Today under the aegis of the Bharatiya Janta Party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has become synonymous with patriotism and Hinduism. While the latter is a subject for discussion in its own right, RSS’s role in the freedom movement refutes its claims to be a patriotic organisation. The title ‘rashtriya’ in its name is befooling the people into believing construed facts about the Sangh built over the years. The lies about RSS’s role in the freedom movement have disillusioned millions. Not only did RSS not have any part in securing freedom from the British, it played a significant role in sabotaging the efforts of those who fought incessantly to free India from the imperial rule.
Mridula Mukherjee, historian and former director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, claims that even as late as 1942, organisations like Hindu Mahasabha and RSS had deliberately stayed away from the movement of freedom struggle. She also states that the organisation had no role in the Salt Satyarah or the Quit India Movement. And there is enough evidence to support her claims.
How the RSS came into being
RSS’s founder, Dr. K.B.Hedgewar, started his political journey with the Congress. However, he never fully supported Congress’s vision for opposing the British and building Hindu-Muslim unity. At that time, Dr. Hedgewar was close to another Congressman, Dr. B.S.Moonje, an extreme right wing leader who later led the Hindu Mahasabha.
Dr. Hedgewar’s extremely short and brief role in the freedom struggle ended when he was arrested and imprisoned for a year for participating and giving an inflammatory speech in the Khilafat Movement (1919-1924). Inspired by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s idea of Hindutva, Dr. Hedgewar founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, after he was released in September 1925. He openly criticised Gandhiji’s views on Hindu-Muslim unity. For him, nationalism was synonymous with building a Hindu rashtra.
Right from its inception, RSS was not engaged in any freedom movements. The independence struggle period is devoid of any reference to RSS’s role in anti-British activities. The organisation’s activities were concentrated mainly on disseminating Dr. Hedewar’s views of Hindu rashtra amongst the youth and carrying out anti-minority hate campaigns.
RSS’s aversion to symbols of freedom
RSS was not just opposed to participating in any freedom movement, but was also averse to anything that symbolized a united India. Even the tricolour was not acceptable to the Sanghis.
The Congress adopted Purna Swaraj in its December 1929 Lahore session and called upon the Indians to observe January 26, 1930 as Independence Day by displaying and honouring the Tricolour. Refusing to support the Indian National Congress in the struggle for freedom, the RSS supremo issued orders to all RSS members to worship the symbolic saffron flag. In one of his journals ‘Drifting and Drifting’ in Bunch of Thoughts, M.S.Gowalkar wrote, “Our leaders have set up a new flag for our country. Why did they do so? It just is a case of drifting and imitating”.
Dr. Hedgewar’s biography, published by the RSS, mentions of another instance of the organisation’s anti pro-independence activities. When Gandhiji launched the Salt Satyagraha in 1930, Dr. Hedgewar “sent information everywhere that the Sangh will not participate in the Satyagraha”. M.S. Golwalkar, who was close to Dr. Hedgewar and later on succeeded him, mentioned that unlike the founder, many among the RSS cadre were enthusiastic about participating in the salt satyagrah. They were discouraged to partake in the Dandi march. However, Dr. Hedgewar himself took part individually in the Salt Satyagrah and went to prison. The motive was not to gain India’s freedom but to break into the ranks of Congress and win them over for the Sangh’s works. Post this incident, the RSS leaders stayed away from any anti-British struggle and avoided activities which could be considered against the British rule.
Opposing the Quit India Movement
On August 8, the nation will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement, also known as ‘August Kranti’. Albeit short-lived and quickly supressed, the Movement filled a new life in the freedom struggle.
In its Mumbai session in August 1942, the All-India Congress Committee gave the call for a nationwide civil disobedience movement. Gandhiji launched the movement by declaring ‘Do or Die’ in his Quit India speech delivered in Mumbai at the Gowalia Tank Maidan. He asked his fellow countrymen to either free India or die in the attempt. The sole motive behind launching the movement was to demand an end to the British rule in India.
No sooner had the movement started, it was crushed by the Imperial army and many Congress leaders along with Gandhiji were imprisoned. The British came down heavily on the protestors. Hundreds of civilians were arrested and countless were killed in the violence that ensued.
The most striking revelation in the entire course of the Quit India Movement, has perhaps been the absence of RSS. The Sangh, along with other organisations like the Hindu Mahasabha, the Muslim League and the Communist Party of India, opposed the movement.
After Dr. Hedgewar’s death in 1940, RSS was headed by M.S. Golwalkar, who too was conspicuously absent from the national movement.
In his book ‘Undoing India the RSS Way’, Shamsul Islam, retired Professor of University of Delhi and author of many books, has cited quotes from Gowalkar’s biography, which leave no doubt about the RSS’s stance on participation in the freedom struggle. Gowalker wrote, “In 1942 also there was a strong sentiment in the hearts of many. At that time too the routine work of Sangh continued. Sangh vowed not to do anything directly.”
The British records too mention RSS’s absence from the Quit India Movement. In ‘From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India’, Sekhar Bandopadhyaya cites a memo entry by the Bombay ( Mumbai) office of the British Raj, that “the Sangh has scrupulously kept itself within the law, and in particular, has refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942.”
On the contrary, the entire RSS literature, from its inception to the time of Independence, is devoid of any mention of the organization’s views on opposing the British rule or any activity which could lead us to believe that RSS opposed India’s oppression by the British.
Siding with those who bowed to the British
The Hindu Mahasabha, under the tutelage of V.D.Savarkar, had joined hands with the British in suppressing the Quit India Movement. Following the declaration of ‘Quit India’, the British raj dismissed Congress led governments in many provinces, including Bengal. While the freedom seekers were facing oppression and torture at the hands of the British, Savarkar declared his support to the British.
At the 24th session of the Hindu Mahasabha at Cawnpore (now Kanpur) in 1942, Savarkar reiterated his support by declaring that, “The Hindu Mahasabha holds that the leading principle of all practical politics is the policy of Responsive Co-operation. And in virtue of it, it believes that all those Hindu Sangathanists who are working as councillors, ministers, legislators and conducting any municipal or any public bodies with a view to utilize those centres of government power to safeguard and even promote the legitimate interests of the Hindus without, of course, encroaching on the legitimate interests of others are rendering a highly patriotic service to our nation. Knowing the limitations under which they work, the Mahasabha only expects them to do whatever good they can under the circumstances…..”(Cited in V.D. Savarkar, Samagra Savarkar Wangmaya: Hindu Rashtra Darshan, vol. 6). The Hindu Mahasabha formed coalition government with the Muslim League in 1942 in Bengal.
Another prominent RSS leader, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, too openly supported the imperial rule. In his letter written to the British raj, Dr. Mookerjee praised the British rulers as saviours of Bengal. The Muslim League too resonated the feelings. In his journal, ‘Leaves from a diary’, he writes, “The question is how to combat this movement (Quit India) in Bengal? The administration of the province should be carried on in such a manner that in spite of the best efforts of the Congress, this movement will fail to take root in the province. …… Indians have to trust the British, not for the sake for Britain, not for any advantage that the British might gain, but for the maintenance of the defence and freedom of the province itself”.
RSS supported the Hindu Mahasabha and went along with all its activities against the Congress’s efforts to free India from the British rule.
Shamsul Islam cites another quote from Gowalkar’s speech in June 1942, “Sangh does not want to blame anybody else for the present degraded state of the society. When the people start blaming others, then there is weakness in them. It is futile to blame the strong for the injustice done to the weak…”
The RSS not only boycotted the Quit India movement but also joined the British in suppressing the nation’s call for freedom. Yet it claims to be a patriotic organisation, forgetting that though the name might fool people, actions will always speak louder than words. The history of our struggle for freedom is only filled with pages describing how the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its leaders refused to stand up for swarajya and azaadi.