Mahatma Gandhi’s Tryst with RSS

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Mahatma Gandhi saluting the Bhagwa Dhwaj like 
a Sangh swayamsevak when he visited the RSS camp at
Wardha in 1934. Published in Organiser issue dated January 26, 1969
Despite concerted malicious attempts to mislead him against the RSS, Mahatma Gandhi firmly reiterated his strong belief in the organisation’s vision and ideals, notwithstanding his differences
Dr. M Christhu Doss
Mahatma Gandhi had visited RSS shakha in 1934 at Wardha, interacted with the swayamsevaks and expressed his joy over their discipline and the absence of divisive feelings over caste and creed among them.
The available archival sources reveal that the crusader of anti-colonial struggle Mahatma Gandhi was never a stranger to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [RSS]. As a cultural organisation, the RSS had been well-aligned with some of the constructive programmes of the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Gandhiji. Despite misgivings, speculations and serious charges against the activities of the RSS, Gandhiji commended that it was a well-organised and a well-disciplined organisation whose strength could be used in the best interests of India.
In fact, Mahatma Gandhi’s encounter with Hedgewar, who founded RSS in 1925, could be traced back to the non-cooperation movement. When the Congress organised a mammoth rally in Nagpur in 1922 in reaction to Gandhiji’s imprisonment, it was Hedgewar who addressed the rally. Hedgewar proclaimed that there was no difference between the words and actions of Mahatma Gandhi. While identifying Gandhiji as a ‘sacred soul’ Hedgewar commended that Gandhiji was a man who was always willing to sacrifice everything for his ideals.
This does not mean that the RSS was completely free from speculations and serious charges from its ideological opponents. One of the earliest misgivings about the activities of the RSS emerged in 1942. When Mahatma Gandhi was actively mobilising the people through his Quit India Movement on 8 August 1942, the president of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee submitted Gandhi a ‘complaint’ written in Urdu. It contended that the RSS had been campaigning in various places with controversial slogans like ‘Hindustan belongs to Hindus and to nobody else,’ and so on. It appealed that these ‘controversial speeches’ needed to be looked into seriously by Gandhi himself. Consequently, Gandhi was made to believe that these provocative slogans and speeches supposedly made by the RSS, was wrong, unauthorised and vulgar. Subsequently, he made an appeal to those in charge of the RSS to inquire into the ‘complaint’ and to take necessary steps accordingly. On hearing this, MS Golwalkar refuted this serious charge. He clarified that ‘RSS do not indulge in unnecessary demonstrations, or raise slogans. Nor does it form part of our programme to talk of the Sangh’s activities in hyperbole.’
The above-mentioned ‘complaint’ did not create any indelible mark in Gandhi’s mind. While addressing around 500 RSS volunteers at Bhangi colony in New Delhi on September 16, 1947, Gandhiji revealed that he had visited the RSS camp a few years ago at Wardha, when the founder of the RSS Dr. Hedgewar was alive. He also informed that it was Jamnalal Bajaj who had taken him to this particular RSS camp.
He expressed that he was well impressed by their discipline, complete absence of untouchability and rigorous simplicity. Mahatma Gandhi even applauded the RSS as an organisation that any organisation, which was inspired by the ideal of service and self-sacrifice, was bound to grow in strength.
When Mahatma Gandhi made reference to ‘complaints’ about the RSS, Golwalkar clarified him then and there that the principle of the RSS was purely service of the Hindus and Hinduism and that too not at the cost of anyone else.
Intriguingly, Mahatma Gandhi admired that the RSS was a well-organised, and well-disciplined organisation and therefore its strength could be used profoundly in the interest of India. He admitted openly that he did not know if at all there was any truth in these allegations made against the RSS and its activities. He also enthused those RSS volunteers that it was for them to show by their uniform behaviour that the allegations were baseless.
Similar such misgivings were sent out to Mahatma Gandhi in April 1947 at a speech in a prayer meeting in New Delhi. This time Gandhi was [mis] informed that it was the RSS volunteers who were objecting to Gandhi’s prayer particularly for making recitation from Koran in the Hindu temple. Nevertheless, Gandhi was not willing to believe their misgivings this time. He immediately debunked their accusation and asserted that the persons who were obstructing prayers did not belong to the RSS. He applauded the RSS men would do physical exercises and drill here every morning and they would love him so much. Interestingly, two days later [April 5, 1947] Gandhi expressed his contentment and happiness and made a gratifying statement at a prayer meeting in New Delhi that he had received a letter from the RSS that they had nothing to do with the raising of objections to the prayer on the three previous days.
These misgivings did not stop Gandhi from developing a cordial relationship with the RSS. It was on April 3, 1947, that Mahatma Gandhi revealed that he had a word with the RSS leader MS Golwalkar and that he had come to know that it was not the intention of the RSS to harm anyone, as it was not formed to oppose anyone. Gandhi vouched for the members of the RSS that they were willing to confine themselves within the Congress discipline. While admitting the fact that the leader of the RSS was talking to him cordially, Gandhi expressed his unwavering conviction that as long as the Congress rules nonviolently, the members of the RSS also would remain peaceful.
The misgiving about the RSS continued even after India’s independence. When Mahatma Gandhi was giving his speech at a prayer meeting in New Delhi on September 12, 1947, he disclosed that he had a talk with the chief of the RSS MS Golwalkar. He narrated that some RSS critics informed him that the ‘hands of the RSS too were steeped in blood.’ On hearing this, Golwalkar immediately clarified that what was conveyed to Gandhi was baseless, untrue and fallacious. The RSS chief clarified that the RSS was enemy to none and that it did not stand for the killing of Muslims at all. He also made an appeal to Gandhi to make his views public that the primary objective of the RSS was to protect Hindustan to the best of its ability.
When Gandhi was briefed of ‘many things’ about the RSS by its critics that the ‘RSS was at the root of all the mischiefs,’ he would listen to those misgivings politely and then he would advise the members of the RSS with his meticulously crafted words that the public opinion was a far more potent force than a thousand swords.
Despite repeated clarifications from Golwalkar, Mahatma Gandhi was [mis] informed of the activities of the RSS. At a prayer meeting on November 16, 1947, he stated that he was sorry to say what he was constrained to say about the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. He admitted that he attended one of the meetings of the RSS in September 1947. He even conceded that he had been reprimanded for having attended its meeting and had received many ‘letters of complaints’ about the RSS.
Shockingly, Gandhiji revealed that all these misgivings in the recent past had come to him from Congressmen like Dhebar bhai. Gandhi understood that the Hindus were not happy as Dhebar bhai was protecting the Muslims and their properties.
Consequently, Gandhiji in his respectful wish appealed to RSS and others to protect Hindu religion, achievements of the people and Hindustan.
The repeated allegations by the Congress, and the Muslim League about the RSS shunted Mahatma Gandhi into a state of utter confusion and bewilderment. In his speech at a prayer meeting on December 3, 1947 Gandhi expressed his lamentation: ‘Shall I believe the Congress, or the Muslims, or the Hindu Mahasabha or the RSS?’ He had become frustratingly upset that it had become very difficult to get at the truth. He also made an astonishingly remarkable statement that if the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS have not done anything wrong, he must congratulate them.
Mahatma Gandhi’s tryst with the RSS created a new chapter when Gandhiji made attempts for fraternisation between the Hindus and Muslims in Delhi through his fast unto death on January 18, 1948. The leaders of Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities gathered at the residence of the Congress president Dr. Rajendra Prasad on that day and resolved themselves that they should once again live like brothers and sisters in perfect amity and pledged that they would protect the life, property and faith of Muslims in Delhi. It should be stated the leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS who were the signatories of the seven-point agreement made an appeal to Gandhiji to end his fast. Subsequently, Gandhiji broke his fast.
This day of fraternisation made Mahatma Gandhi to express his attitude of gratitude to the people of Delhi in general and the leaders of the RSS in particular. He expressed his heart-felt satisfaction that the letter of his vow had been fulfilled beyond expectation through the great will of all the people of Delhi, including the leaders of the RSS.
Mahatma Gandhi’s encounter with the RSS is not a devious one as it is assumed to be. The tenacious misgivings, and contentious charges about the activities of the RSS could not and perhaps, did not convert Gandhiji to be its stranger, rather abetted him discern its rich potential in the best interests of India, that is Bharat.
(The writer is an Assistant Professor in Department of History, University of Delhi)