Basic instinct

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RSS leader Balasaheb Deoras. Photo: THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

RSS leader M.S. Golwalkar. Photo: THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

A.G. Noorani on the duplicitous survival strategy of the RSS as evidenced by its leaders’ actions at two critical junctures in India’s history—after Gandhiji’s assassination and during the Emergency. Excerpted from an article published in the March 26, 1993, issue.

THERE is one and only one Indian political organisation which was allowed to exist on assurances of good behaviour: the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). This is not a reference to the ban imposed on it during the Emergency on July 4, 1975, but to the one imposed in the wake of Gandhiji’s assassination on January 30, 1948. On February 1, the RSS supremo, M.S. Golwalkar, was arrested. His telegrams to Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel on January 30 expressing shock and sadness at the assassination did not save him. On February 4, 1948, the Government of India banned the RSS.

The government communique of February 4, 1948, announcing the ban, said:

“The professed aims and objects of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh are to promote the physical, intellectual and moral well-being of the Hindus and also to foster feelings of the brotherhood, love and service amongst them. Government themselves are most anxious to approve the general material and intellectual well-being of all sections of the people and have got schemes on hand which are designed to carry out the objects, particularly the provision of physical training and education in military matters to the youth of the country. Government have, however, noticed with regret that in practice members of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh have not adhered to their professed ideals.

“Undesirable and even dangerous activities have been carried on by the members of the Sangh. It has been found that in several parts of the country individual members of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunitions. They have been found circulating leaflets, exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect firearms, to create disaffection against the government and suborn the police and military.”

On February 6, Golwalkar gave a directive to “disband the RSS till the ban is there” while “denying all the charges”. He claimed that the RSS was law-abiding and would “carry on its activities within the bounds of law”. Golwalkar was released on August 6, 1948, but his movements were restricted to Nagpur. Five days later he wrote to Nehru and Patel complaining against the restrictions. On September 27, A.V. Pai replied from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat that “Government have a great deal of evidence in their possession to show that the RSS were engaged in activities which were anti-national and prejudicial from the point of view of public good. Just before the banning of the RSS he (Mr. Nehru) is informed that the U.P. government sent you a note on some of the evidence they have collected about such activities of the RSS in U.P. Other provinces have also such evidence in their possession. Even after the ban we have received information about the undesirable activities of the old members of the RSS. This information continues to come to us even now. You will appreciate that in view of this, the government cannot consider the RSS as such a harmless organisation from the public point of view.”

Golwalkar demanded (November 3) an inquiry. By now the restriction had been lifted for the sole purpose of permitting him to visit Delhi and lay his case before the government. However, his request for an interview with Nehru was refused. While declining the interview, Nehru (November 10) made a telling point: “It would appear that the declared objectives have little to do with the real ones and with the activities carried on in various forms and ways by people associated with the RSS. These real objectives appear to be completely opposed to the decisions of the Indian Parliament and the provisions of the proposed Constitution, anti-national and often subversive and violent.”

Even after the ban, Patel was keen to absorb the RSS within the Congress. Yet, he was not too forthcoming when his Hindu Mahasabhaite colleague in the Cabinet, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, began pestering him to be soft on the RSS and the Mahasabha. Patel wrote to Mookerjee on July 18 that “our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former (the RSS), an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy (Gandhiji’s assassination) became possible. There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in this conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of government and the state. Our reports show that those activities, despite the ban, have not died down. Indeed, as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure.” This makes it hard to understand Patel’s reply to Golwalkar less than two months later, on September 11.

Addressing him as “Brother Golwalkar” (the latter’s letter was addressed to “Hon’ble Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel”), the Sardar recalled his speech at Jaipur in December 1947 in which he had spoken very gently of the RSS (“patriots who love their country”). He regretted that this had no effect on the Sangh: “There can be no doubt that the RSS did service to the Hindu Society. But the objectionable part arose when they, burning with revenge, began attacking Musalmans. Organising the Hindus and helping them is one thing, but going in for revenge for its sufferings on innocent and helpless men, women and children is quite another thing.” He added: “All their speeches were full of communal poison.” Patel reminded Golwalkar that RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death. He squarely charged that “as a final result of the poison the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji”.

But the Sardar, nonetheless, made a strange proposal for reasons of his own: “I am thoroughly convinced that the RSS men can carry on their patriotic endeavour only by joining the Congress and not by keeping separate or opposing.” He had the restriction lifted and Golwalkar came to Delhi. But his talks did not succeed, and on November 2, 1948, Golwalkar announced the failure in public statements outlining his stand. Three days later he replied to Sardar Patel’s proposal in terms which are very significant. They were the basis on which he later supported the creation of the Jan Sangh, the ancestor of the BJP: “I tried my utmost to see that between the Congress, which is capable of delivering goods in the political field and is at present the ruling party, and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in the cultural field, which has achieved success in creating a matchless spirit of patriotism, brotherhood and selflessness among the people, there be no bad blood, there be only everlasting mutual love, one supplementing and complementing the other, both meeting in a sacred confluence.” The talks having failed, Golwalkar was ordered to go back to Nagpur.

The Home Ministry issued a statement on November 14 recording what had transpired in Golwalkar’s two interviews with Sardar Patel and the former’s refusal to alter the Sangh’s ways: “The information received by the Government of India shows that the activities carried on in various forms and ways by the people associated with the RSS tend to be antinational and often subversive and violent and that persistent attempts are being made by the RSS to revive an atmosphere in the country which was productive of such disastrous consequences in the past.” It added: “He has written letters both to the Prime Minister and Home Minister explaining inter alia that the RSS agrees entirely with the conception of a secular state for India and that it accepts the National Flag of the country and requesting that the ban imposed on the organisation in February should now be lifted. These professions of the RSS leader are, however, quite inconsistent with the practice of his followers and for the reason already explained above, the Government of India find themselves unable to advise Provincial Governments to lift the ban.”

The government issued a communique on July 11, 1949, announcing the lifting of the ban. It recorded the RSS leader’s clarifications and said: “In the light of the modifications made and clarifications given by the RSS leader, the Government of India have come to the conclusion that the RSS organisation should be given an opportunity to function as a democratic, cultural organisation owing loyalty to the Indian Constitution and recognising the National Flag eschewing secrecy and abjuring violence.”

In contrast to Golwalkar’s letters to Nehru, Balasaheb Deoras’ missives to Indira Gandhi during the Emergency were cringing: “I have heard the speech you delivered on August 15, 1975, from the Red Fort, Delhi on AIR. The speech was balanced and befitting to the occasion and has prompted me to write this letter to you,” he wrote on August 22. He concluded: “I beseech you to rescind the ban imposed upon the RSS.”

Deoras wrote to Indira Gandhi again on July 16, praising her foreign policy and renewing his plea on the ban. Both letters were ignored.

Deoras’ letters to S.B. Chavan were as abject. He wrote on July 15, 1975: “The Sangh has done nothing against the government or society even remotely. There is no place for such things in the Sangh’s programme. The Sangh is engaged only in social and cultural activities.” He wrote to Chavan again on November 24, 1975, December 12, 1975, and January 24, 1976. On June 6, 1976, he even asked Chavan for “release on parole with a view to clarifying certain issues directly to you”. The entreaty was repeated on July 12, 1976. None of the letters elicited a reply.

But, the Emergency over, the RSS prospered during the Janata era. In 1980 the Jan Sangh walked out of the Janata Party to form the Bharatiya Janata Party. Seven years later, on November 16, 1987, Deoras felt emboldened to say that the RSS entry into politics “in the near future” was not ruled out. Meanwhile, it rules the roost over its parivar – the BJP, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal and the front organisations. The promises which the RSS made 45 years ago were a sham.

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