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April 21, 2019

Gandhi and RSS: Diverse Nationalisms

Ram Puniyani

There are continuous attempts from RSS camp to show that Mahatma Gandhi looked up to RSS with respect. The latest in this direction is the piece by RSS joint General Secretary Shri Man Mohan Vaidya. (The Mahatma and the Sangh, IE, 12 April 2019). Vaidya first tries to dissociate from Godse by stating that in the many discussions which he has attended on Gandhi within Sangh, Godse is not mentioned. Does that mean Godse had nothing to do with RSS? He was a Pracharak of RSS who later joined Hindu Mahasabha as its Secretary of Pune Branch. His brother Gopal Godse, Nathuram’s younger sibling and a co-conspirator in the assassination plot, in 1994, disclosed that his elder brother was anxious to protect the RSS, which had been "like a family to us". "[Nathuram] said in his statement that he left the RSS", Gopal continued. "He said it because... the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS". Gopal denounced the "cowardice" of those disputing his brother's unbroken membership of the RSS. Corroborating Gopal's statement is the influential pro-RSS scholar Dr Koenrad Elst who, in his 2001 book Gandhi and Godse, wrote that "Nathuram contrived to create the impression that the RSS had little to do with him, simply to avoid creating more trouble for the RSS in the difficult post-assassination months."

Right in the beginning of the article Mr. Vaidya is forthright to point out his opposition to Gandhi, “…despite disagreeing with him and his surrender to the extremist and jihadi elements among Muslim community RSS had admired… (Gandhi)” This distortion of history is deliberate in keeping with Hindu nationalism espoused by Vaidya and his RSS. While from within Muslims there were Muslim Nationalists, whom Gandhi abhorred, he wooed over large section of Muslims to Indian Nationalism. To call the Muslims who participated in freedom movement under the leadership of Gandhi extremist or jihadi is not only a travesty of truth; it is more a revelation of RSS worldview where Muslim is seen as alien, foreigner, aggressor and terrorist. It is this root of RSS ideology which prompted Godse to put three bullets in the chest of Mahatma.

Viadya does try to present as if RSS was part of freedom movement, by showing that RSS founder Dr. K. B. Hedgewar participated in 1921 non cooperation and 1930 civil disobedience movement.  On one side Hedgewar participated in Non cooperation movement on the other he is critical of the impact of the same,  ‘As a result of non cooperation movement of Mahatma Gandhi, the enthusiasm in the country was cooling down and the evils of social life, which that movement generated, were menacingly raising their head. ‘As per him ‘it is due to this movement that Brahmin–non Brahmin conflict was nakedly on view’. (C.P.Bhishikar in Keshav Sangh Nirmata, Pune 1979, p 7) Surely these participations by the RSS founder were purely in personal capacity and RSS never participated in any anti British movement as an organization. In 1930, (RSS was formed in 1925) Hedgewar discouraged those who wanted to participate in anti British Movement. And in 1942, his successor also forbade RSS volunteers to take part in 1942 Quit India movement. Golwalkar reminded the RSS that fighting against British is not a part of their agenda. This RSS ideologue clearly spells out that fighting against the British has not been part of their agenda, “We should remember that in our pledge we have talked of freedom of the country through defending religion and culture, there is no mention of departure of British from here.” (taken from Shri Guruji Samagra Darshan, vol. IV, page 40)

As far as Gandhi’s views on RSS are concerned there are some scattered observations, but these give an apt understanding of what he thought of about RSS. As far as Gandhi’s understandings about RSS is concerned there are authentic sources to tell us the real story. In Harijan on 9th August 1942, Gandhi writes, “I had heard of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its activities; and also know that it was a communal organization”, this was in response to the slogans and some speech against ‘other’ community, about which a complaint was made. In this Gandhi is referring to the drill of RSS volunteers, who shouted that this Nation belongs to Hindus alone and once the British leave we will subjugate the non Hindus. In response to the rowdyism indulged by communal organizations he writes, “I hear many things about RSS. I have heard it said the Sangh is at the root of all this mischief.”(Gandhi, xcviii, 320-322)

Amongst the recorded opinions about Gandhi’s evaluation of RSS, the most authentic is the one of his secretary Pyarelal. Pyarelal narrates an event in the wake of 1946 riots. A member of Gandhi’s entourage had praised the efficiency, discipline, courage and capacity for hard work shown by RSS cadres at Wagah, a major transit camp for Punjab refugees. Gandhi quipped back, ‘but don’t forget, even so had Hitler’s Nazis and Fascists under Mussolini’ Gandhi characterized RSS as a communal body with a totalitarian outlook’ (Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase, Ahmadabad, page 440)

After independence, in the context of Delhi violence (Rajmohan Gandhi, Mohandas, page 642), Gandhi confronted the RSS chief Golwalkar, with reports of the RSS hand in Delhi violence, Denying the allegations Golwalkar also said that RSS did not stand for killing the Muslims. Gandhi asked him to say so publically. Golwalkar said Gandhi could quote him on this. Gandhi did this in his prayer talk that evening, but he told Golwalkar that statement ought to come from him. Later he told Nehru that he did not find Golwalkar convincing.’

So today when point is being made about choice between Gandhi and Godse, what is being pleaded is that the choice is between inclusive Indian nationalism of Gandhi and exclusive Hindu nationalism being propounded by RSS progeny BJP, Godse is synonym of Hindu nationalism, the agenda of RSS Combine!

Gandhi and RSS: Diverse Nationalisms

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