DECODING THE LOVE-HATE
Why there is controversy within the RSS—and outside it—about its relationship with the Mahatma
Adiamond is just a stone, but it is precious. Why is it so? Because of its matchless ability to hold out. If this be taken as a principle, then we may say that Mahatma Gandhi is a diamond among humans. He is abstract, yet omnipresent by virtue of his long, action-filled life and his ideals. The urge to understand the message of his life has increased. His message is formulaic, contained in a sentence. The talismanic code he left behind takes some deciphering. But it’s easy enough to bear in mind his life’s message; in his own oftrepeated words: “My life is my message.” The message is also inscribed on the covers of two thick volumes that contain a historical account of Sevagram. But what is the message?
Has the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) internalised this message? The question may appear odd, but it is germane and timely. Because the RSS holds sway over the life of common Indians. It is a power centre. One may or may not like its existence, but that does not affect its power, and its existence is impossible to ignore. It’s only right, then, to ask what the Sangh’s plans are at a time when, coinciding with Gandhi’s sesquicentennial (150th anniversary), people both at home and abroad are trying to grasp the essence of Gandhi.
A lecture series was held at New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan last year from 17-19 September. The speaker was Dr Mohan Bhagwat. He is the sixth sarsanghchalak of the RSS. People were keen to listen to him, and Vigyan Bhavan proved too small a venue for the throng. He was there to talk about the RSS. He spoke and took questions. The Sangh has a seasoned relationship with controversy; even now, it’s mired in controversies. Which is why the sarsanghchalak had to come to the capital to explain what is what.
Nobody asked him if the Sangh wants to go the Gandhian way. Why? Possibly because it has been assumed that the Sangh has adopted Gandhiji. Or the opposite may also be true. But what needs to be ascertained is something else: did the Sangh learn from its interactions with Gandhi, did it adopt his ideas? To comprehend historical references, the present needs to have a continuous dialogue with the past. This endless dialogue between the Sangh and Gandhi continues in many forms. There is a controversy within the Sangh—and another outside it—about its relationship with Gandhi. It’s easier to understand this contradiction if we examine these two strands separately. Within the Sangh, Gandhi has been seen mainly from the perspective of Hindu-Muslim relations. Others have looked at the Sangh politically. On this basis, there have been allegations, even baseless ones, about the Sangh. It’s not necessary to enumerate those allegations here; they are well known.
There is an old discussion and debate over why Dr K.B. Hedgewar, who went to jail on Gandhi’s appeal for a non-cooperation and civil disobedience movement, set up the RSS. Hedgewar left the Congress and decided to create a national movement to counter the plausible ill consequences of the Khilafat movement. It was the time when Gandhi was about to take
over the leadership of the Congress. He made a constitution to connect a Congress party of lawyers and the elite to the common Indian citizen and yoke the Congress to the Indian civilisational roots of swarajya. On the face of it, the paths of Gandhi and the RSS appear parallel and incongruent. The surface is what we see; only a few are able to plumb the deep sources of values. Where Hedgewar is in touch with the revolutionaries, Gandhi is immovably committed to non-violence—these are apparently parallel streams. But, go deeper, and you’ll trace their common source— revolution. Babasaheb Apte, a widely respected sagelike figure and a thought-leader of the Sangh, learnt this through his reading of the Gandhi literature. It was due to his efforts that the Sangh included Gandhi among names invoked in its morning-prayer ritual. This was in the year 1964. Apte used to say that Gandhi was the soul of India and Savarkar the body. He’d ask: “What would become of the soul without a body?”
The Sangh dissents with Gandhi on the issue of Muslims. It favours a revival of Kshatriya mettle. In spite of this disagreement, Hedgewar honoured Gandhi. The Sangh literature of his time holds Gandhi in regard despite opposition to his policies. Hedgewar and Gandhi first met in 1934. Following his nationwide tour for abolition of untouchability, when Gandhi set his mind on some new experiments, he chose Sevagram as the venue. He was living in Wardha at the time, as a guest of Jamnalal Bajaj. On Bajaj’s insistence, he went to an RSS camp. Hedgewar’s biography, by Narayan Hari Palkar, has a chapter on this meeting—Gandhiji se bhent (Meeting with Gandhiji). The day Gandhi went to the RSS camp and spoke to volunteers there, Hedgewar was not present. They met the next day. This has been mentioned in the Gandhi literature. On September 12, 1947, Gandhi, at his prayer meeting, was making an appeal to Hindus and Muslims to maintain peace. In the context, he said: “Muslims wanted Pakistan, they got it. Why are they fighting now? Now that they have Pakistan, do they want to take over Hindustan? That will never happen.” On the other hand, about the RSS, he said: “I’ve heard that the Sangh, too, has blood on its hands. Guruji (Golwalkar) has assured me that it is a lie. His organisation is no one’s enemy… they just want to defend Hindustan the best they can.” Around the same time, Gandhi also went to a Sangh rally, where he said: “I am a Sanatani Hindu.” He also said: “I don’t know the truth of the allegations against the Sangh. It is for the Sangh to disprove those allegations with its right actions.”
Three incidents of modern history have embroiled Gandhi in unpleasant debates. His assent to the partition of India, his insistence on transferring Rs 55 crore to Pakistan following Partition, and his declaration of Jawaharlal Nehru as his successor. These have to be understood in their right context. A healthy and balanced debate on these issues will certainly find that by the time freedom came, the Congress had rendered Gandhi helpless, even while it continued to chant his name. Why did this happen? Who did it? Would it have been different and better had Gandhi had the opportunity for his newer experiments? Had that possibility come to pass, the other thing history would have recorded is that to realise his dream of
BABASAHEB APTE, A SAGE-LIKE FIGURE AND THOUGHT-LEADER OF THE SANGH, USED TO SAY THAT GANDHI WAS THE SOUL OF INDIA AND SAVARKAR THE BODY. HE WOULD ASK: “WHAT WOULD BECOME OF THE SOUL WITHOUT THE BODY?”
Soft touch A 1940 image of Gandhi with (to his left) Abha, wife of his grandnephew Kanu Gandhi, at Sevagram, Maharashtra