The poll bugle has been sounded and political leaders are busy delivering campaign speeches as per the culture and tradition of their parties. In one such speech, the leader of a party proclaimed that the vote this time around would be a choice between Mahatma Gandhi and Nathuram 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 Gandhiji in the Sangh but never heard Godse mentioned. It is indeed ironic 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 of the Sangh, when it comes to the RSS’s relationship with Gandhiji people often make presumptions without the requisite examination of the facts. Even so-called scholars rarely attempt a holistic study of the subject.
In order to set the record straight, the material available on 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 the charkha and 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.
Dr K B Hedgewar, the founder of the 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.
When the Mahatma was sentenced to six years imprisonment on March 18, 1922, the 18th of every month was celebrated as the Gandhi Day. Whilst Gandhiji was in prison, some of his self-professed followers were serving their own interests in the name of patriotism. Hedgewar 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 Mahatmaji. Those who take pride in being called his followers have an additional responsibility to follow these qualities”.
In 1934, when Gandhiji was residing at Jamnalal Bajaj’s residence, he attended a camp of the RSS being conducted nearby. During his conversations there, he was happy to learn that the camp included swayamsevaks from the Scheduled Castes and everyone lived together in fraternity. Later, when Gandhiji was staying in what was then called a Bhangi colony (sweeper’s colony), after Independence, a morning shakha used to be conducted in front of his residence. As per his wishes, more than 500 Swayamsevaks, above the mandal level, assembled and Gandhiji 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… 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.”
On January 30, 1948, when Sarsanghchalak Shri Guruji (M S Golwalkar) got the news of Gandhiji’s assassination, he sent a condolence telegram to Devdas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel. 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.”
On the occasion of the birth centenary of Mahatma Gandhi, a statue of Gandhiji was unveiled by Golwalkar. In his address, he said: “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… My last meeting with Mahatma ji was in 1947. At that time riots broke in Delhi. Even those who were non-violent by tradition had become cruel, rogue and heartless… 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.’ 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. “
This speech has been published in collected works of M S Golwalkar, vol.1 page 208-221.
Commenting about the relationship between Gandhi and the RSS 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 talk about Gandhi only during election campaigns. This year is the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhiji. I humbly pay tribute to his memory.
The writer is joint general secretary of the RSS