“A great son of Mother India” – was the phrase used by former President Pranab Mukherjee to describe K. B. Hedgewar, the founder of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), when he visited his birthplace, on 7th June 2018. In a time, when the Sangh Parivar is all out to set itself as the only credible authority to approve what is national and what is not, and even the former President belonging to the opposition party is also out to worship people like Hedgewar openly, then it is the need of the hour to dig out the truths associated with these people. In this article, let us explore Hedgewar’s activities during the turbulent times of anti-British struggle.
Hedgewar founded the RSS at Nagpur on 27th September 1925. It is well-known that he was deeply influenced by the philosophy propagated in the book ‘Hindutva’ (1923), written by V. D. Savarkar, with whom he met in 1924 at Ratnagiri Jail to discuss regarding the formation of RSS. Before proceeding further, we must discuss the background. In 1922, in a peak moment of the non-cooperation movement, Gandhi took a reactionary decision to abandon it, as it was crossing the restriction of non-violence, which he imposed on the movement. Rather, the fierce attitude of people at Chauri Chaura incident was a clear sign telling that the people of India were even ready to face hostile confrontations to uproot the British rule. The sudden suspension of this movement created two opposite stream of activities. At one hand, the true revolutionaries established Hindustan Republican Association (HRA), whose objective was to create a “Federated Republic of the United States of India by an organized and armed revolution”. On the other hand, people like Hedgewar were busy in giving the final shape to the RSS. A contemporary speech of Hedgewar, which was quoted in his biography ‘Keshav Sanghnirmata’, says – “The yavan-snakes [Muslims] reared on the milk of Non-cooperation were provoking riots in the nation with their poisonous hissing.” In August 1925, the famous Kakori train robbery that shattered the British rule, was executed by Ram Prasad Bismil and Ashfaquallah Khan, who were Hindu and Muslim, respectively, by religion, but known to the whole world as brave revolutionary members of HRA. However, it is an irony that, just one month after this robbery, the “great son of Mother India” Hedgewar founded the RSS to assist the British rulers directly and indirectly. He even mocked and criticized the true revolutionaries by saying – “Patriotism is not only going to prison. It is not correct to be carried away by such superficial patriotism.”
In 1927, when the whole country was protesting Simon Commission, the RSS intentionally kept itself out of this. Rather, on September 1927, the RSS led a communal riot in Nagpur, against the Muslims. One can notice the sudden increase in the membership of RSS after this riot. Even, in 1930, the RSS did not participate in the country-wide civil disobedience movement against the British. In his lifetime, Hedgewar was jailed twice. For the Sangh Parivar, it is an uncomfortable fact that he was imprisoned for the first time for giving an inflammatory speech in support of the Khilafat Movement (1920-21), when he was an active Congressman. The second and also the last time he was jailed by the British government for taking part in Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha (1930). It was an interesting personal act by Hedgewar, as he already sent information everywhere that RSS will not participate in the Satyagraha. Therefore, his arrest was not due to his ideological commitment to the cause of the movement. Rather, it is explicitly mentioned in his biography published by the RSS that his intention was to get arrested, so that he could break the ranks of the Congress cadre by poisoning their minds with anti-Muslim communal propaganda and influence them to cooperate with the RSS in future. After coming out of prison Hedgewar criticized Gandhi for his views on Hindu-Muslim unity. After adopting Purna Swaraj as its national goal, Congress decided to observe January 26, 1930 as Independence Day by displaying and honoring the Tricolor, which by then was considered as the symbol of united national movement against the British. However, in response to this, Hedgewar issued a circular to all the RSS shakhas to worship the Saffron flag in place of the Tricolor.
In this context, it is worth mentioning that in the Congress, Hedgewar was very close to the extreme rightwing Hindu Mahasabha leader B. S. Moonje. Moonje was the ideological mentor of Hedgewar. Moonje was also against the Hindu-Muslim unity and was rather willing to go in for limited cooperation with the British. Earlier, Moonje served the British force as a doctor in the Boer war – an imperial war to establish British influence on South Africa. He also had a friendly contact with the fascist regime of Italy under Mussolini. Being the co-founder of RSS, he was an instrumental figure in strengthening the intrinsic fascist attitude within the RSS and at the same time in extending military support to the British rulers. Moonje was a key person in forming the Bhonsala Military School in Nasik in 1937, with British help and having an aim of training Hindu youths and encouraging them to join British army.
The Sangh-literature and the speeches of Sangh-stalwarts are sufficient enough to expose themselves. It is an irony or may be a shame, that even the biography of Hedgewar published by the RSS is forced to admit that – “After establishing the Sangh, Doctor Saheb [Hedgewar] in his speeches used to talk only of Hindu organization. Direct comment on Government used to be almost nil.” The fascist Sangh Parivar can go to any extent to suppress rational voices, but they cannot suppress the History.