Essay

Betrayal of Indian nationalism

Print edition : November 10, 2017

Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, founder of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

A group photograph at the working committee meeting of the Hindu Mahasabha in New Delhi. V.D. Savarkar (fourth from left, front row), who presided over the meeting, is flanked by B.S. Moonje and Syama Prasad Mookerjee. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

August 11, 1942: Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru at a meeting in Bombay, days after the Quit India movement was launched. The RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha stayed away from the movement. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

An image of people out in the streets during the Quit India movement. Photo: COURTESY: GANDHI SMRITI

Maulana Hasrat Mohani, who moved a resolution for complete independence at the 1921 Congress session. The resolution was defeated.

Muslims opposed the British rulers. The Sangh Parivar collaborated with them. Who is “anti-national”?

Gandhi ne asj jang ka ailan kar diya,/

Baatil se haq ko dast-o-garebaan kar diya.

Hindustaan mein ek nai rooh phoonk kar/

Azadi-e-hayaat ka samaan kar diya.

Parwurdigaar ne ke woh hai aadmi shinnas,/

Gandhi ko bhi yeh martaba pahchaan kar diya

(Gandhi has made a declaration of war

Betwixt Truth and Falsehood a deadly battle starts.

Infusing a new spirit into the Indian hearts,/

For independence complete he has prepared the path.

God, who is the judge of men, in His wisdom great,/ Has rightly chosen the mahatma as the shepherd of our flock.)

THIS stirring poem was written by Maulana Zafar Ali Khan during India’s movement for independence. He predicted accurately: “ Woh din aane ko hai azad jab Hindustan hoga,/Mubarkbaad isko de raha saara jahan hoga.” The day is fast approaching when India will be free,/The whole world will greet her on this triumphal feast.” (K.C. Kanda, Masterpieces of Patriotic Urdu Poetry, Sterling Publishers, New Delhi, pages 449, Rs.350.)

Can the Sangh Parivar, in all its varied outfits—the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)—cite a single poem, by a member or supporter, on India’s inclusive nationalism with its rich composite culture?

India’s freedom movement was enriched by the enthusiastic participation of all its communities: Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis and some others. All spoke for India amid voices of separate rights and even religious revivalism. The Sangh Parivar was not a movement for religious revivalism but for political ascendancy and power over all others—in the name of religion.

The RSS was established by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, a former Congressman, at Nagpur in September 1925 on Vijaya Dasami Day. Enough is known about its chequered career since. But one fundamental question concerning its very raison d’etre has not been addressed as pointedly and in as much depth as it deserves. Why on earth was the RSS set up at all? The answer to this question explains its entire career to this day. Remember, the freedom movement led by the Congress under Gandhi’s leadership was at its height in 1925. The Liberals of old disagreed with the new technique of civil disobedience and insisted on constitutional methods. Patriots like Bhagat Singh rejected both and opted for violence.

Why RSS?

The RSS was not set up because it disagreed with the three—Gandhi, Liberals and terrorists—or with the methods they advocated. Its aim was not to provide vigour and speed to the freedom movement. It was to promote the cause of a Hindu state at the end of British rule. Its technique was to collaborate with the British, meanwhile, and carefully avoid a confrontation with the alien rulers. In doing so, it did not merely part company with the freedom movement. The RSS opposed it, as did the Hindu Mahasabha. Both rejected Indian nationalism at the very outset. Its themes, its ideology, and its secular, democratic ideals were rejected and sneered at, especially its flag.

It was inherent in its ideology and its techniques, while distinguishing itself from Indian nationalism, not only to espouse Hindu nationalism but to belittle other communities, chiefly Muslims and Christians, and spread hate against others. This technique continues with fanatical zeal to this day. The RSS was never banned by the British. It was banned three times after Independence by the government of India.

This explains the futility of those who expected the RSS or its political outfits—the Jana Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party—to moderate and turn Indian. They would lose the very reason for their existence.

Which brings us back to the crucial question—why was the RSS set up at all? Pralay Kanungo, a painstaking scholar, has ably recorded the atmosphere in which the venomous RSS was born: “The period from 1923 to 1928 has been described as ‘an era of Hindu communal resurgence’ in North India in which Arya Samaj played an important role. Shuddhi had been a part of Arya Samaj activities during the late nineteenth century. But now under the leadership of Swami Shraddhanand, the campaign became intense. His proselytising mission was aimed at those Hindus who were converted to Islam or other groups of borderline Muslims who had retained many Hindu customs. …In this charged atmosphere of communal confrontation, a new organisation of the Hindus was established at Nagpur on the Vijaya Dashmi day of 1925, upholding the spirit of sangathan ideology. The founder was Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. The four other persons present on the occasion were Dr B.S. Moonje, Dr L.V. Paranjape, Dr B.B. Thalkar and Babarao Savarkar. The name given subsequently to this organisation was Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)” ( RSS’s Tryst with Politics, Manohar, pages 35, 36 and 38).

“A major influence on Hedgewar’s thinking was a handwritten manuscript of V.D. Savarkar’s Hindutva, which advanced the thesis that the Hindus were a nation” (Walter K. Andersen and Sridhar D. Damle, The Brotherhood in Saffron, page 33). Hedgewar had a guru, Moonje. Significantly, he had met Savarkar in March 1925, shortly before launching the RSS, for lengthy discussions.

RSS never an adversary of the British

In his carefully documented Hindu Nationalism (Oxford, New York), Chetan Bhatt of the University of London notes: “Whereas Congress and allied movements and activities were violently repressed, banned or imprisoned in huge numbers, the RSS was not considered an adversary by the British. On the contrary, it gave loyal consent to the British to be part of the Civic Guard. The RSS was not proscribed by the British, but was banned three times by Indian governments. Both Hedgewar and Golwalkar (its second leader) actively opposed joining the anti-colonial movement in favour of ‘character-building’ work in the service of the Hindu Nation.

“Similarly, the RSS, as a matter of explicit organisational policy, refused to join the non-cooperation movement and anti-colonial satyagrahas in the 1920s and 1940s, including the anti-Rowlatt agitations, the Civil Disobedience and Quit India movements, and the Naval mutiny in Bombay.…

“The RSS is quite explicit that one of the reasons for its formation was Hedgewar’s view that whereas Muslims were organised and strong, Hindus were disaggregated and weak and hence had to be consolidated into a militant, unified and aggressive force. Hedgewar’s diagnosis of the political situation in the early 1920s was as follows: ‘The upsurge witnessed during the days of non-cooperation movement has died down. The various evils accompanying the movement are now having a heyday. Mutual distrust and ill will, personal and caste rivalries, Brahmin and non-Brahmin controversy have all raised their ugly heads. No institution or organisation seems to be free from these internal squabbles and utter lack of discipline. The snake of Muslim fanaticism, having been fed on the milk of non-cooperation, is now baring its poisonous fangs and spreading the venom of violence and riots all over the country.’”

Chetan Bhatt adds: “Hedgewar also believed that it was the ‘lack of cohesion and self-respect’ among Hindus that was the key problem facing Hindu society during this ‘dark night of self-oblivion’, which, for him, characterised Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement” (pages 115 and 117). This idea, instilling an inferiority complex in a great community, is still being propagated by the RSS.

The RSS was duly set on its course. A biography records: “After establishing the Sangh, Doctor Saheb in his speeches used to talk only of Hindu organisation. Direct comment on government used to be nil.” (C.P. Bhislikar, Sanghavariksh Ke Beej/ Dr. Kashaavrao Hedgewar. This official biography in Hindi deserves translation into English. Excerpts in English are quoted in Dr Shamsul Islam’s Hindu Nationalism and Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh published by Media House, Delhi, 2015, and his pamphlet Know the RSS, published by Pharos Media, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi, 2017.)

Another biography records: “It is clear that Gandhiji worked constantly with one eye on Hindu-Muslim unity. … But Doctorji sensed danger in that move. In fact he did not even relish the new-fangled slogan of ‘Hindu-Muslim Unity’” (Quoted in Shamsul Islam, Hindu Nationalism and RSS, page 207).

This is most revealing. No struggle for freedom would be waged against the British in unity with Muslims. The RSS would parley directly with the British; keep the rulers in good humour; secure transfer of power; and establish a Hindu Rashtra.

What the RSS pracharak Narendra Modi has sought to do since he came to power in 2014 is to make up for lost time (1947-2014) and move systematically, step by step, towards that ignoble end. Hence his eloquent silence on the misdeeds of his followers. Barack and Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton were friends of Harvey Weinstein. They publicly denounced him to signify their dissociation from his crimes. Modi cannot do that to his followers. The RSS and he need each other badly, locked as they are in a deadly embrace.

A near century’s record has made the RSS what it is now. The prayer in Sanskrit which was introduced in 1939 to replace the Hindi-Marathi prayer is more explicit: “Affectionate Motherland, I eternally bow to you./ Land of Hindus, you have reared me in comfort./ Sacred Land, the Great Creator of Good, may this body of mine be dedicated to you/ I again and again bow before you./ God Almighty, we the integral parts of Hindu Rashtra salute you in reverence.”

The oath that every member has to take reads: “Before the All-Powerful God and my ancestors, I most solemnly take this oath, that I have become a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in order to achieve all-round greatness of Bharatvarsh by fostering the growth of my sacred Hindu religion, Hindu society and Hindu culture. I shall perform the work of the Sangh honestly, disinterestedly, with my heart and soul, and I shall adhere to this oath all my life. Bharat Mata ki Jai” (D.R. Goyal, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, Radhakrishna Prakashan, Daryaganj, New Delhi, pages 247-249; an able work). Instruction in the use of the lathi was part of the “group prayers” (Andersen and Damle, page 35).

Leader worship

The five who set up the body in 1925 did not even have a name in mind for the newborn. It was adopted on April 17 (Ram Navami Day) in 1926. Hedgewar was formally designated chief organiser (Chalak) on December 19, 1926. Appetite whetted, three years later he made himself the RSS’ dictator.

“In a meeting with the Sanghachalaks in Nagpur [November 9-10,1929], Hedgewar as chief once again personally declared that ‘from the point of view of internal discipline, the organisation should work under one leader who would mastermind the programmes’. For Hedgewar it became the sole principle of organisation as can be seen reiterated in an official circular in 1933, which he himself wrote: It is essential that the Swayamsewaks should implicitly obey the command of Sarsanghachalak. The Sangh should not reach a stage when tail should wag the body. That is the secret of the success of the Sangh. This obedience to the sole leader was soon turned into leader worship. In fact, it got institutionalised as early as 10 November, 1929, when in a full-fledged organisational meeting of RSS in Nagpur, Hedgewar was offered pranam or salutation in a true military style by the Swayamsewaks present” (Shamsul Islam, page 213). This fascist tradition has been continued to this day.

collaboration with the british

If the Congress was to be condemned and the Muslims excoriated, the Sangh Parivar (that is, the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS) plumped for the obvious third choice—collaborate with the British.

“Golwalkar believed that the British should not be given any excuse to ban the RSS. When the British banned military drill and the use of uniforms in all non-official organisations, the RSS complied. On 29 April 1943 Golwalkar distributed a circular to senior RSS figures, announcing the termination of the RSS military department. The wording of the circular reveals his apprehensions regarding the possibility of a ban on the RSS: ‘We discontinued practices included in the government’s early order on military drill and uniforms… to keep our work clearly within bounds of law, as every law abiding institution should. …Hoping that circumstances would ease early, we had in a sense only suspended that part of our training. Now, however, we decide to stop it altogether and abolish the department without waiting for the time to change.’

“Golwalkar was not a revolutionary in the conventional sense of the term. The British understood this. In an official report on RSS activity, prepared in 1943, the Home Department concluded that ‘it would be difficult to argue that the RSS constitutes an immediate menace to law and order…’. Commenting on the violence that accompanied the 1942 Quit India Movement, the Bombay Home Department observed, ‘The Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law, and in particular, has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August, 1942…’” (Andersen and Damle, page 44).

Savarkar’s many and abject apologies are well known: 1. Brought to the Andamans on July 4, 1911, he pleaded for clemency before the year ended.

2. In 1913, he offered to serve the government in any capacity it liked. He repeated this in 1914 and 1917.

3. On March 30, 1920, he filed another mercy petition ( Frontline, April 8, 2005).

4. He was released on January 6, 1924, on the condition that “he will not engage publicly or privately in any manner of political activities without the consent of the government” for five years. It was extended until 1937 when Home Minister K.M. Munshi released him.

5. On February 22, 1948, he gave an undertaking to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay to renounce politics in order to avert arrest for Gandhi’s murder.

6. On July 13, 1950, he gave another undertaking, this time to the Bombay High Court, saying he would not participate in politics.

The Second World War exposed the Parivar’s two top men in their true colours. Savarkar met the Viceroy Lord Linlithgow in Bombay on October 9, 1939, who duly recorded his offer. “The situation, he [Savarkar] said, was that His Majesty’s Government must now turn to the Hindus and work with their support. After all, though we and the Hindus have had a good deal of difficulty with one another in the past, that was equally true of the relations between Great Britain and the French and, as recent events had shown, of relations between Russia and Germany. Our interests were now the same and we must therefore work together. Even though now the most moderate of men, he had himself been in the past an adherent of a revolutionary party, as possibly, I might be aware. (I confirmed that I was.) But now that our interests were so closely bound together the essential thing was for Hinduism and Great Britain to be friends, and the old antagonism was no longer necessary” (Marzia Casolari, The Shade of the Swastika, page 172).

S.P. Mookerjee’s letter

The prize goes to Syama Prasad Mookerjee, erstwhile president of the Mahasabha and founder of the Jana Sangh under a pact with the RSS. In December 1941 he became a Minister in the Bengal Cabinet headed by Fazlul Haq, who had moved the Pakistan Resolution at the Muslim League’s session at Lahore in March 1940. On the eve of the Congress’ Quit India movement he wrote to the arch imperialist the Governor of Bengal Sir John Herbert in these fulsome terms: “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 feelings, resulting in internal disturbances or insecurity, must be resisted by any government that may function for the time being. …as regards India’s attitude towards England, the struggle between them, if any, should not take place at this juncture. The present war is being fought not for perpetuation of British domination over India. Old ideas of imperialism must be buried underground, and they are not going to revive, whatever the result of the present war may be.…

“The question is how to combat this movement in Bengal? The administration of the province should be carried on in such a manner that in spite of the best efforts of the Congress, this movement will fail to take root in the province. It should be possible for us, specially responsible ministers, to be able to tell the public that the freedom for which the Congress has started the movement, already belongs to the representatives of the people. In some spheres it might be limited during the emergency. Indians have to trust the British” (S.P. Mookerjee, Leaves from a Diary, pages 179 and 183). The Mahasabha had a representative in the Viceroy’s Executive Council, Sir Jwala Prasad Srivastava.

Bankim Chandra’s bias

The collaboration had an ideological besides a tactical basis. In his Autobiography of An Unknown Indian, Nirad C. Chaudhuri has aptly described the atmosphere of the times in which the song Bande Mataram was written. “The historical romances of Bankim Chatterjee and Romesh Chandra Dutt glorified Hindu rebellion against Muslim rule and showed the Muslims in a correspondingly poor light. Chatterjee was positively and fiercely anti-Muslim. We were eager readers of these romances and we readily absorbed their spirit.”

The historian R.C. Majumdar pithily puts it: “Bankimchandra converted patriotism into religion and religion into patriotism.” The novel Ananda Math, for which Bande Mataram was written, was not anti-British. In the last chapter, we find a supernatural figure persuading the leader of the sanyasis, Satyananda, to stop fighting. The dialogue that follows is interesting: “He: Your task is accomplished. The Muslim power is destroyed. There is nothing else for you to do. No good can come of needless slaughter.”

Anti-Muslim references are spread all over the work. Jivananda with sword in hand, at the gate of the temple, exhorts the children of Kali: “We have often thought to break up this bird’s nest of Muslim rule, to pull down the city of the renegades and throw it into the river—to turn this pigsty to ashes and make Mother earth free from evil again. Friends, that day has come.”

The use of the song “Bande Mataram” in the novel is not adventitious. It is essentially a religious homage to the country conceived as a deity, “a form of worship” as Majumdar aptly called it. The motherland is “conceived as the Goddess Kali, the source of all power and glory”.

This, in the song itself. The context makes it worse. “The land of Bengal, and by extension all of India, became identified with the female aspect of Hindu deity, and the result was a concept of divine Motherland” ( India as a Secular State by Donald Eugene Smith, 1963, Princeton University Press). How secular is such a song?

The refrain was picked up by Lajpat Rai, Madan Mohan Malaviya and others. In 1925, the year the RSS was born, Lala Hardyal wrote in the Pratap of Lahore: “I declare that the future of the Hindu race, of Hindustan and of the Punjab rests on those four pillars: 1. Hindu Sanghathan. 2. Hindu Raj. 3. Shuddhi of Muslims, and 4. Conquest and Shuddhi of Afghanistan and the Frontiers.” Savarkar and Hedgewar inherited that heritage, which successors like Modi & Co. are now carrying forward.

Repression of Muslims

Asoka Mehta wrote of the 1857 Mutiny: “When the rebellion began Hindus and Muslims participated in it in large numbers. …The hand of repression fell heavily on the Muslims. They were tattooed with terror” ( 1857, The Great Rebellion).

Muslims suffered the most, as Asoka Mehta acknowledged in his history. The British singled them out for hostile treatment, which was documented in the classic The Indian Musalmans (1871) by W.W. Hunter of the Bengal Civil Service. These lines give the flavour of the times: “The first of them, the Army, is now completely closed. No Muhammadan gentleman of birth can enter our Regiments; …Musalman element in the public services has gone on growing weaker every year, just as before. …There is now scarcely a government office in Calcutta in which a Muhammadan can hope for any post above the rank of porter, messenger, and filler of ink-pots and menders of pens. …Among the judges of Her Majesty’s High Court of Judicature in Bengal are two Hindus but no Musalman. Indeed, the idea of a High Court judge being taken from the race that once monopolised the whole administration of justice is inconceivable alike to Anglo-Indians and to Hindus at the present day. …In short, the Muhammadans have now sunk so low, that, even when qualified for government employment, they are studiously kept out of it by government notifications. Nobody takes any notice of their helpless condition, and the higher authorities do not deign even to acknowledge their existence. …Had the Musalmans been wise, they would have perceived the change, and accepted their fate.”

Thus the Muslims had no incentive or desire to collaborate with the British. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan advised them to shun politics and take to education. Others like Badruddin Tyabji and Jinnah joined the Congress and enriched the freedom movement. The first resolution for complete independence was moved in the Congress session of 1921 by the great poet Maulana Hasrat Mohani, a great admirer of Tilak. It said: “The object of the Indian National Congress is the attainment of Swaraj or complete independence free from all foreign control by the people of India by all legitimate and peaceful methods”. Gandhi strongly opposed it accusing the supporters of the motion of “levity”. It was defeated.

Dr K.C. Kanda’s volume has poems galore by Muslims and, of course, Hindus on independence, including a poem by Ashfaqullah Khan who was hanged in 1927 for his role in the Kakori train robbery case.

Dr Shamsul Islam has compiled a documented record in Muslims against Partition of India (Pharos Media, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi, pages 249, Rs.280). It has a foreword by the distinguished historian Harbans Makhia.

Muslims opposed the British rulers. The Sangh Parivar collaborated with them. Who is “anti-national”? The record speaks for itself. The betrayal of Indian nationalism by the Parivar continues still, as its pracharak Narendra Modi ousts it to spread Hindu nationalism, longing all the time for American support. They replaced the British.

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