Essay

RSS & Emergency

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November 1977: RSS sarsanghchalak Balasaheb Deoras (left) with Jayaprakash Narayan at the latter’s residence. Photo: The Hindu Archives

The RSS and its flock in the BJP have no locus standi to make noises about the Emergency. Its own leaders grovelled before the Congress dispensation to win reprieves from jail terms and have the ban lifted on their organisation.

Every year on the anniversary of the Emergency, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its foot soldiers, especially those in its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), go to town denouncing sin. It boasts of the “sacrifices” made by it and its political front, the Jana Sangh, ancestor of the BJP, during the Emergency.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s imposition of the Emergency was no mere mistake; it was a sin, a constitutional crime committed for purely personal reasons, namely, to nullify the judgment of the Allahabad High Court on June 12, 1975, declaring her election to the Lok Sabha to be void. She put her political opponents behind bars; imposed press censorship; suspended the fundamental rights; extended the life of the Lok Sabha; rushed through Parliament the 42nd Constitutional amendment to undermine our democracy; attempted to give herself immunity from criminal proceedings; nullified the High Court judgment; and even made serious moves to discard the Constitution itself by convening a Constituent Assembly to establish a presidential system.

But, in his correspondence with Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, the RSS boss, M.D. Deoras, never criticised those sordid moves or called for a return to the democratic order. Instead, on his advice and instructions, his men from the RSS gave unconditional undertakings to get out of prison.

The government prepared a standard form, which RSS detenus happily signed. Some of them did not wait for the form. They gave unqualified undertakings in their own language, if only to get out.

The Government’s printed draft read thus:

“PRO-FORMA OF UNDERTAKING

I, Shri...................... Detenu Class I ................. prisoner agree on affidavit that in case of my release I shall not do anything which is detrimental to internal security and public peace. Similarly, I shall not do anything which would hamper the distribution of essential goods. So also I shall not participate in any illegal activities. I shall not indulge in any activities which is prejudicial to the present emergency.”

D.R. Goyal records: “The Maharashtra government had demanded written undertaking for conditional release of the detenus. The RSS and Sangh detenus had independently decided to sign such undertakings. This caused a stir in the jail and socialist leaders like Bagaitkar, Babu Rao Samant and Dasrath Patil went to meet the Jana Sangh leader Mhalgi to dissuade his party people from signing this undertaking. Mr. Mhalgi pleaded that the decision to sign the undertaking was taken by the top leaders of the RSS and Jana Sangh not confined to jail” (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh; Radha Krishna Prakashan, 2000; page 141). The RSS did not oppose the Emergency. It collaborated with its perpetrators to save its own skin.

Since the Bangladesh War, particularly, the RSS had developed a soft corner for Indira Gandhi and the Congress. It did not oppose her Congress in the 1984 election to the Lok Sabha. Its prime strategist Nanaji Deshmukh openly advocated support to Rajiv Gandhi.

On December 22, 1971, the then RSS boss, M.S. Golwalkar, wrote a congratulatory letter to the Prime Minister reeking of fulsome praise. “The biggest measure of credit for this achievement goes to you” (Organiser, June 16, 1973). Hers was a formal reply.

The RSS men did not opt for prison. They were thrown into prison. The Emergency was declared on June 25, 1975. Deoras was arrested and put into prison on June 30. The RSS was banned, along with 23 other bodies, on July 4. The RSS initial response was to wait and watch. Two scholarly works describe that policy.

“The initial response of the RSS was cautious. Madhavrao Mulay, the general secretary, declared that the organisation had been dissolved. However, the RSS kept alive an effective skeleton organisation, although its shakhas, training camps, parades and other activities were stopped. Soon some leading pracharaks, after consulting imprisoned Balasaheb Deoras, met at Bombay in late July to chart out the action plan for their banned organisation. They decided that the RSS would work closely with the LSS [Lok Sangharsh Samiti], thus breaking the RSS tradition of keeping the organisation aloof from political movements. The coordinating work of the RSS with the LSS would be carried out by the four zonal pracharaks. Yadavrao Joshi (South), Rajendra Singh (North), Moropant Pingale (West), and Bhaorao Deoras (East). In addition, while Rambahu Godbole was entrusted with the task of contacting the opposition party leaders, Eknath Ranade was to liaison with the government. Incidentally, Ranade was assigned the same job during the previous ban of 1948-49. This meeting also charted the following course of action for the banned organisation: (a) to keep up the morale of the swayamsewaks by arranging some form of congregations; (b) to establish an underground press; (c) prepare for a nationwide satyagraha, establishing contact with significant non-political figures and with prominent representatives of the minority communities; and (d) solicit overseas Indian support for the RSS in the underground activities of the LSS. However, many critics believe that the RSS was keen on a compromise rather than fight Indira Gandhi” (Pralay Kanungo; RSS’s Tryst With Politics; Manohar, 2003, pages 193-194).

Another account based on an interview with Deoras’ successor, Rajendra Singh, records in detail: “The initial reaction of the RSS leadership was to take a cautious wait-and-see approach. When the government began to arrest RSS workers on a large scale, the RSS committed itself to working closely with the LSS set up in support of Jayaprakash Narayan, thus breaking the RSS tradition of keeping the organisation aloof from political movements. This decision was taken at a meeting of leading pracharaks at Bombay in late July, after consultation with the incarcerated Balasaheb Deoras. Holding primary responsibility for coordinating RSS work with the LSS were four zonal pracharaks: Yadavrao Joshi (South), Rajendra Singh (North), Moropant Pingale (West), and Bhaorao Deoras (East). In addition, Rambahu Godbole, the Jana Sangh’s organising secretary for Bihar and West Bengal, was instructed to establish contact with opposition party leaders; Moropant Pingale to coordinate activities with the LSS and to organise a nationwide satyagraha; Eknath Ranade, head of the Vivekananda Kendra, to handle discussions with the government.

“The July meeting in Bombay established a set of goals for the underground RSS organisation: It would (1) maintain the morale of the swayamsewaks by providing them opportunities to meet together (eg., prayer meetings, sporting events, etc.); (2) establish an underground press and distribution system for it; (3) prepare for a nationwide satyagraha, establishing contact with significant non-political figures and with prominent representatives of the minority communities; and (4) solicit overseas Indian support for the RSS in the underground activities of the LSS. Regarding this last goal, the RSS made use of Indians for Democracy, an organisation established in the U.S. immediately after the Emergency. In November 1976 the Friends of India Society International was formed in England to mobilise overseas swayamsevaks for the same purpose” (Walter K. Andersen and Shridhar D. Damle; The Brotherhood in Saffron; Vistaar Publications, SAGE, 1987; page 212).

Deoras’ letters to Indira Gandhi

This is the context in which Deoras began shooting letters to Indira Gandhi, S.B. Chavan, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, and that “Sarkari Sant” Vinoba Bhave. These letters, along with letters by others, were placed on the table of the Maharashtra Assembly by Chavan.

The very first para of Deoras’ first letter to Indira Gandhi, dated August 22, 1975, read: “I have heard the speech you delivered on August 15, 1975, from the Red Fort, Delhi on A.I.R. The speech was balanced and befitting to the occasion and has prompted me to write this letter to you.” Unctuous and false, as ever.

“The aim of the RSS is to unify and organise Hindu society..... There are people who allege that R.S.S. is a communal organisation. This also is a baseless charge. Although at present the activities of the Sangh are confined to the Hindu society, the Sangh never preaches anything against any non-Hindu. It is absolutely wrong that the Sangh is anti-Muslim. We don’t even use an improper word regarding Islam, Mohammad, Kuran, Christianity, Christ or the Bible.” M.S. Golwalkar’s books We or the Nation Defined and Bunch of Thoughts expose the falsity of the denial.

The concluding para of Deoras’ letter read: “I request you to please reconsider the case of the Sangh without any prejudice. In the light of the democratic right of freedom to organise, I beseech you to rescind the ban imposed upon the RSS.” And no more. Not a word about lifting the Emergency or releasing others from prisons.

This letter, indeed, the entire correspondence, was conducted behind the back of the members of the LSS, with whom the RSS and its pointsman, Nanaji Deshmukh, professed (pretended?) to be associated. They were all stabbed in the back by the RSS’ cowardly betrayal. Indira Gandhi ignored him and his letters. Deoras’ first letter to S.B. Chavan, dated July 15, 1975, said: “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.”

Ripping the veneer of pretence

However, a telltale letter by an advocate, an RSS man, a lawyer who evidently acted on his supremo’s instructions, rips off the veneer of pretence. It is by V.N. Bhide, Detenu No.2181, Nasik Central Jail, dated July 12, 1976, and addressed to Chief Minister Chavan: “About seven months ago you expressed the view that detenus over 60 and those who are not in good health should be released. Accordingly, a list of such detenus was prepared. Also, after making due enquiries they were made to give an undertaking that they would not do anything against the Emergency. Of the 150 detenus of over 60 years of age, only 10 to 12 were released. On my suggestion a similar concession was made to some detenus under 60 years. As I said in my previous letter the fact that a beginning in releasing detenus on the basis of an undertaking has been made should satisfy both sides. As regards the wording of the undertaking, it will not be proper to use the expression ‘good behaviour’. I hope you will agree and delete this expression.

“On July 6, 1975, Rule No.33 under the Defence of India Act was applied to the R.S.S. Following this the office-bearers of the Sangh have notified suspension of all activities of the Sangh. Therefore, there is no need to make non-participation in R.S.S. activities a condition for the release. This indeed is the purpose of this letter. I hope you will give due thought to this question.

“Our stand should be clear from what I have written above. I have made this request without any ill-feeling against the government. The government should make the best use of the urge to work for the good of the society felt by many people. The country will benefit immensely from this.”

September 1969: Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with Vinoba Bhave in Ranchi. Deoras pleaded with Vinoba Bhave to request Indira Gandhi to free jailed RSS men and lift the ban on the organisation.   -  The Hindu Archives

The RSS was very ready to give an undertaking. Only the words remained to be settled—shades of V.D. Savarkar’s many and abject undertakings to the colonial government.

Deoras wrote to Vinoba Bhave (“at the feet of Respected Acharya Vinobaji”) on the eve of Vinoba’s meeting with the Prime Minister: “This is my prayer to you that you kindly try to remove the wrong notion of the Prime Minister about the Sangh, and as a result of which the RSS volunteers will be set free, the ban on the Sangh will be lifted and such a condition will prevail as to enable the volunteers of the Sangh to participate in the planned programme of action relating to country’s progress and prosperity under the leadership of the Prime Minister” (D.R. Goyal; Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh; Radhakrishna Prakashan, New Delhi; 2000; page 279). Again, not a word about lifting the Emergency, releasing Jayaprakash Narayan and other prisoners.

G.G. Parikh (right), vice chairman of the Yusuf Meherally Centre, with his wife and Haresh Shah, joint secretary of the centre. A file photograph.   -  Shashi Ashiwal

Baba Adhav exposed the RSS still further in Janata, a weekly founded by Jayaprakash Narayan in 1946 and now edited by his devoted socialist follower Dr. G.G. Parikh. At 94, he edits Janata and actively oversees the Yusuf Meherally Centre for tribal people in Tara, Panvel in Maharashtra. Baba Adhav’s disclosures appeared in Secular Democracy (August 1977, pages 40-41) and in Janata on September 16, 1979, on pages 3, 4, 15 and 16, from which the following excerpts are quoted. Adhav himself was in prison. So was Dr. G.G. Parikh, in the Yerawada Jail. He was witness to the RSS’ undertakings from prison.

Baba Adhav wrote: “Written queries were circulated in the Yerawada Central Jail in Maharashtra three or four times, asking detenus if they would be prepared to sign an undertaking or a memorandum. I have seen with my own eyes majority of the RSS detenus signing their assent to do so. ... During the Emergency, Tarun Bharat, a Poona daily, brought out a ‘Sanjay Gandhi Special Number’.”

Yet another witness was Brahm Dutt, a member of Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Lok Dal. He also was in prison during the Emergency and a witness to the RSS renegades’ behaviour. His book Five Headed Monster (Surge Publications, New Delhi, 1978) has a Chapter (IV) on “Dual Role of RSS”. He wrote: “On April 4, 1976 Panch Janya published the report of a speech made by Sanjay Gandhi at Lucknow in which he gave a call to the youth to free the downtrodden from the exploitation of the rich. On the same day, the Editor of the paper congratulated N.D. Tiwari, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, for the various steps taken by him. ...

“An important document which included three letters, two of which were those of Sar Sanghchalak, Balasaheb Deoras, addressed to Indiraji from Yarvada Central Jail, Pune, was received in jails. In one of these letters Balasaheb had offered the co-operation of the RSS volunteers to the government and had sought the removal of the ban on the organisation and release of its members from the jails. It is significant that the highest authority in RSS was writing on behalf of this organisation only and had nothing to say about the other parties. Balasaheb had also written to Vinobaji to ask Indiraji to remove her misunderstanding about the RSS so that the RSS volunteers were released from the jails and they could participate in the developmental activities launched by Indiraji. Subsequently, it was revealed that he had also written to the Maharashtra Chief Minister, S.B. Chavan. Balasaheb had urged Mr. Chavan to use his good offices with Indiraji to get the ban on RSS lifted. This information was given and the copies of the letters were placed on the table of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly on October 18, 1977. ... Bapu Rao Moghe confirmed the writing of these letters in Panch Janya, dated July 24, 1977. He had written that the RSS wanted a dialogue but the government had not replied to the letters of Balasaheb Deoras.”

On July 8, 1976, leaders of the opposition parties met in New Delhi. Para 4 of the minutes read: “Choudhary Charan Singh raised the question of the RSS. He stated his firm belief that no RSS volunteers can join the new party and no member of the new party can join the RSS. It was a question of dual membership which could not be allowed and there should be no scope in the new party for surreptitious work.” It was a direct challenge. O.P. Tyagi spoke for the Jana Sangh: “Shri Tyagi said that the new party can lay down whatever conditions it sees fit. Currently the RSS was banned and it stood dissolved.” A year later, the RSS and the Jana Sangh leaders resiled from this “assurance”—and began claiming a heroic role during the Emergency.

The RSS’ minions talk of fascism today. Read this from the Italian scholar Marzia Casolari’s book based on archival material: “On March 31, 1934, a meeting was arranged between Moonje, Hedgewar, and Laloo Gokhale. The subject was, again, how to militarily organise the Hindus along Italian and German lines: Laloo – ‘Well you are the President of the Hindu Sabha and you are preaching Sanghathan of Hindus. It is ever possible for Hindus to be organised?’

“I said—You have asked me a question of which exactly I was thinking of late. I have thought out a scheme based on Hindu Dharm Shastra which provides for standardisation of Hinduism throughout India. ... But the point is that this ideal cannot be brought to effect unless we have our own swaraj with a Hindu as a dictator like Shivaji of old or Mussolini or Hitler of the present day in Italy and Germany. But this does not mean that we have to sit with folded hands until [sic] some such dictator arises in India. We should formulate a scientific scheme and carry on propaganda for it” (Marzia Casolari; In the Shade of the Swastika, 2011, page 78).

It does not lie in the mouth of the RSS or its creature, the BJP, to cry “fascism” when Article 12 of the RSS Constitution itself makes the Sar Sanghchalak its dictator (“guide and philosopher”) with power to “nominate his successor”. Same chalaki (cleverness), this.

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