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Not a negative role - The Hindustan Times

Rakesh Sinha ()
5 September 1997

Title: Not a negative role
Author: Rakesh Sinha
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: September 5, 1997

Ideological predisposition has been a predominant factor in evaluating the
role of various groups and individuals in the freedom struggle. Marxist and
subaltern historians, who are ideologically poles apart from the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have bracketed it with the Hindu Mahasabha and
other Hindu organisations formed at various stages of the anti-imperialist
struggle, questioning its independent identity, presumably to deride its
clout in post-independent India.

The reality is different. Nagpur, where the RSS was first organised in
1925, was prone to Hindu-Muslim riots. When a riot broke out in 1927, the
RSS acted as deterrent to the outbreak instead of playing an offensive role
and unleashing anti-Muslim propaganda which was expected by a section of
local Hindu leaders and apprehended by the Muslims. This removed the
suspicion from the Muslim mind against the RSS whose presence in the
Central Provinces (CP) thereupon evoked no protest from the Muslim population.

It was none other than a Muslim member of the CP Council who refuted the
allegation that the RSS was a communal organisation. During the debate on
the RSS in the Council in March 1934, M. S. Rahman said, "no sane Muslim
would take any exception to any Hindu organisation provided its object is
not aggressive and militant, but simply the betterment of the Hindu
community as a whole". He asked the Government whether "any Muslim
organisation had sent a representation to the Government calling upon the
Government to ban the RSS?"

The leader of the House Raghavendra Rao said that there had not been any
representation by any Muslim organisation against the RSS. Moreover, in
pre-independent India barring a few stray incidents confined to Hyderabad,
Lahore and Rawalpindi, there had not been single incident of violence
between the RSS volunteers and the Muslims till 1945.

The lukewarm response of the RSS to the Hindu Mahasabha's political agenda
led the latter to form its own volunteer organisations the Hindu Militia
and the Ram Sena. The RSS was increasingly seen by many Hindu organisers
including Savarkar and Moonje as too ineffectual to counter Muslim
aggressiveness. Thus, a large number of volunteer organisations, for
instance the Mahavir Dal and Agni Dal in UP and Punjab, Hindu Rashtra Dal
in Poona, Hindu Rashtra Sena in Bhopal, Mukteshwar Dal and Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Mandal in the CP, Shakti Dal in Jabalpur and Hindu Rashtriya
Sena in Giridih in Bihar, were formed to fight "Muslim domination."

The RSS came into existence in between the two great anti-colonial
movements - the non-cooperation movement and the civil disobedience
movement. While the Muslim question was dominant on the political agenda
of the Hindu Mahasabha, the only ideology that the RSS recognised was
anti-colonialism. Despite the commonalities of views on many issues with
the Mahasabha, the RSS preferred the Congress as the prime platform for the
anti-colonial struggle. The RSS leaders had a long association with the
Congress. K. B. Hedgewar, the founder Sarsanghchalak, joined the Congress
in 1919, the year he was assigned the responsibility to collect funds for
the Hindi journal to be published by the Provincial Congress.

On the question of cooperation with Gandhi, he differed with the followers
of Tilak who were working under the auspices of the Rashtriya Mandal and
formed a separate organisation, the Nagpur National Union. The Union under
his leadership prepared detailed programmes for non-cooperation and sent it
to the special Calcutta session of the Congress in 1920. When the
non-cooperation movement was launched in 1921, Gandhi faced resistance from
prominent followers of Tilak like B. G. Khaparde and Moonje and others.
However, the young troika of Nagpur - Hedgewar, M. R. Cholkar and Saimulla
Khan - captured the leadership of the movement. It was under them that the
movement got a wider social base as the lower caste weaving communities -
Koshtis and Momins - participated on a large scale.

Hedgewar formed the non-cooperation board to train volunteers to spread the
message of non-cooperation in the CP. He was arrested for making
"seditious" speeches and sent to jail. During his trial, he questioned the
locus standi of a foreigner to try an Indian patriot and asked, "Is there
any law by which people of one country have the right to rule over the
country of others?"

After the formation of the RSS, Hedgewar evolved the convention by which
RSS cadres could join hands with the Congress and sometimes with the
Mahasabha against the British in their "individual capacity". The
anti-Simon Commission movement in the CP was led virtually by RSS leaders.
By 1928 the RSS had 18 shakhas mostly confined to Nagpur and Wardha. The CP
Congress (Marathi) was headed by Harekrishna Joshi who was general
secretary of the provincial committee and was also Sanghchalak of the
Wardha unit of the RSS.

However, the fight between the Moonje and Abhyankar factions led the All
India Congress Committee to intervene and it was at this juncture that both
Hedgewar and Joshi withdrew from the Congress. The withdrawal was from
factional politics of the Congress, not from its programmes as the RSS
cadres and leaders participated in all subsequent movements of the Congress.

The Congress in its Lahore session passed a resolution for "complete
Independence". The RSS extended uninhibited support to the Congress. It
issued a circular to all 37 shakhas which stated, "the Indian National
Congress too has adopted our goal of Independence... through the speeches
it should be explained what is the meaning of Independence and why should
we work with this end in view. lie rallies should conclude with
complimenting the Congress for accepting the goal of Independence."

The civil disobedience movement was launched in the CP in the form of the
forest satyagraha in which the RSS participated on a massive scale. One of
the RSS leaders, Martanda Jog, designated as Senapati (commander-in-chief),
was made captain of the volunteers' group. He violated the law by reading
proscribed literature at a public meeting in Nagpur. Hedgewar gave up the
responsibility of Sarsanghchalak to participate in the movement and so did
the other central office-bearers. Maharashtra, a popular Marathi daily of
Nagpur, reported that when Hedgewar proceeded to inaugurate the satyagraha
he was accompanied by thousands of people including seven to eight hundred
women. He and other RSS workers were arrested.

The anti-imperialist character of the RSS and its unconditional support to
the Congress movement appalled the British administration which made the
first serious attempt to suppress it soon after the civil disobedience
movement died out. At the end of 1932 the CP government issued a circular
prohibiting government employees and their wards from participating in or
associating with the RSS on the plea that it was "political and communal

In December 1933 its scope was extended to the employees and teachers of
local bodies. The Government wanted to give it a communal colour since the
Local Self-Government Minister was a Muslim. However, the Sangh did not
make it a communal issue and targeted the colonial rule. During the budget
session in March 1934, a member of the Council, V. D. Kolte, put up a cut
motion against the government's circular. This led to a four-hour
discussion during which all the speakers belonging to Brahmin, non-Brahmin
and Muslim communities appreciated the work and ideology of the RSS.

A Home department report in 1940 said, "the organisation is intensely
anti-British and its tone is increasingly becoming militant." The CID
report revealed that RSS volunteers were "introduced into various
departments of Government such as the army, navy, postal, telegraph,
railway and administrative services in order that they there may be no
difficulty in capturing administrative departments when the time comes."

The RSS chief M. S. Golwalkar, who succeeded Hedgewar after his death in
1940, suggested indoctrination of government employees and his speech in
the Poona Officers Training Camp (OTC) of the RSS on May 3, 1942 was
reported by the CID saying that, "the Sangh resolved to stand on its own
legs, not minding any opposition. It was not possible to get swaraj by
begging it from foreigners and this could only be achieved by strength."
The history of the RSS, spanning more than two decades before India's
independence, is one of active participation in the anti-colonial struggle
and unconditional cooperation not only with the Congress but also with any
other group committed to the liberation of the motherland.

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