Some time ago, a journalist came to visit me. During the conversation, he asked me, “What role did the RSS play in the Independence struggle?” Perhaps he too was a victim of the propaganda against RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh राष्ट्रीय स्वयंसेवक संघ ). I asked him back what he meant by the ‘Independence struggle’? He was not prepared for this. He could not speak anything. Then he replied in a low and hesitant voice, “The one which Mahatma Gandhi did”. I asked, “So nothing happened before Gandhiji? Did the trinity of Lal-Bal-Pal have no contribution? Did the revolutionary movement and Subhash Chandra Bose have no role in the independence struggle?” He was silent. Then I asked how many Satyagrahas happened under Gandhiji’s leadership? He was unsure of that. I said there were three, in 1921, 1930 and 1942. He did not know it. I said the founder of RSS Dr Hedgewarji (who passed away in 1940) had participated in the Satyagraha before (1921) and after (1930). He founded the RSS for which he had to suffer imprisonment also.
I narrated this incident because a very systematic attempt is being made to tell us a partial history. The people of Bharat are forced to believe that Independence was gained only because of the Congress and the Satyagraha in 1942; no one else did anything. This is not the complete truth. Yes, the Satyagraha provided a simple and effortless means to the common people to participate in the Independence struggle through charkha and khadi. However, to give credit to a particular movement or a party is playing with history and an insult to the efforts of all others.
Now, if we want to discuss RSS, we have to start with Dr Hedgewar. Keshav (Hedgewar) was born in 1889. The fervour of the Independence struggle started in Nagpur from 1904-1905. Yet, in 1897, the 9-10 year old Keshav threw away the sweets distributed in the school on the occasion of the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria’s coronation into a dustbin. This was his anger and annoyance for being slave to the British. In 1907, Keshav invited the wrath of his school management and exclusion from the school, as punishment for making all his classmates sing Vande Mataram in front of the Government inspector in his Neel City school against the tyrannical order banning the public chanting of Vande Mataram, called Risley Circular. He chose Calcutta over Mumbai for medical education even while the latter had the facilities because the former was the hub of the revolutionaries. There, he became a core group member of the top revolutionary organisation Anushilan Samiti.
He returned to Nagpur in 1916 after becoming a doctor. At that time, all the top leaders of the Independence struggle were married and leading a family life. Dr Hedgewar could have thought on the same lines. The family background matched with it. Nevertheless, he decided not to follow the medical profession and not to marry. He had such intensity and urgency in his heart for attaining Independence that he gave no thought to his personal life, dedicated all his might, time and ability to the nation and joined every type of movement for independence.
He had an unflinching faith in Lokmanya Tilak. All the responsibilities of the Congress session, to be held in Nagpur in 1920, were given to Dr Hardikar and Dr Hedgewar and they inducted 1200 volunteers for that. Dr. Hedgewar was the joint secretary of the Nagpur city unit of Congress at that time. Dr Hedgewar had proposed to the resolution committee of the Congress to come up with a resolution with a clear objective ‘to make Bharat independent, turn it into a republic, and free the world from the clutches of capitalism. The Congress accepted his suggestion of total independence after nine years in the Lahore session in 1929. Pleased with this, Doctorji instructed all the shakhas of the RSS to congratulate Congress on January 26, 1930. All Tilak supporters in Nagpur were saddened after Lokmanya Tilak’s demise on August 1, 1920. Thereafter, the independence struggle of the Congress continued under Gandhiji’s leadership. In 1921, Mahatma Gandhiji supported the Khilafat during the non-cooperation movement with a view of expanding the social base against imperialism and to accommodate the Muslims that were hurt by the abolition of the Khilafat in Turkistan by the British. Many leaders of the Congress and nationalist Muslims too were opposed to this. Hence, the non-cooperation movement was not much effective in Nagpur. However, Dr Hedgewar, Dr Cholkar, Samimulla Khan etc. changed this scene. Even after objecting to associating Khilafat to the national movement, they did not make the objection public. They took part in the movement with the sole purpose of opposing imperialism. They did not care for the political atmosphere around them or for the views of vocal Tilak supporters. They had to suffer one year in imprisonment under the charges of sedition.
Even after knowing the importance and priority of attaining independence, one question plagued Dr Hedgewar – how could a handful of Englishmen, who came from 7000 miles away for trade, rule this large country? There must be some flaws in us. He realised that our society had forgotten itself, divided in groups like castes, provinces, language and faith; it was unorganised and full of bad practices. The British benefited from this and could rule us. This history might be repeated in future as well if the society remained the same even after the independence. He used to say that ‘Sapnath will come when Nagnath goes’ (if one type of snake goes, the other will come). Hence, it is more important and necessary to make our society proud of itself, aware and organised as well as liberate it from all bad practices and make it full of national character. He realised that this work can be done only by staying away from politics, publicity, silently and continuously. He founded Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1925 for this purpose. He had cordial and affectionate relations with all political and social leaders, movements and activities even after founding RSS.
The civil disobedience movement started by Gandhiji on April 6, 1930 from Dandi (Gujarat). The decision to support this movement was taken in November 1929 itself in the three-day meeting of the Sanghchalaks. As per the RSS policy, Dr Hedgewarji decided to participate in this Satyagraha at the individual level with other Swayamsevaks. He entrusted his responsibility as the Sarsanghachalak to his old friend Dr Paranjape so that RSS work was not affected and gave the responsibility to visit the shakhas to Babasaheb Apte and Bapurao Bhedi. Initially, 3-4 thousand people accompanied him on July 21 during this satyagrah. By the time they reached Pusad, the venue of the Satyagraha 1930, ten thousand people had gathered. They were sent to jail for nine months in this Satyagraha. He took charge of the responsibility of the Sarsanghachalak after the release and again focused on the RSS work.
Hindu Mahasabha and Arya Samaj had given a call of Satyagraha under the banner of Bhaganagar Nihshastra Pratikar Mandal in 1938 to oppose Nizam’s atrocities against the Hindus in Bhaganagar (Hyderabad). Doctorji gave consent to those Swayamsewaks who asked permission for joining that Satyagraha. But he clarified that they could do so at an individual level. When the organisers frequently mentioned in their press releases that RSS had participated in the Bhaganagar Satyagraha, Doctorji wrote a letter to them and asked them not to mention RSS.
Doctorji had deliberately devised this strategy with a vision and clear thinking. He understood the transitory, momentary and struggling nature of political movements and the continuous, uninterrupted and constructive nature of RSS work. He wanted movements to be successful without hampering the perpetual work of RSS. Even during the Forest Satyagraha, he participated in the Satyagraha with many other Swayamsevaks after entrusting the responsibility of Sarsanghachalak to Dr Paranjape.
Mahatma Gandhi gave the historic call of ‘British! Go Back’ in the Congress session at the Gowalia Tank ground in Mumbai on August 8, 1942. From the next day itself, the movement caught momentum all over the country and arrests of leaders started at many places. Agitations at Bawali (Amaravati), Ashti (Wardha) and Chimur (Chandrapur) in Vidarbha were remarkable. The news from Chimur was broadcast even on the Berlin Radio. The agitations there were led by Uddhavrao Korekar of Congress and RSS’ functionaries Dada Naik, Baburao Begade and Annaji Siras. The only death with a British bullet in that agitation was that of RSS Swayamsevak Balaji Raipurkar. Congress, Shri Gurudev Seva Mandal of Shri Tukdoji Maharaj and RSS Swayamsewaks collectively organised the agitation and Satyagraha at Chimur. Cases were filed against 125 satyagrahis in this agitation and innumerable Swayamsevaks.
Senior members and pracharaks of RSS at many places vehemently jumped in this movement all over Bharat such as Shri Jaidevji Pathak (Pracharak in Rajasthan), who was later active in Vidya Bharati. Dr Annasaheb Deshpande at Arvi (Vidarbha). Ramakant Keshav (Balasaheb) Deshpande who later founded the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram Jashpur (Chhattisgarh). Vasantrao Oak in Delhi who later became the Prant pracharak of Delhi. Krishna Vallabh Prasad Narayan Singh (Babuaji) in Patna and who later carried the responsibility of Bihar Sanghchalak. Chandrakant Bhardwaj (Delhi) whose foot was hit with a bullet and which could never be removed. Dattatray Gangadhar (Bhayyaji) Kasture in Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh), Madhavrao Devade in East Uttar Pradesh. Along with the tyranny of the British, on the one hand Satyagraha was going on, while on the other many agitators went underground and worked for steering the smovement. To give shelter to the underground workers during those times was not without risk. Many Sangh Swayamsevaks did that. Innumerable names can be cited like these. The possibility of documenting all these was very bleak in those days.
Revolutionaries are Patriots
A resolution to condemn the revolutionaries was to come up in the provincial session of the Madhya Prant Congress presided by Loknayak Ane in 1921. Dr. Hedgewar convinced him that even though he did not believe in the path of the revolutionaries, their patriotism should not be doubted
From Dr Hedgewa’s life it is clear that his entire life was dedicated to the Independence of the nation. The path he had chosen for the same was to organise society that is flawless, skillful and based on national thought. Until 1947, the main objective enshrined in the oath of RSS was ‘to make the Hindu nation independent’.
The national life of Bharat has the tendency of taking extreme positions. Even in Doctorji’s lifetime, society was divided on the binaries of Congress-revolutionaries, Tilak-Gandhi, violence-nonviolence, Hindu Mahasabha-Congress etc. The trend was of scoring brownie political points over each other. Sometimes, owing to their differences, they would fiercely oppose each other instead of fighting against British imperialism. A resolution to condemn the revolutionaries was to come up in the provincial session of the Madhya Prant Congress presided by Loknayak Ane in 1921. Dr Hedgewar convinced him that even though he did not believe in the path of the revolutionaries, their patriotism should not be doubted. Thus, Doctorji’s life was not determined by the narrow options of political views, philosophy and policies,
Tilak-Gandhi, violence-nonviolence and Congress-revolutionaries etc.
The fundamental aim of attaining Independence was far more important than a personality or a particular path. A class which considers Bharat merely a political entity always tries to take credit for everything. It pursues the unilateral propaganda for taking the sole credit for Bharat’s Independence, without recognising the role of others. Independence was a cumulative result of all round efforts from armed revolutionaries to non-violent Satyagrahis, rebels in the army and Indian National Army etc. The role of prevalent precarious situations in England after World War II and their inability and reluctance to rule the colonies cannot be completely ruled out either. The British eventually gave Independence to other colonies also where there was no freedom struggle like Bharat.
It is true that the Satyagraha in 1942 was the last Satyagraha led by Mahatma Gandhiji and Bharat attained Independence after that in 1947. However, to say that Independence was gained only because of the 1942 movement in 1942 and because of the people who were arrested in that movement is laughable, improper and untrue. There is a story. A farmer was very hungry. The wife was serving and he was eating. However, his hunger was not satisfied. He was satisfied only after eating the eleventh roti. The upset husband scolded his wife for not serving the eleventh roti earlier. His logic was the work of eating so many rotis could have been avoided and he would have experienced satisfaction earlier. The idea itself is laughable.
The youngest patriot of 12 years of age Baji Rout fondly called as Bajia sacrificed his life for the cause of motherland. Sahid Baji Rout was born in October 5, 1926 at Nilakanthapur village in Dhenkanal in a poor Khandayat family.
As an active member of the Banar Sena of Prajamandal, he had volunteered to keep a watch by the river at night. On the wee hours of October 11, 1938, Baji Rout was on guard of a country boat at that time. He was ordered by the troops to ferry them across the river Brahamani immediately. Baji had had already heard details of the brutality of the troops. He, therefore, refused to ferry them across. The troop threatened to kill him if he did not ferry them across immediately. Baji however rejected their orders again. One of the British soldiers hit the head of Baji Rout with his gun butt that fractured his skull severely.
Similarly, giving the credit for Bharat’s Independence solely to the 1942 Quit India Movement is laughable. If we go through some historical accounts, we get a clearer picture on this movement. While granting Independence to Bharat, British PM Clement Atlee said, “Gandhi’s nonviolence movement had next to zero effect on the British.” Former acting Governor of West Bengal P M Chakraborty (CJ of Kolkata High court) wrote: “When I was the acting Governor, Lord Atlee, spent two days in the Governor’s palace at Kolkata during his tour of India. At that time, I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi’s “Quit India” movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply Atlee cites several reasons, the principle among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji (Subhashchandra Bose). Towards the end of our discussion, I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhiji’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee’s lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, m-i-n-i-m-a-l”. [Ranjan Borra, “ Subhashchandra Bose, The Indian National Army, The War of India’s liberation”. Journal of Historical review, Vol 20,(2001), No 1 ref. 46]
Bharat is not a mere political entity. This is a cultural unit based on the perpetual, comprehensive and integral vision built on the eternal thinking and vision of thousands of years. This vision and culture provide a special identity to this varied society spreading from the Indian Ocean to the Himalaya. Therefore, whenever there is a political change, just before that or simultaneously a process of cultural awakening by a spiritual force takes place in Bharat. It is visible that if the situation is more critical, the manifestation of this spiritual force becomes stronger. This is why the Bhakti Movement spread all over Bharat during the 12th to 16th Centuries during the Mughul rule. An uninterrupted chain of spiritual great men like sadhus, saints and sanyasis are seen in every region from Swami Ramanand in the north to Ramanujacharya in the far south. The tradition of spiritual leaders like Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Shri Ramkrishna Paramhans and Swami Vivekanand is seen during the slavery of the British. No political change has been successful or permanent in the history of Bharat without the cultural awakening. Therefore, the work of cultural awakening should not be evaluated on the political parameters. It must be underlined that spiritual and cultural awakening that goes on silently and calmly has much more significance for a nation like Bharat.