Doctor ji realised that weakness of the Hindu society was the main reason for many problems facing the community. He felt it was necessary to mould courageous and physically fit youth who had pride for the society and nation
I will not go into early years of Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), as that is not the topic of this essay. It is sufficient to observe from his early childhood that he had burning desire to get India free from British.All his subsequent actions were directed towards this urge. He got involved in every possible activity before establishing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
I will begin from Dr Hedgewar’s first agitation that made British withdraw a bill. This bill was nicknamed ‘Bogus Medical Degrees Bill’. It was targeted against medical colleges run by nationalist organisations. This Bill made it possible for the doctors coming out of such colleges to practice medicine, but their certificates or prescriptions to any patient won’t be valid in Government records. Doctor ji decided to oppose it though he had no plans to practice medicine even as he passed out. His heart was in serving the motherland. He realised the limitations of creating an impact due to limited number of people who would be affected, and inability to create a sizable organisation of these students and doctors. He contacted respected leader Ashutosh Mukherjee and also newspaper editors. He would ‘organise’ a protest meeting by getting a chairman and secretary for the meeting. He would send out press notes to the editors claiming a meeting had taken place. Police would rush to the named people who would agree that there, indeed, was a meeting, putting police in a fix as they would be questioned for their failure of intelligence. Finally, one big meeting was organised in an auditorium where Ashutosh Mukherjee was present. This idea was a big success. Government, fearing that this bill had huge opposition, withdrew the bill. We can understand Doctor Hedgewar’s skill in creating an impact even with limited resources and use media to a good effect where required.
There were following major issues and episodes that defined the socio-political environment of the period –
1. Two different streams of freedom movements – revolutionaries and non-violence adherents
2. Cultural and national renaissance sparked by Swami Vivekananda and carried forward by many lost its force with death of Lokmanya Tilak and rise of Mahatma Gandhi. It was a monopoly of power, despite sparks like Lal-Bal-Pal of which Bal Gangadhar Tilak had left and Madan Mohan Malaviya.
3. The Khilafat agitation, abetted by Congress with Gandhi ji advocating Hindu-Muslim unity at any cost, which meant at the cost of Hindus, that concretised the idea of Pakistan.
4. Refusal of political leadership to take cognisance of the rising belligerence of Muslims, violence against Hindus,and white washing of their crimes.
5. Lack of confidence, lack of organisation and loss of collective memory about glorious Hindu past in every aspect of social life.
Doctor ji had been part of Anusheelan Samiti in Kolkata during his student days. His code name in police file was Cocain. On returningback to Nagpur in 1916, he kept working for revolutionary groups, arranging funds for arms and ammunition, sourcing pistols etc., sending youth to Punjab and other parts of north India from Nagpur to help revolutionaries till about 1918. He even arranged revolutionary literature delivery with young men dressing up like women. After the allied nation’s victory in World War 1, British became stricter and more despotic. The crackdown left many youth disappointed and they dropped out. Revolutionary activities declined. Doctor ji realised that unless there is a big highly disciplined, physically and mentally strong cadre of youth to fight British, these actions would remain sporadic and won’t succeed. He still believed in revolutionary bid to throw out British but realised that without an organised effort, it won’t succeed. He kept in touch with the leaders but joined Congress to work in an organised manner.
The British, drunk with WW1 success introduced highly oppressive Rowlett Act that empowered them to arrest people without witnesses and right to appeal to judiciary. This led to mass protests. Peaceful gathering in Jalianwala Bagh in Amritsar on Baisakhi day, 13th April, 1919 was one such gathering. Uncontrolled deliberate firing saw hundreds of innocents including women and children dead. It shook the whole of Bharat. Many demonstrations and protests took place.
Creating space for orthodox Islam in freedom movement, Secularisation of Congress
On November 24, 1919, there was a Khilafat Conference led by Ali brothers who demanded restoration of Caliphate in Turkey by British. Gandhi ji latched onto this essentially Islamic agitation that had no connection with Bharat to bring Muslims closer with supposed aim of bringing unity among Muslims and Hindus. In the process, he gave a blank cheque to the Maulvis and orthodox Muslim leadership to bring them on Congress platform at any cost to gain Swarajya. This move also resulted in isolation of educated modern Muslims from the mainstream politics with orthodox Muslim leadership hijacking the freedom movement. We will see how the events unfolded.
It was a strange marriage of convenience. Gandhi ji believed in non-violence for attaining freedom while Muslims led by Ali brothers believed in violence to achieve Khilafat. Nehru ji had gone to the extent of calling Maulana Mohamad Ali and his brother as the “most irrationally religious” people.
In this evolving atmosphere and changes in Congress, an All India Congress Committee’s national convention was to take place on December 26, 1920. Lot of things happened during this period.
Changing equations and ideas within Congress, Rise of Gandhi ji
The ‘Garam Dal’ or the more affirmative group within Congress created a platform called ‘Rashtriya Mandal’ that had the followers of LokmanyaTilak, including Dr Munje to others from Nagpur Congress. Dr Hedgewar formed ‘Nagpur National Union’ during the same time, and he was also the member of Rashtriya Mandal. Rashtriya Mandal started a magazine called ‘Sankalp’ and Doctor ji was appointed as its organiser. He travelled all over Mahakoshal (Central Province) and parts of Mumbai and surrounding areas for a few months it to get subscribers for the magazine and collect funds. Though the magazine folded up later for various reasons, the contacts built during these times were nurtured by Doctor ji and used later during work for organising Sangh later.
His clarity that people should be one with the local culture wherever they were in Bharat is seen by one example. When he tried getting subscription for Sankalp, a gentleman said, “We are getting Marathi and English newspapers and magazine anyways, why should we subscribe to a Hindi magazine?” Doctor ji was unhappy. He told his friend, “Whichever state we go to in Hindusthan, we should treat it as our own. With this belief, we should get integrated in the life of that place. If it is not possible for you to do so, why don’t you leave this state and go back from where your forefathers came?” This argument touched the person’s heart and he paid the subscription too.
Rashtriya Utsav Mandal under Rashtriya Mandal began celebrating various Hindu festivals. He and his friends would deliver aggressive lectures in these programmes. He began celebrating ‘Kojagiri Poornima’ – full moon night during Hindu Kartik month – with various friends with different political views, including his Communist friend, Advocate Ruikar. Entire night would go in chatting, singing and joy over glasses of milk. He continued this practice till 1925-26 till he got very busy with RSS work. Doctor ji had no problem with non-violent and violent approaches to freedom. He did not criticise revolutionaries. There are two incidents that show this attitude. One, when a censure motion was brought in by Congress leaders against Veer Savarkar. Doctor ji opposed it and it was dropped. In another instance, friends were discussing whether Savarkar ji was better or Gandhi ji. He kept quiet. When he was asked to give his opinion, he said, “I cannot choose between ‘rose’ and ‘Mogra’ flowers. Both are beautiful and fragrant in their own ways.”
By this time, the Khilafat agitation had been co-opted to start the ‘Non-cooperation’ agitation by Gandhi ji. British government ordered a ‘Peaceful Day’ in December 1919, which was opposed by all the leaders.
Unfortunately, Lokamanya Tilak left this world on July 31 1920. Nagpur group was ready to host him in a grand manner and he was to be elected as the President during upcoming Congress convention. Dr Hedgewar accompanied Dr Munje to meet Maharshi Aurobindo to persuade him to take the responsibility of Congress. However, he refused, saying he had a life’s work in front of him and he could not deviate from the chosen path anymore. There was a general strike on the tenth day of Tilak ji’s death. Doctor ji was involved in it. A special non-cooperation week from 11 to 18 August was organised. A pamphlet with guidelines was distributed. Doctor ji was one of the four signatories on this pamphlet. A special Congress convention was called in September 2020 where Gandhi ji was officially anointed as the new leader after Tilak. The followers of Tilak were completely side lined.
During this period, Khilafat agitation leaders gave a one month notice to the British to declare Caliphate of Turkey or they would begin ‘hijrat’, that is, move out of India, that was Dar-ul-Harb (a land ruled by a non-Islamic ruler) and return in strength to fight and make India into a Dar-ul-Islam (where followers of Islam rule). About 1800 Muslims left for Afghanistan after this call. Gandhi ji blessed them for their success.
Preparations were going on for the December 2020 Congress convention in Nagpur. A special volunteer group was formed that was called Bharat Swayamsevak Mandal headed by Dr L V Paranjape with Dr Hedgewar as his assistant. Preparations were in full swing. Need was felt for uniforms for volunteers to create an atmosphere of discipline. But, it was a costly affair. Many argued that it was a waste of money for just the convention. Doctor ji argued that the volunteers would be organised for later activities also and it would be regular use. Thus, the reception committee agreed for the expense on uniforms.
In October, when the reception committee was being formed for the national convention, Doctor ji opposed every name that was linked in any way to the British or a person was seen to be favourable to British. His third major contribution was a proposal for a resolution that talked of “Complete freedom from British and the Indian republic would strive to free other enslaved countries and fight Imperial Capitalist forces”. Unfortunately, this resolution was laughed off by the resolution committee as Congress was happy with Dominion status under the British at that time. Congress adopted ‘complete freedom’ as its goal only in December 1929.
Another indication of Congress leadership trying to keep away ‘Hindu agenda’ to keep Muslims happy was to disapprove and refuse to take up a resolution for protection of Cows, proposed by their leader, Badhe ji. There was a huge ruckus in the convention when Gandhi ji asked Badhe ji to leave the stage and he refused. Finally, Gandhi ji suspended the meeting of Congress Working Committee.
Gandhi ji led proposal of ‘Non-cooperation movement’ was adopted in this convention, and as we know, it was linked to Khilafat agitation. Gandhi ji promised ‘Swarajyawithin one year.’ Doctor ji, though he was much against false Hindu-Muslim unity, got into non-cooperation movement to in support of Gandhi ji. He travelled from village to village giving fiery lectures. Telling people why a fistful of people from Britain should rule Bharat. He was very hot tempered and passionate. When he spoke, his eyes would turn red, his fists would be clinched and veins stood out.
During this time, he met Gandhi ji and expressed his misgivings about Hindu-Muslim unity. He asked him, why he talked only about Muslims, not about so many other non-Hindu communities? Why shouldn’t all communities be included in this freedom struggle call? Gandhi ji reasoned with him and tried to convince him about advantage of Hindu-Muslim unity. Doctor ji responded that there were other Muslim leaders like Barrister Jinnah, Dr Ansari and Hakim Ajmal Khan who were working in Congress even earlier. Gandhi ji did not reply to this argument.
The British Government finally served a notice to Dr Hedgewar to stop his ‘poisonous’ speeches and not to address any more meetings. But, he didn’t stop. Finally, a case was filed in May 1921 and he was arrested for his incendiary speeches. He fought the case himself to expose British police and Government. Finally, he was awarded one year imprisonment with hard labour. He went to jail on August 19. He was not worried. His views about freedom movement were clear. He addressed the people before going to jail and said, “One should go to jail only if required. Going to jail should not be our goal, working for the nation is the real objective. One can do a lot for the nation outside the jail.” He had a long term vision.
Islam first policy of Khilafat inspired leaders
In jail, Doctor ji and three of his close friends came face to face with true spirit of Khilafat agitation. One,Imanullah,arrested during the Khilafat agitation was in jail during the time. He would keep creating problems. Whether it was noisy high decibel namaaz offering, disturbing pooja of Doctorji’s group, or insulting Hindu gods and scriptures, etc., he would deliberately provoke them. He refused to take part in Jalianwala Bagh memorial day in the jail. Doctor ji could see that for him Islam came first, and the nation much later. This was the experience of Veer Savarkar ji too during his Kala Pani imprisonment where Muslim wardens used to torture Hindu prisoners and gave special privilege to those who converted to Islam.
There used to be sporadic violent incidents in Nagpur even after 1923. Hindus felt scared. There was a sense of inferiority. Doctor ji would be called in case of violence or skirmishes. He noted that it was due to lack of self-confidence. Problem was of Hindus, not of the aggressors. Muslims were just one seventh of the population but they could dictate terms
When Doctor ji came out of jail he pondered over the scenario around him. By that time,the Khilafat agitation and its proponents had become permanent headache for the Congress and the nation. They became incorrigible and perpetrated violence everywhere. But, Gandhi ji turned an apologist for the Islamist’s violent aggression. Situation was so bad that Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar remarked, “Can any sane man can go so far for the sake of Hindu Muslim Unity?” Muslims had started shouting ‘Allah O Akbar’ instead of Vande Maataram. Jihad and Quran became regular topics of speeches of Ali brothers. Nehru wrote, “Muslims turned more religious and turned away from modern ideas. More Muslims began growing beard following rituals. In one of the meetings where Doctor ji was present with Samiullah Khan, he asked him why he was wearing a Turkish cap instead of Congress cap. Samiullah retorted that he was a Muslim first and this Turkish cap was his identity.
By this time Moplah riots broke out. They were worst violence perpetrated on Hindus, with killings, rape, loot and plunder. Bharat Sevak Samaj had sent a team that reported that 1,500 Hindus had been killed.
But, Congress resolution passed about the riots tried to put the blame on the people, “who were against Khilafat, and claimed that only three families had been attacked”. Gandhi ji almost justified the gory violence saying, “Brave god fearing Moplahs who are fighting for what they consider their religion and in a manner which they consider religious.” After a heavy crackdown by British, the riots were calmed and a few Moplahs were killed. Nehru ji’s heart melted and he wrote, “The Moplah rising and its extraordinary cruel suppression – what a horrible thing was the baking to death of the Moplah prisoners in closed railway vans.” Situation was so grim that Dr Munje in 1923 expressed the opinion that Rajputs, Sikhs and Marathas should settle down in those areas to protect Hindus. Malabar’s women appealed to the British to shift them to safer places even if they were outside Malabar region.
Doctor ji came to that conclusion that Muslim behaviour against Hindu so despicable and situation had become so horrible not just because of Muslims but more due to loss of self-esteem and self-pride of Hindus. Muslims only took advantage of the situation.
But, his loyalty to Gandhi ji was unwavering. When Gandhi ji was arrested on March 18, 1922 and given a sentence of 6 years, it was decided by Congress that every 18th day of the month would be celebrated as ‘Gandhi day’; Doctor ji followed the directive sincerely. He is quoted during one such programme, “The great quality of Gandhi ji is his total sacrifice of selfish interests…. To be true follower of Gandhi ji, one will have to leave home and be in the field of struggle.”
Misunderstanding Ahimsa as absence of discipline
During this period, Doctor ji was still a Congress leader and was appointed joint secretary of the state unit. He observed total lack of discipline within the organisation. The principle for non-violence or ahimsa and discipline had taken a strange form. It could be seen from Nehru ji’s own experience in Kakinada Congress national conference in 1923. Dr N S Hardikar had formed Hindusthani Seva Dal for the purpose. Nehru ji was happy with Seva Dal work and supported it enthusiastically. His photograph seen many times in Seva Dal uniform is of that session. Many leaders protested vehemently against this disciplined group of volunteers in uniform. Nehru was surprised at its opposition and affirmation of non-violence of the extreme type when he heard that “trained drilled volunteers were inconsistent with Congress principle of non-violence. They introduced a military element in the party…. Such military element could over throw civilian Government.” For them volunteers were only meant to pick up chairs and lay durries in a convention.
Doctor ji by that time had become conscious of the need for strong healthy young people who could be ready to fight for freedom. When he saw a batch of volunteers going for a dharna protest, he noted, “These weak young men will die with the lathi blows of the police that would be himsa. We need to send strong young people for satyagrah who can present their protest with ahimsa and keep standing firm.”
Dr Munje had established a Rifle Association to instil a sense of courage in the youth. Doctor ji would visit this group. He was a sharp marksman as vouched by many members. Doctor ji had not stopped giving fiery speeches whenever chance arose. In April 1923, a programme of ‘Gopujan’ – worshipping the holy cow – was celebrated by him.
By 1924, Kamal Pasha had risen firmly in Turkey and banished Khalifa from Turkey. He introduced secularism as the state policy, not Islam. Muslims Out of frustration had begun running riots in various parts of the country from 1923 itself. There were severe riots in Saharanpur. It was clear that the riots were led by Khilafat leaders. Bhai Paramananda, realising the danger to Hindus organised a ‘Hindu Sangh’ in Lahore.
Nagpur – a laboratory for extremist Islam, rising belligerence of Muslims
Nagpur too saw very tense months in that year. This prolonged episode was called ‘Dindi satyagrah’. Hindus of Nagpur used to take out a procession with the murti of Ganesh ji (dindi) every year. But, that year, Muslims demanded that no drums and dhols should be played in front of the mosque on way. Hindus agreed. Then, they escalated the demand that no musical instrument should be played. Laxmanrao Bhonsale, from royal family and the patron of the yatra decided that they will take out early morning procession on October 23. After two days, Muslims began demanding ‘toll tax’ to use the road in front of the mosque. Finally, a committee was formed to protect Hindu rights. Doctor ji was made the chairman of this committee. He led a procession singing bhajans of ‘Jai Vitthal, hari hari Vitthal’. Thousands of citizens joined the procession on November 8. Police arrested the processionists. They kept singing bhajans in the police station too. Finally, they were released. Then on November 11, LaxmanraoBhonsale led the satyagrah in which 40,000 devotees took part. After this pressure and protests by Hindus, Muslims gave permission for the procession. A Hindu Sabha was formed to create a permanent body to protect Hindus. On November18, there was a huge rally that seemed to have every Hinduof Nagpur on the streets. It seemed that the dispute had been settled.
However, there used to be sporadic violent incidents in Nagpur even after 1923. Hindus felt scared. There was a sense of inferiority. Doctor ji would be called in case of violence or skirmishes. He noted that it was due to lack of self-confidence. Problem was of Hindus, not of the aggressors. Muslims were just one seventh of the population but they could dictate terms. In Bharat, they were around 20-25 per cent but they were dictating politics on the field.
He realised that it was necessary to mould courageous and physically fit youth who had pride for the society and nation. Both British and Muslim societies are aggressive. Many a great heroes from King Dahir in Sindh to all the subsequent great Hindu fighting kings and braves had shown their strength to beat the invaders back many times. Then, why did Muslim still speak the same language? By now, the idea of organising Hindus had taken firm shape in his mind.
During this same time Veer Savarkar had written his landmark book ‘Hindutva’ while he was under arrest in Ratnagiri. Doctorji got a chance to read its original handwritten manuscript and was impressed. There was a demand by Congress leaders for release of Tatyarao Savarkar, elder brother of Veer Savarkar, from Kala Pani. In one of those meetings in October 1923, Doctor ji used the word Hindu Rashtra for the first time; and talked of mantra of ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
Doctor ji always talked of complete freedom, full independence. He would also insist upon all his friends who went out to address a rally to talk about full freedom. At that time many newspapers were started. One of them was ‘Swatantrya’. Doctor ji was on its board of trustees. After struggling for nearly a year, it was finally shut down with huge losses.
Doctor ji kept talking to youth, meet them in various gymnasiums (vyayamshalas). He would teach strong young boys swimming and he kept in touch with youth regularly and would keep talking to them, give lectures on different forums.
In 1924, Muslim goons started riots again. But, this time Hindus proved to be stronger. They also began boycott of Muslim traders. The move was so intense that once Dr Munje said, “If we can’t find Hindu butchers, I will become a butcher.” Training of wooden staff (dand) was given to youth. There was a call for ‘Shatham prati laathyam kaathyam’, that is, the goons must be taught a lesson with laathis. Finally, Muslims relented and sought peace. (There is an interesting story, how Doctor ji finally stopped this mischief permanently in 1927 with just 100 swayamsevaks of newly formed RSS. After that no riots took place in Nagpur.)
During this period, there were riots in UP, Karnataka, Punjab by Muslims. Kohat was the worst case where 155 Hindus were butchered. Situation turned so bad that Sarojini Naidu had to say, “Speeches and homilies will not do anymore.” Gandhi ji went on a 21 day fast at a Maulana’s house under care of two Muslim doctors. He said, “My longing is to be able to be cement between the two communities, with my blood if necessary.” Finally a Unity conference was organised and resolution of unity was passed. Dr Ambedkar noted, “Unity conference produced nothing except pious resolutions which were broken as soon as they were announced. Ultimately, Gandhi ji, when questioned, said in desperation, “Who listens to me?And yet, I ask Hindus even today to die and not to kill.” It was a sign of surrender.”
During this time, Swami Shraddhanand began his Shuddhi movement and Ghar wapsi. It had tremendous effect. So many Muslims returned to Hindu fold that ultimately he was killed in broad daylight in Chandni Chowk in 1926. Gandhi ji refused to condemn him and he, infact, called Abdul Rashid, the murderer as ‘his brother’.
Many leaders realise the futility of appeasing Muslims and strengthening Hindu society
Every leader began understanding the necessity of uniting and organising Hindus. Shri Chittaranjan Das studied Islam for six months and finally came to the conclusion that “Hindu Muslim Unity was neither possible nor practicable.” Lala Lajpatrai noted that, “For last 5 years, even if not before, the Congress has been joint organisation of Hindus and Muslims, infact, has done more for Muslims.
During this time, Maulana Hazrat Mohammad demanded a separate independent Muslim state comprising of North West provinces, Punjab, Sindh. This was the first clear cut demand for Pakistan in physical form. Finally, Gandhi had to admit that “An average Muslim was a bully and average Hindu was a coward.” Nehru ji remarked that Hindus are busy being clerks and sleeping. Lala Hardayal wrote in newspaper, Pratap, “Hindu organisation, Hindu state, Shuddhi (reconversion) and merger of Afghanistan with Bharat are the four points that will create a bright future for Hindu Rashtra.”
In January 1925, there was a tour of Swami Satyadev in Madhya Bharat region. Doctor ji as an office bearer of Congress accompanied him. Swami ji too talked about necessity of organising Hindu, which was not against anybody. He noted that for Hindus Hindusthan was life, but for Muslims it was not so.”
Crystallisation of thoughts and birth of RSS
Doctor ji began discussing how to organise Hindus with his close friends Appa ji Joshi, Bhaurao Kawre ji, etc. Doctor ji discussed these ideas with his other colleagues and friends too. However, most of being from Congress, could not think beyond politics and Congress party. So, Doctor ji decided that he would have to plough a lonely furrow. He met Veer Savarkar and his brother Tatyarao in Ratnagiri and shared his ideas. He noted that rising of Hindus as a reaction to riots was not enough, what was needed was an‘always ready organisation’ (Nitya siddha shakti). He began talking about ‘Hindutva is nationalism’ and‘Hindutva hi rashtriyatva’.
There are three stages through which Doctor ji passed before he finally decided to form Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh –
a. Participation in revolutionary movement, followed by committed participation in Congress party and its agitation
b. Period of Khilafat and Non-cooperation movement, Congress only worried about Muslims not any other community, its blank cheque
c. Witnessing the weakness of Hindus and lack of organisation when faced with Muslim violence instigated by Khilafat supporters.
Finally on Vijayadashami of 1925, around 15-20 colleagues of Doctor ji met at his home and declared the foundation of RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh.