and NG Kelkar became spokesmen of Hindu interests and espoused a form
of Hindu nationalism by identifying with the Hindu Mahasabha but they
did not, like Hedgewar, sever ties with either the Congress or the Hindu
The continued domination
of India by a handful of British officials
led to a lot of soul-searching among the nationalist leaders. The
weakness of the nationalist movement allowed the British to increase
repression during World War I. Hedgewar attributed it to our inherent
weakness and lack of discipline. He was disturbed by the fact that the
British could rule a huge territory like India with such ease with the
help of a few administrators.
However, in spite of his
anti-British sentiments he instructed the
RSS to remain aloof from political activities including the salt
satyagraha (1930), Quit India movement (1942) and the Naval mutiny (1946)
in Mumbai and continue mainly as a social organisation. Despite this,
Seshadri strangely considered Hedgewar as a major activist in the national
movement and a vigorous and indefatigable fighter for India's freedom
colonial rule, indeed at the "forefront of the freedom movement".
Hedgewar, through the RSS,
tried to dedicate himself tointroducing
into the Hindu society elements of cohesion and strength, features that
he considered the positive side of the British. The purpose was to dispel
the British perception of Hindu as weak and effeminate. He emphasised
character building and arousing pride among Hindus in their culture.
Character building was through physical exercises, bodybuilding, sports
mainly wrestling and weight lifting. Hedgewar assigned protection of
pilgrims during the Ramnavami celebrations in Ramtek (near Nagpur) in
1926 as the first public task for the RSS.
Once again in 1927 the martial nature of the organisation became clear
when Hedgewar led the Ganesh procession playing music while going through
the mosque road in Nagpur. Both the events were directed against the
Organisationally, the RSS
since its inception emphasised vigorously the need for renunciation
and sacrifice incorporating the sentiments of an influential stream
of the Indian nationalist discourse. Ever since Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's
Anandamath (1882) emphasised Bhakti, Dayananda, Vivekananda and Aurobindo
reiterated it with renewed stress. This total devotion of the RSS celibate
workers attracts considerable number of people. In 1927, Hedgewar organised
an officers' training camp with the tack of forming a corps of pracharaks
to establish the backbone of the RSS. He called upon the pracharak to
become sadhus first.
Since then, even today its
cadres renounce their professions and
remain celibate with the intention of rejuvenating the Hindu
community. They lead an austere life with complete dedication to a cause
without any personal gain. Its pracharaks symbolise the revered karmayogis
of India's glorious past.
A Minor Prophet With A
Hedgewar's call to his followers
to become sadhus had two aims.
First, it enabled them to devote wholeheartedly and completely for
the cause of Hindu nationalism and second, the emphasis on asceticism
introduced elements of Hindu sect in the RSS. Like the Arya Samaj, the
RSS differs from "traditional Hindu sectarian lineages" for
it adapted "traditional ideas of guruhood and wedded it to a larger
leadership organisation that has acquired a sanctity of its own".
Hedgewar initiated the young recruits to weekly sessions where they
were acquainted with matters relating to the Hindu nation, its history
He insisted that the members
pay true obeisance to the saffron flag of Shivaji when the shakhas open,
a custom that is followed till today and offer guru dakshina which finances
the movement. This ceremony takes place six times a year - the Hindu
coronation of Shivaji, guru dakshina, Raksha Bandhan,Dasahara, and Makarasankraman.
In 1926, Hedgewar introduced a uniform consisting of khaki shorts, khaki
shirts and black forage caps.
A shortcoming of the RSS in the early years, despite its espousal of
cultural nationalism was the absence of any critical dissection of some
of moribund Hindu practices and customs. Nor was there a charter of
how to recast the Hindu society to meet the twin challenges of western
education and scientific-technological developments. The emphasis was
on a golden past and the RSS was essentially revivalist in nature.
Furthermore, an important
objective of the RSS was to unite
Hindus above and beyond caste divisions and make Hindus equal in view
of the rise of a non-Brahmin movement led by Jyotiba Phule in the early
1920s. Hedgewar in his last speech in 1940 described the RSS as "the
Hindu Rasthra in miniature" regarding it as a kind of egalitarian,
alternative version of society, a great "family" or fraternity.
Malkani points out that the practice of having meals in common irrespective
of caste unnerved some Brahmins who were troubled about sitting together
with low caste Hindus, but Hedgewar insisted that the practice should
Dhooria mentions how at the
RSS everyone "played together, sang together and ate together".
Despite its efforts to acquire an
egalitarian image the RSS for long has been associated with high
castes. In Maharashtra, the Brahmins were attracted to the RSS mainly
because it embodied a synthesis of brahminical and martial values and
that was the reason why these segments of Maharashtra society rejected
Gandhiji's political style and leadership.
Hedgewar was a Telugu Brahmin.
Golwalkar was a Karhada Brahmin Moonje, a Deshastha Brahmin who in his
diary described the early swayamsevaks as "Brahmin youths"
or "Brahmin lads". Regardless of its commitment to egalitarianism,
its vision of the ideal society is organic based on a reinterpretation
of the varna system. Jaffrelot attributes the "pervasiveness of
the Brahminical ethic in the ideology and practices of the RSS"
as the "main reason why it failed to attract support from the low
castes. The Sanskritised Hindu culture which the RSS championed was
that of high tradition, and even its techniques bore the marks of Brahminical
This is because Hedgewar
spoke of samskars or good things by which he hoped to refurbish the
Hindu character to make it nationalistic and defend itself against the
"threatening others", namely the British and the Muslims.The
RSS as an organisation is hierarchical. At the apex is the sarsanghchalak
or the spiritual head entitled to complete and implicit obedience. In
1927 Hedgewar became a guru to his disciples much against his wishes,
notes Andersen and Damle, and assumed the
title of sarsanghchalak in 1929. His mausoleum is still a place of
pilgrimage for the RSS members.
However, this did not affect
the decentralised nature of the RSS for, as Jaffrelot pointed out, charisma
is not considered the basic
quality of any leader. No leader is projected as indispensable as is
the case with most other political and social organisations in India.
It is the office and the particular incumbent who is revered. It is
the sarsanghchalak who appoints his successor.On the death of Hedgewar
in 1940, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar became
the unquestioned guru. There is institutional secrecy that masks the
internal working of the organisation and conflict and dissension within
it. The RSS organisation, coming in the wake of the post-Gandhi Congress,
seems a pre-modern organisation. It did not have a constitution, four-annas
membership, an all-India presence with offices in every district and
election to its highest office as was the case with the Congress under
Myopic world view
Not only with regard to organisation
and its principles but even in
vision Hedgewar's cultural nationalism with accent on Hinduism was just
the opposite of Gandhi's composite nationalism, which was in tune with
the pluralistic nature of Indian society. Gandhi as a moderniser of
tradition identified what he called as the three
pillars of swaraj, namely Hindu-Muslim unity, removal of
untouchability and bridging the gap between the city and the village.
In comparison to Gandhi's constructive programme aimed at realising
swaraj there is nothing comparable in the RSS scheme of things. In the
light of these observations, Seshadri's official biography of RSS entitled
Dr Hedgewar: the Epochmaker depicted Dr Hedgewar as one of the most
significant personalities of the 20th century, whose historical significance
is rivalled only by Gandhi. This seems far-fetched and intellectually
Hedgewar's RSS was a restricted
and local enterprise without any broad national vision reflecting the
major contradictions that India faced in the 20th century. Compared
to Gandhi's elaborate and inclusive plank that included every single
Indian, Hedgewar was a minor prophet whose prescriptions reflected a
myopic world view resulting in a narrow social base for the RSS. Even
this enormous state patronage to resurrect a minor figure who never
tried to broaden the base of the organisation, democratise it and make
the organisational and financial matters transparent, will not hide
the narrow localism and pre-modernity of the founder of the RSS.
(The author is Reader in
Political Science, Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi. )