During the election campaign for Lok Sabha elections this year, the leader of a political party proclaimed that the vote this time around would be a choice between Gandhi and Godse. Those who follow Gandhian ideology pay special attention to their utterances and never take the name of Godse. I have participated in many such discussions on Gandhi ji in the Sangh but never heard Godse mentioned. It is indeed ironical that those whose actions and policies are in direct opposition to the Mahatma’s life and legacy, who rely on falsehood and violence as a political weapon, seek to use his name insincerely for narrow political gains.
Like with most aspects about the Sangh, when it comes to the RSS’s relationship with Gandhi ji people often make presumptions without the requisite examination of the facts. Even so-called scholars rarely attempt a holistic study of the subject before writing their commentary. More often than not their study is selective and drawn from material authored with a specific ideological perspective. The reality is, there is no relation of these thoughts with the ‘Truth’.
In order to set the record straight, the material available on Mahatma Gandhi’s relationship with the Sangh needs to be carefully examined. Despite disagreeing with him and his surrender to the extremist and Jihadi elements among the Muslim community, the RSS has always admired his efforts to broaden the public support for Bharat’s freedom struggle through simple means like Charkha and easily acceptable method like Satyagraha and considered this as his greatness.
If one understands Gandhiji’s insistence on constructive programmes like Gram Swaraj, Swadeshi, Cow protection and the abolition of untouchability, his affinity and perseverance for the eternal Hindu thought is undeniable. His value-based life was an inspiration for the youth of this country for dedicating their lives in the national service.
Dr Hedgewar, the founder of RSS, was an active participant in the non-cooperation movement of 1921 and the civil disobedience movement of 1930. For his involvement, he served two rigorous prison sentences, from August 19 to July 12 and then from July 21, 1930 to February 14, 1931.
When Mahatma Gandhi was sentenced to six years imprisonment on March 18, 1922, the 18th of every month was celebrated as Gandhi Day. Whilst Gandhi ji was in prison, some of his self-professed followers were serving their own interests in the name of patriotism. Doctor ji flagged this discrepancy in his speech on Gandhi Day in October 1922, ‘Today is a very auspicious day. It is a day to listen and mull over the values and qualities found in the life of a noble soul like Mahatma ji. Those who take pride in being called his followers have an additional responsibility to follow these qualities.”
In 1934, when Gandhi ji was residing at Jamnalal Bajaj’s residence, he attended a Winter Camp of RSS being conducted nearby and had a dialogue with swayamsevaks. During the conversation, he was happy to learn that the camp included swayamsevaks from the Scheduled Castes and everyone lives together as a fraternity. When Gandhi ji was staying in what was then called a Bhangi Colony (the sweeper’s colony) after Independence, a morning Shakha used to be conducted in front of his residence. In September, as per Gandhi ji’s wishes, more than 500 swayamsevaks above the mandal level assembled and Gandhi ji addressed them.
He started his address with these words: “I had visited the RSS camp years ago at Wardha. At that time the founder Shri Hedgewar was alive. The late Shri Jamnalal Bajaj ji had taken me to the camp, and I was impressed by their rigorous discipline, the complete absence of untouchability and simplicity. Since then the Sangh has grown. I have always believed that any organisation which is inspired by the ideal of service and self-sacrifice, is bound to grow in strength.” (Published in the ‘Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi’, vol. 89, page 193-194, see next page for images)
On January 30, 1948, when RSS Sarsanghchalak Shri Guruji got the news of Gandhi ji’s assassination, he sent a condolence telegram to Shri Devdas Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Shri Vallabhbhai Patel.
Senior RSS leader Vasantrao Oak shares his memories with Gandhiji. Organiser,
issue dated January 26, 1969
Guruji wrote: “Shocked at the news of the fatal cruel attack and tragic loss of greatest personality. Country’s loss is unbounded in these critical times. God help shoulder responsibilities grown heavier and fulfil the void caused by the loss of incomparable unifier.”
Shri Guruji issued instructions to all swayamsevaks of RSS to suspend all activities for 13 days in memory of Mahatma Gandhi and immediately concluded his journey and returned to Nagpur. On January 31, he wrote a letter to Prime Minister and Home Minister, saying, “Yesterday at Madras I heard the shocking news that some thoughtless perverted soul has committed the heinous act of putting a sudden and ghastly end to the life of Poojya Mahatmaji by a bullet. This vile act is a blot on our society in the eyes of the world.” This entire correspondence is available in the book ‘Justice on Trial and Complete Works of Sri Guruji’.
On the occasion of the birth centenary of Mahatma Gandhi, a statue of Gandhi ji was unveiled by Shri Guru ji in Sangli. In his address, he said, “We have congregated here on an important and pious occasion. 100 years ago, on this day a child was born in Saurashtra. Several other children would have taken birth on that day, but we don’t celebrate their birth centenaries. Mahatma Gandhi was born like any other common man, but he attained the status of a great man due to his deeds and love in his conscience. We should mould our life on his lines. We should try and follow his life as much as we can.”
He further said, “Mahatma Gandhi turned dust into gold. Brought out the extraordinary in ordinary men. This was the reason why Britishers had to leave.”
Mahatma ji used to say, “I am a hardcore Hindu; therefore I love every manifestation of life and not only humans. The primacy that truth and ahimsa got in his life and politics was due to his Hindutva only.”
“Under the title, ‘Future of Hinduism’ Gandhi ji said, ‘Hinduism means the one which does not stop, which grows with persistence, and is a path for the search of truth. Today this tired Dharma, does not appear to be helpful in inspiring to move forward. The day this tiredness is gone, there will be a grand explosion of Hindu-Dharma, which has never happened in the past—so large in magnitude that Hindu-Dharma will be glowing by its own light in the whole world.’ It is our responsibility to fulfil this prophecy of Mahatma ji.
The country needs political and economic freedom. Likewise, there is a need for religious freedom as well so that no one shall disrespect anyone, people from different sects and religions can live together. There should also be freedom from shackles of foreign thoughts. This was the lesson of Gandhi ji. I have met Gandhi ji several times. I have also had discussions with him. I am saying this after studying the thoughts expressed by him. Therefore, by experiences of my conscience, I have great respect for Gandhi ji.
My last meeting with Mahatma ji was in 1947. At that time riots broke out in Delhi. Even those who were non-violent by tradition had become cruel, rogue and heartless. I was in the same area at that time working to establish peace. In such an environment, I met Mahatma Gandhi ji.
Mahatma ji said to me, “See, what is happening?” I said, “This is our misfortune. British used to say when we leave; you people will slit each other’s throats. Today, the same thing is happening. It is bringing disrepute to us in the whole world. It should be stopped. In the prayer meeting of that day, Gandhi ji took my name with pride and expressed my thoughts. It was my great fortune that the great Mahatma took my name. In this entire context, I reiterate that we should imitate Gandhiji.
If we act on Mahatma ji’s thoughts we shall reawaken the great Hindu Dharma that imparts such lessons. Without Dharma human society will be like a society of animals, destroying each other. By awakening Hindu Dharma, its best qualities shall be entrenched in every individual of the society. We will have to decide that we will stand on the world stage as an ideal society as a loving, harmonious country, that’s why I keep expressing my feelings towards a venerable personality like Mahatma ji.”
This speech and article have been published in ‘Complete Works of Shri Guru ji’, vol.1, page 208-221. When I was a Pracharak in Vadodara (1987-90), I attended a lecture by Sah-Sarkaryavah Shri Yadavrao Joshi. When he talked about Gandhi ji in very reverential words, a karyakarta asked him if he was speaking from the heart. To which Yadavrao ji said, “I am not a political leader, so I do not say anything that I do not believe in my heart. Respecting someone does not mean that we agree with all of their opinions, but that we consider them as an ideal and commemorate their impressive qualities”, he added. He further explained with the example of Bhishma Pitamah in Mahabharata to the inquisitive swayamsevak. He said, “Bhishma is remembered for his strong commitment to the vows he had taken and not for his silence at the time when Draupadi was insulted in the assembly by Kauravas. Similarly, despite having strong differences towards Gandhiji’s approach towards the fundamentalist and Jihadi Muslim leadership, his contribution to bringing the common people for freedom struggle, his Satyagraha and his insistence on many issues based on Bharatiya thinking is commendable and inspirational.”
Commenting about the relationship of Gandhi and Sangh without considering these facts is a disservice to the truth. The Sangh has kept Gandhiji’s ideals alive through its work on rural development, organic farming, cow-conservation and protection, social equality and harmony, imparting education in one’s own language and swadeshi economy and lifestyle and shall continue to do so. That is more than can be said for those who only remember him when elections are around the corner.
This year is the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhiji. Humble tributes to his pious memories.
(The writer is Sahsarkaryavah of RSS)