Balasaheb’s life is a history of the first seventy years of the Sangh. He was probably the only Sangh worker who played a key role in all the three bans that the Sangh has faced till now. He was the practical manifestation of Sangh philosophy.
The evolution of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has become a subject of great interest. Though the Sangh has never conceived itself as an organisation distinct from society, the relation between the Sangh and the society it seeks to organise has undergone enormous transformation over the years. The initial phases of indifference, ridicule, mistrust and hostility have given way to acceptance, support and participation. The widespread support that the Sangh enjoys from diverse sections of the society has not come about by accident. It is imperative to study the evolution of the Sangh to understand how this transformation has come about.
The basic character and working of the Sangh has been largely defined during the tenure of the first three Sarsanghachalaks—Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1925-1940), Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar who was popularly known as Shri Guruji (1940-1973) and Madhukar Dattatreya popularly known as Balasaheb Deoras (1973- 1994). They gave direction to the Sangh in their capacity as philosophers and guides of the organisation. Analysts have designated their tenures as the ‘Hedgewar’ ‘Golwalkar’ and ‘Deoras’ eras as though they are water-tight compartments. This designation stems from a flawed assumption that a vast organisation such as the Sangh can be run arbitrarily by a single individual. Fact is that every major decision in the Sangh, right from its name, organisational framework to its priority areas has been a collective one, after considering the views of the workers at the ground level. Both Shri Guruji and Balasaheb were involved in the decision-making process from 1935 onwards during the time of Dr Hedgewar.
The first three Sarsanghchalaks have also been characterised respectively as political, spiritual and social. It is undeniable that each leader had his dominant personality traits. Dr Hedgewar was a revolutionary who agreed with the notion that politics is indispensable to a nation in bondage. In contrast to the ‘political astute’ Shri Deoras and the ‘saintly’ Shri Guruji are presumed to be oblivious to the nuances of electoral politics. That Balasaheb possessed remarkable political and social acumen is a fact. It is also a fact that Shri Guruji had disdain, even contempt for electoral politics. But that does not mean that he was politically naive.
Evolution in parallel
Amongst the first three Sarsanghachalaks, Balasaheb was unique in one respect. Before founding the Sangh in 1925, Dr Hedgewar had participated in various public fora. Shri Guruji came in contact with the Sangh after his personality had been formed. Thus, both Dr Hedgewar and Shri Guruji had a non-Sangh public background. Balasaheb was unique in that from his formative years, he had known nothing but the Sangh. He was entirely and completely a product of the Sangh.
The Sangh was founded in 1925. Balasaheb was initiated into the Sangh in 1926, a mere lad of 11. Like many teenagers, the young Bal Deoras came under Dr Hedgewar’s spell. Slowly, qualities such as steadfastness in thought, ability to express complex ideas simply but clearly, foresight, meticulous planning, devotion to duty, large-heartedness, ability to win people seeped into Balasaheb. The Sangh was growing and so were Balasaheb’s responsibilities. It was as if Dr Hedgewar was gauging this promising youngster who in turn seemed to pass the tests with apparent ease. The first-ever training camp for seventeen Sangh instructors was conducted in 1927. That started a tradition that continues today. Balasaheb completed his three years Sangh training in Officers’ Training Camps or OTC (now referred to as Sangh Shiksha Vargs) in 1928, 1929 and 1930. Dr. Hedgewar was now looking to expand the Sangh from the confines of the Mohite Wada to different area of Nagpur. In 1932, he deputed Martand Rao Mulmule, Purushottam Ramchandra alias Bhaiyyasaheb Khandvekar and Balasaheb to start a Shakha in the Itwari area of Nagpur. Balasaheb became Shakha Karyavaha. The first-ever OTC in Western Maharashtra was held in Pune in April 1937. Balasaheb was appointed Mukhya Shikshak of that Camp.
Balasaheb’s energy for the Sangh power-house
Nagpur was the power-house that sent Pracharaks to different parts of the country. But guess who provided the energy for the Sangh power-house in Nagpur? If credit be given to one individual for sending waves of Pracharaks from Nagpur, it was the Nagpur Karyavaha Balasaheb! Though technically Balasaheb was only Secretary for Nagpur, his sheer dedication and dynamism ensured that his post assumed a pan-India significance.
Even after becoming Sarsanghachalak, Balasaheb would keep a close eye on the Sangh work in Nagpur. He insisted that Nagpur should lead by example not only for Sangh work but even for Sangh-inspired organisations throughout the country. Balasaheb’s questions regarding Sangh work in Nagpur would be precise and piercing. To a worker who said that four new Shakhas had started functioning in Nagpur in the previous month, Balasaheb who was then all-Bharat General Secretary, asked, “Have you visited these Shakhas or are you simply giving me a report?”
A week-long historic meeting of chosen Sangh workers started on February 20, 1939 in Sindi, a small village in Wardha district. The meeting discussed the working of the Sangh. It was in this meeting that Balasaheb chalked out the ‘Aachar Paddhati’ (code of conduct or decorum) of the Sangh at Dr Hedgewar’s behest. The practice of singing inspirational songs in the Sangh was initiated by Balasaheb. It was his conviction that the philosophy and practice of the Sangh can be expressed and understood effectively through such songs.
After the untimely demise of Dr Hedgewar on June 21, 1940, Balasaheb and his young colleagues would spend hours crying inconsolably at Dr Hedgewar’s Samadhi. On one such occasion, Balasaheb grimly placed his hand on the Samadhi and solemnly pledged, “Dr Hedgewar is not dead. He is alive. The Sangh shall not stop. We shall do Sangh work unto our last breath. Doctor, we shall carry your work forward. Henceforth, the mantle of the Sangh shall be carried by these young shoulders.” Balasaheb’s words shook his colleagues into action. After Dr Hedgewar’s death, there were some who doubted the ability of the then inexperienced Shri Guruji to lead the Sangh. Among those who pacified such doubting souls were Dr Hedgewar’s uncle Moreshwar Shridhar alias Abaji Hedgewar, Vidarbha Prant Sanghachalak Hari Krishna alias Appaji Joshi and Balasaheb. In the first-ever massive camp of 1,300 swayamsevaks of Vidarbha Prant held in December 1946 at Baradwari near Nagpur, Shri Guruji was to deliver the valedictory speech. Unexpectedly, he told the assembled swayamsevaks, “Balasaheb, due to whom people respect me as Sarsanghachalak and due to whose tireless efforts and guidance this camp has been brilliantly organised shall now deliver the concluding speech.”
The eventful years from 1940-1949 saw Balasaheb play a stellar role for the Sangh. The construction of the Mahal office of the Sangh (1941-1945), the negotiations with the Nehru Government over the ban on the Sangh, the drafting of the Sangh constitution and the first foray of the Sangh into the field of journalism in the form of acquisition of the Nagpur daily ‘Tarun Bharat’ are a tribute to Balasaheb’s organisational skills.
Ideal conduct in inactivity
Mention has been made of the internal turbulence in the Sangh after the 1948 ban. The Shakha-centric work of the Sangh made many workers restless. The daily routine of the Shakha seemed slow-moving and endless. After his release from jail in 1949, Shri Guruji was accorded a phenomenal welcome throughout the country. Some workers mistook this for electoral support. Shri Guruji warned them against harbouring such illusions.
The results of the 1952 General Elections came as a rude shock to those who had unrealistic notions about the Sangh’s popularity. The timing and intensity of involvement of the Sangh’s forays into different fields of national life became a subject of intense debate within the Sangh. It was in this period of 1953-1960 that Balasaheb withdrew from all responsibilities in the Sangh. He continued to stay in the Sangh office. He would regularly attend all functions in Sangh uniform. Many are the Sangh workers who have displayed ideal conduct while active. Balasaheb is unique in that he displayed ideal conduct even in the period when he was not active.
The demise of Shri Guruji on June 5, 1973 removed a towering figure from our national life. As in 1940, some people wondered if Balasaheb would prove a worthy successor. All these doubts were soon put to rest. Hitherto, the Sangh was portrayed by its detractors as an upper-caste organisation that clung to outdated social practices and championed ‘chaturvarnya’. The work of social cohesion which the Sangh had been doing since its inception was pointedly ignored by these self-styled progressives. On May 8, 1974, Balasaheb delivered a scintillating lecture on ‘Social equality and Hindu consolidation’ at the famed Vasant Vyakhyanmala (Spring Lecture-series) in Pune. The lecture remains a landmark in the history of social thought in our country. It forever silenced the critics of the Sangh. For Balasaheb, social equality and harmony were not mere catch-words. During the Emergency, workers from different political parties were incarcerated in Yerawada Jail with Balasaheb. Balasaheb’s forthright social views and conduct endeared him to people with different shades of opinion.
Within the Sangh, Balasaheb started the practice of question-answers. He would encourage swayamsevaks to ask questions, even frame them appropriately if they were unable to do so. He would patiently and extensively answer every question, howsoever silly or impertinent it seemed. He would never silence the questioner; rather he would fully satisfy him and saw to it that his understanding of the Sangh developed.
After becoming Sarsanghachalak, Balasaheb did away with certain aspects of the Sangh uniform (such as long boots) and martial exercises (such as use of small knives and canes). His view on this matter was clear, “We should not exhibit ourselves as what we are not”! Hitherto, ordinary people looked upon Sangh swayamsevaks as individuals who marched in their attire on Vijayadashmi. Balasaheb emphasised that swayamsevaks are a part of society; they ought not to live in their cocoon but rather participate in the joys and sorrows of the society around them. He spelt out his concept of the Sangh Shakha thus, “The Sangh Shakha is not just a place to play games or parade, but an unspoken promise of protection of good citizenry, an acculturation forum to keep the young away from undesirable addictions; it is a centre of hope, for rapid action and undemanding help in case of emergencies and crises that affect people. It is a guarantee of the fearless movement of women and a powerful deterrent to indecent behaviour towards them; a powerful threat to brutal and anti-national forces. But the most important aspect is it is a University for training suitable workers so to make them available to fulfil the needs of various fields of national life. And the medium to achieve all this is the games we play on the grounds of the Sangh Shakha.”
Balasaheb was a unique combination of idealism and pragmatism. He knew that politics ought not to be over-arching but at the same time, he understood its importance. He would compare politics to the bathroom in a house. He would say, “There is much foam in a bathroom, so one is liable to slip.” Then, he would add, “Just because there is danger of slipping in a bathroom, one cannot avoid building it.” Balasaheb had his fingers firmly on the pulse of the nation. He had an uncanny knack of sensing the right moment. His decision to support the 1974 Navnirman movement of Jayprakash Narayan will be judged by future historians as the one decision that gave the Sangh mass acceptance.
Originator of Sangh traditions
The principle of ‘Ekchalakanuvar-titva’ (one leader-centrism) that was prevalent in the Sangh was given a go-by by Balasaheb. It was Balasaheb who started the practice of drafting the annual Vijayadashmi address in consultation with colleagues and handing the final draft before-hand to newsmen. He gave instructions that the term ‘Parampoojaneeya’ (Most revered) be reserved only for Dr Hedgewar and Shri Guruji but not to anyone else in their personal capacity. That appellation was to be used only for the office of the Sarsanghachalak, the person is to be referred to as Mananeeya (Honourable). He also permitted the photographs of the first two Sarsanghachalaks only to be displayed in Sangh functions. He expanded the Ekatmata Stotra (hymn of unity) and made it comprehensive and inclusive. Taking his ill-health into account, he stepped down from his post and saw his successor Prof. Rajju Bhaiya functioning in his life-time. He gave instructions not to cremate his dead body near the memorials of the first two Sarsanghachalaks. He did not want to turn that hallowed place into a cremation ground.
Balasaheb’s life is a history of the first seventy years of the Sangh. Balasaheb was probably the only Sangh worker who played a key role in all the three bans that the Sangh has faced till now. He was the practical manifestation of Sangh philosophy. Indeed, he may be described as one of the finest creations of the Sangh creator. The Sangh moulded Balasaheb and Balasaheb in turn moulded the Sangh. His impact on the Sangh is indelible. The best tribute to him is to encourage participation of the masses in the positive transformation of society.
Dr Shreerang Godbole (The writer has edited a volume on Balasaheb Deoras which will be released shortly)