Essay

Servile Sangh

Print edition : August 21, 2015

Madhukar Dattareya Deoras, also known as Balasaheb Deoras, was RSS chief from 1973 to 1994. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Morarji Desai (left) with Jayaprakash Narayan and L.K. Advani in January 1977. Advani has made it clear that the BJP never broke with its Jana Sangh past notwithstanding the 1977 merger with the Janata Party. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with Vinoba Bhave at his Pusa Ashram in Bihar in September 1966. Deoras pleaded with Bhave to impress on the Prime Minister that the jailed RSS volunteers should be freed. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Madhu Limaye, as Janata Party general secretary, noticed the Jana Sangh's duplicitous role and opposed dual membership in order to thwart RSS designs. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Letters written by RSS leaders to the Prime Minister seeking release from jail during the Emergency reveal the opportunistic side of the Sangh, ready to make compromises to stay on the right side of power.

The Jana Sangh is the “illegitimate child of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh]”, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said on January 5, 1952, shortly after the RSS founded it on October 21, 1951 ( The Hindu; January 6, 1952). In 1986, L.K. Advani made plain that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), far from breaking with the Jana Sangh, which in 1977 had merged with the Janata Party, was in fact its reincarnation three years later on April 5, 1980. He characterised as a wrong assumption that the BJP had abandoned the Jana Sangh-RSS ethos. “Let it not be forgotten that the genesis of the BJP lay in the Janata Party resolution that the Janata members should have nothing to do with the RSS.”

Why, then, did it not adopt the honest course of reviving the Jana Sangh itself? Instead, it adopted a deceitful course, which comes naturally to the Sangh Parivar. It stole the Janata Party’s name, with the prefix “Bharatiya” and even adopted “Gandhian socialism” as its credo. Before long, this credo was dumped as was the first president, the mukhota or mascot Atal Bihari Vajpayee. On May 19, 1986, Advani became president and all pretence to secularism or “Gandhian socialism” was abandoned. The BJP’s “vision of India … cannot be divorced from our Hindu background”—which, presumably, its showboy Muslim members and fellow travellers heartily share.

Advani’s remarks, made in an interview to Sumit Chakravarty, then Special Correspondent of The Daily (Bombay) and now editor of Mainstream, were reproduced in full in Mainstream of June 7, 1986. It is necessary to recall the genealogy of the BJP and study closely the DNA of the RSS, which gave birth to it and has now tightened its control over it. For, beneath the revival of the Jana Sangh in the new garb of the Bharatiya Janata Party lay two still deeper frauds that bear recalling today.

One consisted in the Jana Sangh’s duplicitous role in the Janata Party. It sought to capture the party by a massive RSS-organised membership enrolment programme. This was noticed by Madhu Limaye, the astute socialist general secretary of the Janata Party. A detailed expose was published in 1979 in the Hindi weekly Ravivar edited by a committed secularist and fearless journalist, S.P. Singh. His untimely death at a young age was a cruel blow to Indian journalism. An English translation was published in Janata of August 8, 2010. It was founded in Bombay (now Mumbai) by Jayaprakash Narayan and has been edited in recent decades by his dedicated and selfless follower, Dr G.G. Parikh. Lyla Bavadam has described in this magazine the stupendous work he has done for rural uplift in Panvel.

Limaye recalled that “through a letter by Manubhai Patel that was circulated among all of us in jail, we learnt that on 7 July 1976 Choudhary Charan Singh had raised the issue of a possible clash of interests because of dual membership when members of the RSS also became members of the new party. In response, the then acting general secretary of the Jana Sangh, Om Prakash Tyagi, had said that the proposed party should feel free to formulate whatever membership criteria it wanted. He even said that since the RSS, having faced many constraints, had been dissolved anyway, the question of RSS membership did not arise.”

The minutes confirm this account. On July 8, 1976, leaders of the opposition parties met in New Delhi. Paragraph 4 of the minutes reads: “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.” (Dhirendra Sharma (ed.); The Janata (Peoples’) Struggle; A Philosophy and Social Action Publication 1977; page 305).

Deoras’ plea for pardon

In 1977 the RSS reneged on its promise. But Limaye referred to a still bigger fraud, which is forgotten today. It was the RSS’ chieftain Madhukar Dattatreya Deoras’ clandestine and desperate efforts in prison, during the Emergency, cringingly to plead with Indira Gandhi for her pardon and persuade her to lift the ban on the RSS and release him and his members from prison. The public is aware of the arrests and detentions of the Jana Sangh’s leaders like Vajpayee, Advani and others. But few know of this sordid episode.

Limaye wrote: “These people pleaded for pardon while in prison. Deoras congratulated Indira Gandhi when the Supreme Court ruled in her favour in the Raj Narain [election to the Lok Sabha] case. So I have no faith in the utterances of these people.”

That “victory” in court was not on the merits of the case. It was due entirely to her changing the election law retrospectively in her favour, precisely the very point on which the upright Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court had ruled against her. Section 8A was inserted in the Representation of the People Act, 1951. It is utterly disgusting to find in 2015 lawyers who belatedly cast aspersions on that balanced judgment. One example will suffice. He disbelieved the evidence on oath of all three—Indira Gandhi, her former Principal Secretary and close adviser P.N. Haksar, and her family retainer Yashpal Kapoor. But he used strong language for Yashpal; less so for Haksar; and a brief, polite rejection for Indira Gandhi. The judge died an unsung hero.

Limaye’s brief account in 1979 was preceded by two full and authoritative disclosures of unimpeachable credentials. One was by an eyewitness and a man of high integrity, Baba Adhav, a socialist and labour leader of Pune who was in Yervada Jail, where Deoras was also lodged. His eyewitness account was published in Secular Democracy (August 1977) and in Janata (September 16, 1979). He testified: “Written queries were circulated in the Yervada Central Jail three or four times asking detenues if they would be prepared to sign an undertaking. I have seen with my own eyes a majority of the RSS detenues signing their assent to do so” ( Janata, September 16, 1979). The RSS organ Panchjanya enthusiastically welcomed Sanjay Gandhi’s entry into politics (December 21, 1975) and praised him more than once. So did Tarun Bharat of Pune.

The other damning evidence is in the letters Deoras wrote to Indira Gandhi from prison. Chief Minister S.B. Chavan placed them on the table of Maharashtra’s Legislative Assembly on October 18, 1977. Nor is that all. Deoras wrote also to Vinoba Bhave, seeking his help. Bhave was never against the Prime Minister, to put it mildly. In his able work Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (Radha Krishna Prakashan P. Ltd.; 2000), D.R. Goyal has quoted Baba Adhav’s article in extenso (pages 139-143). It reads thus:

“Demonstration of self-eulogisation is all-pervading [in 1977 after the Emergency]. But are the claims made by the RSS true? Though among the detenus under MISA [Maintenance of Internal Security Act] the number of RSS men was large, many Sanghites proclaimed that they were detained though they had no connection either with the anti-emergency agitation or JP’s movement.

“In fact, many of them upheld the Emergency rule. ‘JP has instigated the armed forces,’ they used to tell in their jail ‘ boudhik’. There was in effect no opposition to Indira-Sanjay politics, certainly not from their side. In fact, Sanjay Gandhi’s anti-communist, laissez-faire and authoritarian views were hailed by them.

“The pro-Sangh daily of Poona, Tarun Bharat, had made consistent efforts to hail Sanjay Gandhi. Their only regret was that, instead of accepting the cooperation of the RSS to implement the 20-point programme, the organisation was banned. There were severe attacks by Indira Gandhi not only on the RSS but also the educational institutions run by them. Poor Sanghites were feeling restless over this, and their ‘ideological’ doldrum was indeed pathetic. …

“It is surprising that Deoras should say that Sangh workers had not surrendered. I do not know about the prisons elsewhere, but at Yervada and other jails in Maharashtra I know what happened. There used to be several meetings, debates and discussions. Also there was a lot of correspondence. The chief Deoras had good deal of correspondence with the former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Shankarrao Chavan, Vinoba Bhave and close associates of Sanjay Gandhi. In a press conference at Delhi he confessed about the two letters sent to Indira Gandhi. Journalists might have seen the copies of those letters. Balasaheb has sent one letter to Indira Gandhi on her birthday and another congratulating her on her exoneration by the Supreme Court.

“For felicitating her on birthday one should not berate Deoras, but what about the sin of congratulating her for arbitrarily amending the Constitution and ‘managing success at the Supreme Court’? Throughout the period of his detention, Deoras was desperate to have a dialogue and an interview with Indira Gandhi. As far as I know, he contacted many people including the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra for this.

“In February 1976, Indira Gandhi visited Bombay and in order to meet her, he got himself moved to St George Hospital (Bombay), pretending illness. Through Shankarrao Chavan, an effort was made to see her, failing which a meeting with Shankarrao Chavan was sought by one Jana Sangh MLA outside the jail. However, if these efforts were not successful, it was not for want of will. To convince Shankarrao Chavan, he was approached repeatedly.

“That signing an undertaking was a part of this effort is known to all the prisoners in Yervada jail. The following pro-forma of the written undertaking signed by these ‘freedom fighters’ brings into sharp relief their cowardice;

Shri……………… Detenue Class I ……. prison agrees 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.

“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. The pro-forma of this undertaking was agreed upon by those outsiders after conferring with the CM [the irony is that even among those who had signed the undertaking very few were released]. By contrast freedom fighters like Shribhau Limaye and Dasrath Patil unequivocally refused to sign. Moreover, in their letter they rebuked the then CM that it was an insult to demand such an undertaking from freedom-fighters.

“The directive of the ‘struggle committee’ outside jails was that the RSS and Jana Sangh people should not sign such an undertaking. This was conveyed to them by S.M. Joshi. However, the directive was ignored. Ultimately, the letter of JP was sent in. At Nasik jail the socialists decided that this undertaking should not be given. There was division between the RSS and Jana Sangh on the one hand and the socialists on the other. A senior leader of the RSS, Baba Bhide, used to address boudhik in which he always supported the Emergency and emphasised that he had nothing to do with the anti-Emergency struggle. Balasaheb Deoras himself said that ‘had the government not banned the RSS, its volunteers would not have gone to jail in such large numbers by resorting to satyagraha’.

“During this period there were several moves at Delhi level. It is quite likely that appeals were made to Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi to intervene. Indeed, Deoras has admitted to have done so through Vinoba Bhave. Going a step further they convened a meeting in Kashmir in which they even decided to make a change in the organisation and modus operandi of the RSS. Instead of Sar Sangh Chalak (the chief), a president was to be elected and admission to non-Hindus was decided upon and conveyed to Sanjay Gandhi. In this connection a Jana Sangh leader of Delhi, Hans Raj Gupta, is mentioned. The information on what exactly transpired between the two is buried in silence.

“The reason for writing at such length about the RSS is that Deoras is masquerading that the RSS alone was the front-rank fighter in the anti-emergency struggle. The issue of undertaking was consigned to oblivion. To make their task easier, the government brought forward a ‘memorandum’. This was no different from securing conditional release:

Sir,

Your case for detention has been reviewed by this government and it has been decided that the detention should be revoked subject to the condition, that, you shall not participate in activities prejudicial to the present emergency and subject to good behaviour. You are requested to please note it.

Yours faithfully,

Sd/-

Section Officer Home Dept.

Govt. of Maharashtra



“Many detenus opted for this recourse. Some of the RSS people took a legal stance and argued what was wrong in giving such an undertaking. Later, the ailing, the crippled, and the aged and those who have decided to withdraw from public life were allowed to opt for conditional release. Even this decision was taken independently of the RSS-Jana Sangh group. Even though it is unpleasant history it has to be made public for exposing the tall of claims of the RSS.”

Letters to Vinoba Bhave

This alone suffices to expose the Sangh Parivar for what it is. Deoras pleaded with Vinoba Bhave in two obsequious letters which began with the refrain “At the feet of Respected Acharya Vinobaji”, one on January 12, 1976, and another soon after. The purpose was clearly stated. “It has been published in the newspapers that the Hon’ble Prime Minister is going to meet you at the Pavnar Ashram on the 24th. Discussion relating to the present-day situation of our country will be held. 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. Praying for your blessings.”

The man stooped so low as to offer his and his RSS’ support “to participate in the planned programme of action” she had had unfolded in justification of the Emergency.

Now for Deoras’ letters to Indira Gandhi. Not once did he ask her to lift the Emergency, release Jayaprakash Narayan and other leaders, including Vajpayee and Advani, lift the censorship on the press and revoke the orders banning public meetings. The letters concerned him and his outfit alone. Earnest entreaties and fulsome praise were plied with promises of support. Deoras’ first letter of August 25, 1975, to the Prime Minister began with praise for her speech (“balanced”) of August 15, 1975. It ended thus: “I beseech you to rescind the ban imposed on the RSS. I would be pleased [ sic.] to meet you if you so desire.” Another followed, then another on July 16, 1976. It said: “Your efforts to improve the [ sic.] relations with Pakistan and China are also praiseworthy.”

To S.B. Chavan, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, 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.” On January 24, 1976, he complained of the undertakings; sotto voce his green signal went out to the Sanghis, as Baba Adhav discovered. On June 16, 1976, he had even “asked for release on parole with a view to clarifying certain issues directly with you”. Parole is given on terms, as he well knew. This letter was written by an RSS lawyer, V.N. Bhide, no doubt on Deoras’ instructions. It reveals a lot. “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 6 July 1976, Rule 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.”

Abject apologies from prison are in the good Sangh Parivar tradition. Its hero, V.D. Savarkar, wrote many to the British rulers—in 1911, on November 14, 1913, and on May 9, 1925, to name a few. The last was sent to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay, on February 22, 1948, shortly after Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, a crime in which, as Justice J.L. Kapur of the Supreme Court held, Savarkar was very much complicit. Advani got his portrait hung in the Central Hall of Parliament to face that of the man he had conspired to kill.

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