RSS fundamentally non-political
Response to Vidya Subramaniam
Vidya Subramaniam’s article titled “The Forgotten Promise of 1949” in The Hindu (October 8, 2013), is premised on two historical assertions. First is that the RSS was banned in February 1948 not because of complicity in Gandhiji’s murder but because of its involvement in “violence and subversion” that created the atmosphere for Gandhiji’s death. The second claim is that the RSS’s written constitution and its commitment to be non-political are a result of MS Golwalkar’s acceptance of Sardar Patel’s firm precondition for lifting the ban. Both these statements are factually incorrect. The most serious deficiency in Ms. Subramaniam’s article is that it quotes selectively from communications from the Government and Sardar Patel without any reference to how the RSS and Golwalkar reacted to these communications and the allegations contained in them.
It needs to be emphasised at the very outset that the ban on RSS was lifted by the Government unconditionally and this was the official position of the Government itself. On October 14, 1949, a member of the Bombay Legislature, Lallubhai Makanji Patel, asked the Home Minister Morarji Desai on the floor of the House— “Whether the lifting of the ban is conditional or unconditional? (and) Whether the leaders of the RSS have given any undertaking to the Government?” Answering on behalf of Morarji Desai, Dinkarrao Desai said “it was unconditional” for the first question and “No” for the second one. Having accused RSS of the most heinous crimes including dacoity and arson, Congressmen all across the country were finding it difficult to explain sudden lifting of the ban. Purely as a face-saver, rumour was spread that the ban was lifted only because RSS gave some kind of an undertaking to control its activities within the framework of a Constitution, whose terms were set by the Government. Sardar Patel has never acknowledged the existence of any such undertaking and, more importantly, Golwalkar stoutly denied it. When asked by a journalist if there was any secret undertaking, Golwalkar replied, “I would have preferred to lay down my life than do anything derogatory to this great organisation. There was no compromise, there was no undertaking…” If Sardar Patel had indeed “won out” in securing an undertaking before lifting the ban, as Subramaniam claims, wouldn’t he have contradicted such an assertion from Golwalkar? Also, would a government which justified the ban with such grave charges as “arson, robbery, dacoity, and murder” be so meekly satisfied that it would lift the ban on the basis of some undertaking?
So let us consider why exactly the government lifted the ban. This is what the Government communiqué, which banned RSS on February 4, 1948, said: “It has been found that in several parts of the country individual members of Rashtriya Swayamsevak 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 fire arms, to create disaffection against the Government and suborn the Police and the Military.” This was five days after Gandhiji’s assassination. Just three weeks before the assassination, on January 6, 1948, Sardar Patel issued a statement that was directly contrary to what was mentioned about the Sangh in the ban-communiqué. Targeting his own party men, he said “In the Congress those who are in power feel that by virtue of their authority they will be able to crush the RSS by danda (force)…danda is meant for dacoits and thieves…The RSS men are not thieves and dacoits. They are patriots…only their trend of thought is diverted” (The Hindu, Madras dated January 7, 1948).
It was clear that of these Congressmen “in power”, Nehru was foremost in wanting to use the danda against the RSS. Even just before Gandhiji’s assassination, on January 29, at Amritsar, Nehru had vowed to “demolish” the RSS. Gandhiji’s assassination was just an excuse. The charged atmosphere following the assassination strengthened the hands of those who had been against the RSS from much before. The recently published compilation of correspondences between Nehru and Patel titled Nehru-Patel: Agreement Within Differences reveals the serious differences that existed between the two leaders regarding the RSS. Some correspondences also reveal that Patel was miffed with Nehru’s interference with Home Ministry affairs. Therefore, it is highly likely that the ban was a result of only Nehru’s instigation as Sardar Patel, who said “RSS men are not thieves and dacoits” just weeks before, could not have been party to a communiqué which describes the RSS as thieves and dacoits.
It needs to be pointed out that soon after the ban Golwalkar issued a statement disbanding the RSS in abidance of the law. Right from the date of the ban and his subsequent arrest, Golwalkar had been writing letters after letters challenging the government to prove any of the allegations contained in the ban-communiqué. In a letter dated November 3, he told Nehru that it is most unfair to “level charges…allow private individuals and parties to carry on a campaign of vilification against us under cover of the Government bail and at the same time gag us by use of Emergency Legislations like Public Safety Acts.” He repeatedly challenged Nehru and Patel to either provide evidence in support of the allegations or lift the ban. In a letter addressed to Nehru, Golwalkar pointedly asked “if really the Central and Provincial Government are in possession of incriminating evidence against the RSS or certain of its members, is it not right to expect at least a few successful prosecutions against the alleged wrong-doers?” After initially refusing to respond to several letters, Nehru wrote to Golwalkar on November 10, 1948 shifting the entire responsibility to the Home Ministry and declining Golwalkar’s request to meet him. It was therefore left entirely to Patel to defend the continuance of the ban. Patel did write a scathing letter to Golwalkar on August 11, the letter which forms the cornerstone of Vidya Subramaniam’s piece. However in a letter written soon thereafter Patel claimed that the ban was only a result of feedback from provincial governments and urged the Sangh “to adopt fresh lines of technique and policy (which) can be only according to the rules of the Congress.” Patel was reiterating his old demand that the RSS should merge with the Congress.
As months passed, the inability of the Government to prove anything substantial against the Sangh made the case for continuance of the ban extremely tenuous. The enthusiasm with which RSS workers recommenced activities for the brief period that Golwalkar decided defy the ban convinced the Government that the ban had made no dent to the morale of the swayamsevaks.Eminent personalities from various fields began to speak against the ban. Bharat Ratna awardee Dr Bhagawan Das wrote on October 16, 1948, “I have been reliably informed that a number of youths of the RSS… were able to inform Sardar Patel and Nehruji in the very nick of time of the Leagues’ intended ‘coup’ on September 10, 1947, ….If these…self-sacrificing boys had not given the very timely information ….there would have been no Government of India today, the whole country would have changed its name into Pakistan…what is the net result of all this long story? Simply this—that our Government should utilise, and not sterilise, the patriotic energies of the lakhs of RSS youths.”
Another eminent person, TR Venkatarama Shastri, former Advocate General of Madras, decided to play a more active part in convincing the Government about the unreasonableness of the ban. He went to Delhi and met Sardar Patel. It was to Shastri that the Government first broached the issue of a written constitution for the Sangh. While Golwalkar did feel that this requirement was unnecessary and even unfair, in principle he did not have any difficulty in accepting the suggestion. The constitution was drafted by the RSS leadership, not based on any terms set by the Government, but based on a note prepared by the founder, Dr Hedgewar. The Government began to dither on the issue. First HVR Iyengar, Secretary to the Government of India, objected to the manner in which the draft was sent. Then he objected to the language used by Golwalkar in answering the objections raised by the Government to some provisions of the Draft. Finally when it became clear that the Government was not serious on lifting the ban, Shastri decided to write a detailed statement indicting the Government for its duplicity. This statement, which was given to the press on July 9, was scheduled to be published in The Hindu on July 13. On the night of July 12, 1949 news flashed on the All India Radio that ban on RSS was lifted.
The Government did raise some objections to the content of the draft Constitution sent by Golwalkar. However the commitment to remain out of politics was never a bone of contention because the stipulation was very much a part of the original draft sent on behalf of the RSS. The RSS was envisaged by Dr Hedgewar as a non-political outfit right from inception and any stipulation to this effect in the written constitution had nothing to do with Sardar Patel’s insistence. In fact when Dr Hedgewar chose to take part in Congress’s Non-Cooperation movement in 1931 in individual capacity.
Therefore the ‘condition’ that the RSS should have a written constitution was only a face saver for a government which was facing an insurmountable task in justifying the ban. More importantly, the non-political nature of the Sangh was part of its founding principles and had nothing to do with Patel’s insistence. Vidya Subramaniam’s article is one-sided and is factually incorrect.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected]).