People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 36

September 06, 2009

 Pretensions to the Nationalist Legacy

A Brief History of the RSS


The BJP has, often in the past, shown a tendency to use Indian history as a political resource, in an effort to establish a link between Hindutva, Indian nationalism and the idea of an �akhand Bharat.� However, it is clear that the BJP�s forebears in the RSS, far from opposing the �two-nation� theory, in fact propounded a particular version of it. Here we reproduce an article written by Professor Irfan Habib on the genesis of this theory. This article, published in 1998, may be helpful in understanding the present ongoing debate on this theme.


THE Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was founded in 1925 by K B Hedgevar because he did not accept the basic concept of India with a composite culture, espoused by our National Movement. He rejected with scorn the belief that all people inhabiting India have had a contribution to make to its development as a nation. Hedgevar later made claims that he had earlier taken part in revolutionary and nationalist activities, but little about this has been documented from independent sources, the only firm fact being that he was once tried and sentenced for a fiery speech in the Non-Cooperation Movement. After 1922 he began to follow B S Moonje, a co-founder of the RSS, who assigned to Hedgevar the job of being its first Sar Sangh Chalak. The purpose of the RSS, as Hedgevar himself put it, was not to join the National Movement against the British but to oppose �the yavan-snakes [Muslims], who, reared on the milk of non-cooperation, were provoking riots in the nation with their poisonous hissing.�


Soon after the formation of RSS, the country was stirred by the almost total boycott of the Simon Commission, during the course of which Lala Lajpat Rai fell a martyr (1928). The great revolutionary Bhagat Singh, with Sukhdev and Rajguru, was arrested in 1929 and later executed in 1931. In 1929, as many as 32 communist leaders were arrested all over the country, charged with the conspiracy �to deprive the King of the sovereignty of British India,� and sentenced to heavy punishments, Muzaffar Ahmad receiving transportation for life. Finally on January 26, 1930, hundreds of thousands of Indians took the Independence Day pledge; and with Mahatma Gandhi over 90,000 of them went to prison chanting nationalist slogans. Thousands of them had their properties confiscated.


In all this the RSS remained a passive spectator. How could it be otherwise when Moonje himself was a brazen �responsive cooperator� with the British government, and had been shameless enough to take part in the first Roundtable Conference in London �on behalf of Hindus� at the invitation of the British government in 1930, a time when all of India was aflame with civil disobedience. Even when forced to pay lip-service to the Congress circular for independence day on January 26, 1930, the RSS insisted that the salutation not be that of the national tricolour but the �Bhagwa Jhanda� to be worshipped at its own separate meetings. In July 1930, when responsive cooperators like M S Aney were compelled to join the jail-goers, Hedgevar followed him. This was, however, the sum total of Hedgevar�s nationalist� activity. As soon as early 1931 he and his RSS were welcoming Moonje to hear of this achievements at the first Roundtable Conference.




From then on, the hostility to the National Movement became everyday more blatant. In 1940, just before his death, Hedgevar chose his successor, Golwalkar, who had joined the RSS in 1931 and had become its general secretary (Sar Karyavah). Golwalkar had never taken part in any nationalist agitation and never saw the inside of a British jail. To succeed Hedgevar he had only one qualification: the inveterate espousal of a �two-nation� theory and hatred of the nationalist leadership. In his book We, or Our Nationhood Defined, first published in 1938, Golwalkar declared that it was only one �race� that constituted the nation in India. For Golwalkar, the notion of political power as embodied in the �state� was subordinate to that of the �nation�. Perhaps this was the reason he opposed the Quit India movement � that climactic act in the process of decolonisation � and explicitly instructed his RSS flock to �stick to their posts and continue to perform their regular duties.� His views on the �nation�, however, were of a far more uncompromising sort. The RSS supremo was convinced that only those movements that contributed to the glorification of the �Hindu� idea were truly �national,� and that those who took another view were �either traitors� or, to take a charitable view, �idiots�.


The view of the nation that emerged from these presuppositions was exclusive and hierarchical, a legally sanctified version of the caste system. Absent from the conception of the RSS was the idea of a state in which citizens would have equal entitlements, irrespective of religion, denomination or caste. Those who did not subscribe to the predetermined notion of national identity had only two choices in Golwalkar�s view: �to merge themselves into the national race or to live at its mercy, so long as the national race may allow them to do so, and to quit the country at the sweet will of the national race.�


There was no room, Golwalkar proclaimed, for Gandhiji�s and the nationalist leaders� slogan of Hindu-Muslim unity. As Golwalkar put it in his book, the Congress leaders wanted Hindus �hugging to our bosom our most inveterate enemies (Muslims) and thus endangering our (Hindus�) very existence.� He asked: how could the nationalists �class ourselves with our old invaders and foes (Muslims) under one outlandish name � Indian�? Contrary to the secular, democratic blueprint that the Congress Karachi Resolution (1931) and the Congress Election Manifesto (1936) had provided for a free India, Golwalkar presented the picture of �two nations,� the Hindus forming the dominant one and the Muslims the subjugated. The Muslims, said Golwalkar, �may stay in the country, [but] wholly subjugated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizens� rights.� He threatened them with a fate like that of the Jews in Nazi Germany, for like the Germans �our Race spirit has once again roused itself.�


This was the greatest service that the RSS chief could render to British imperialism with its interest in �divide and rule� as well as to Muslim communalism with its interest in claiming that Muslims were not acceptable to Hindus. The RSS�s slogans �Hindu-Hindi-Hindustan� and �Hindu Raj amar rahe� resounded on the streets even before the Muslim League accepted the slogan of Pakistan. Like the Muslim League, the RSS and its political mentor, the Hindu Mahasabha, were alike guilty of preparing the road to partition. No honeyed words about �genuine secularism� today can blur the reality of the RSS�s crime and treason against the National Movement.


It must be remembered that Golwalkar�s book was published two years before the Muslim League�s Lahore Resolution (1940), which is taken to be that party�s first step towards the acceptance of the �two-nation� theory. But that resolution is mildness itself when compared to Golwalkar�s diatribe. Though apt today to cause considerable embarrassment, his book has undeniably been a formative ideological influence upon the current generation of the BJP�s top leaders. It is immaterial that We, or Our Nationhood Defined was quietly withdrawn from circulation because of its obvious crudities. More germane is the question whether any member of the Sangh Parivar has explicitly dissociated himself from its pronouncements. The evidence in fact is to the contrary. Many of the inflammatory slogans adopted by the Parivar during the Ayodhya mobilisation (�Agar Hindustan mein rehna hoga to�.�; �Mussalman ke bus do sthan�) show the direct influence of the Golwalkar worldview.




When Golwalkar succeeded Hedgevar as Sar Sangh Chalak of the RSS in 1940, the organisation claimed to posses 100,000 trained and disciplined swayamsevaks. As usual with the RSS, the claim was more on paper than in the realm of reality. But there is no doubt that Hedgevar left behind a large organisation.


What, however, did these �100,000 volunteers� do? The Congress launched a satyagraha (individual civil disobedience) from October 1940 and, by the middle of 1941, over 20,000 people had been convicted and jailed. They were nationalists of all hues, from Gandhians to communists. But the RSS swayamsevaks, despite their flaunted numbers, were conspicuous by their absence. Such was the patriotism of Golwalkar and his ilk.


When the Congress passed the Quit-India resolution in August 1942 and all the Congress leaders were arrested, leading to a spontaneous mass upsurge all over the country and consequent bloody suppression by the government (1,060 dead by police and military firing, by official admission), the RSS heroes simply looked the other way. When a swayamsevak was arrested on a misunderstanding, like Atal Bihari Vajpayee had been, there was always an apology or intervention by a government official (like Girija Shakar Bajpai) to get him out of prison quickly. Did not V D Savarkar (a hero of the RSS in his later incarnation), on September 4, 1942, tell all Hindu Mahasabhaites in legislatures and government service to �stay on at their posts to help the British government; and did not Shyamaprasad Mukherji (the co-founder, with Golwalkar, of the Jan Sangh) �stay on at his post� in the Bengal ministry that enjoyed a majority in the legislature only because the Congressmen were in jail? Writing in 1943, E J Beveridge, an official of the Home Department, observed: �The Sangh has as a general rule taken care to keep on the right side of the law and avoid any clash with authority.� So pliant was the RSS�s patriotism� when it came to facing the British government!


When, after the end of World War II, another nationalist upsurge began with the movement in support of INA prisoners in late 1945 and the RIN Mutiny in early 1946, the RSS was again nowhere to be seen. Indeed, an eyewitness (see Des Raj Goel�s account in his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, p 96) says that as late as August 1947 Golwalkar refused to believe that India could become independent, for he thought, as all the �pucca loyalists� of the British Raj did at the time, that even if the British went, �the nincompoops in whose hands they are giving the reins of government will not be able to hold on for two months. They will go crawling on their knees to the British and ask them kindly to return.�




The Indian National Movement began with a concern for the poor. British rule was to be rejected because of the growing impoverishment of the Indian people (see Dadabhoy Naoroji�s most famous work Poverty and un-British Rule in India). From a fight against untouchability and women�s welfare, Gandhi broadened his vision to a society with absolute casteless equality and total equality between men and women. These perceptions received their formal statement on behalf of the National Movement in the Karachi Resolution on Fundamental Rights that formed its basic programme. Both principles were and have remained anathema to the RSS.


As against the egalitarian vision of the National Movement, Golwalkar put forward the vision of a caste-ridden India. In We, or Our Nationhood Defined, he said:


�The Hindu people, they [our forefathers] said, is the Virat Pursa, the Almighty manifesting Himself. Though they did not use the word Hindu, it is clear from the following description of the almighty in Purusha Sukta, wherein it is stated that the Sun and Moon are his eyes, the stars and skies are created from His nabhi (navel) and �Brahmin is the head, king the hands, Vaishya the thighs and Shudra the feet.� This means that the people who have this four-fold arrangement, i.e. the Hindu People, is our God.�


In other words, the Hindus acquired divine status only because they had evolved the �four-fold arrangement�, the Varna system, under which the Shudras were kept in their place as �the feet.� Such a perverted view of Hinduism is basic to the RSS�s theory of history in which the Hindu masses are just �the herd� and only the �twice born� rule the roost.


Furthering his vision of a caste-ridden India, Golwalkar shamelessly expressed his admiration for Hitler�s cult of �race pride� and �purge� of the Jews. He said, �Germany has shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.� The RSS philosophy is thus rooted in a Hitler-like concept of a pure race. Not surprisingly, the true �race� in India is identified as that of the Aryans, who are presumed to have contributed all that is great in Indian culture and civilisation. The RSS ideologues have always given a racial overtone to the name Aryavarta, taking it to mean not �the noble land� but �the land of the Aryas.� For the last two decades especially, they have been busy constructing a mythology by which they can prove that everything great in India belonged to the Aryas.


In 1978 the RSS formed what was referred to in the Organiser (February 25, 1979) as the Indian History and Culture Society. The Society came out with publications that began to elaborate on the RSS�s �historical theory.� The late K C Verma, writing in the Society�s volume Bias in Historiography (1980), claimed that the Dravidian languages were derived from Sanskrit, that there was no Dravidian influence in Sanskrit, that Indus culture was not Dravidian, that the Aryans did not come from outside but had India as their own home, and many similar theories. Such theories became the staple of RSS and BJP propagandists.


Nor was the RSS�s attitude towards women any different from those expressed about non-Aryans. By its constitution, decreed by Golwalkar in 1949, its membership (status of swayamsevak) is restricted to Hindu males only. Thus, as in its articulation of the �two-nation� theory so also in its assertion of feudal hierarchy and male chauvinism, the RSS even left the Muslim League far behind, which at least in words paid lip service to equality and had its membership open to women. What common point, then, could there be between the RSS and the National Movement, whose social vision was the very opposite of that of the RSS!




In the mid- and late-1950s, the Jan Sangh, the earlier incarnation of the BJP, carried a bitter campaign against the use of Punjabi in the Gurmukhi script in the then undivided Punjab. On April 16, 1956, the RSS published an article in the Organiser criticising the government for trying to oust Tara Singh and fumed, �It is idle to think that the Hindus of Punjab will submit to such a draconian and undemocratic type of ukases.� Such resistance to Gurmukhi was a part of the larger effort to belittle Sikhism. It is well known that the RSS holds that the Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs are Hindus, and thus refuses to acknowledge that these are distinct religions. Even in this position of forced conversion, their contributions are belittled: �so far as Jainism and Buddhism are concerned, they have never made any contribution to political and social thought as such� (Organiser, June 10, 1963).


It is surely one of the strangest paradoxes that the Akalis, who have all the time been laying stress on a distinct Sikh identity, should have allied themselves with the BJP, who, in their own cult, regard Sikhs as mere camp-followers of �four-fold� Hinduism and nothing more. But Jains and Sikhs at least have a place in the RSS�s nation, though a low one. No place at all is conceded in the RSS�s vision to the Christians, and, especially, to Muslims, since they are excluded from the �privilege� of being deemed Hindus.


In the RSS�s view, the Muslim have not made any contribution to our civilisation. As N S Rajaram tells us, Muslims �have contributed nothing of significance to knowledge. On the other hand, they have suppressed every intellectual movement� (Harappa to Ayodhya). As for their works of art � the Qutb Minar, the Taj, the Delhi Fort, and so on � the late P N Oak�s theories of these being really Hindu structures appropriated by Muslims were diligently disseminated by the RSS�s propaganda mill in the 1960s (Oak�s articles were regularly printed in the Organiser) and have still not been repudiated. The Muslims are seen as immoral marauders and destroyers of everything culturally precious; thus, they are the principal enemy of the Hindus. This comes out very well in Golwalkar�s diatribe in his Bunch of Thoughts against Gandhiji and the nationalist leaders, who had raised the banner of Hindu-Muslim unity:


�The exhortation of the [nationalist] leaders [for unity] did not stop at that. The Hindu was asked to ignore, even submit meekly to, the vandalism and atrocities of the Muslims. In effect, he was told: If they [Muslims] carry away your wives and daughters, let them. Do not obstruct them. That would be violence.�


If, therefore, the Hindus took to violence, the fault must always be that of Muslims. When riots were on the rise in the 1960s, with the RSS hand regularly detected in the violence against Muslims, the so-called �liberal mask� of the BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, re-articulated this comfortable philosophy. In 1970 he said, �Our Muslim brothers have been becoming more and more communal, and as a reaction thereto Hindus have been becoming more and more militant� (Speech, Face the Facts, May 19, 1970). Thus Muslims, like Jews, were to blame if they had to be killed.


So what should be the place of Muslims in this country? The same, said Golwalkar in We or Our Nationhood Defined, as Jews in Nazi Germany: �wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizen�s rights.� They were not, indeed, to be given even the right to fight and die for their country. In December 1965, Golwalkar protested against what he called �undue publicity being given to heroic members of the fighting forces who belonged to certain minority communities.�


The destruction of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, as the culmination of a hysterical campaign, which brought such embarrassment to the country on the world scale, was a part of this programme of ostracisation of Muslims. Such actions were justified by a false and one-sided reading of history, one filled with Muslim �misdeeds.� It is proclaimed ad nauseum by the Sangh Parivar that Hindu self-respect can only be restored by Muslim humiliation, whatever the cost may be to the honour and good name of the country.




What the RSS increasingly made its mark for were, first its ferocious attack on the National Movement and its leaders, and second, its incitement to violence against Muslims. Already in 1938, Golwalkar had attacked the Congress as a vehicle for �denationalisation� of Hindus and referred to the Congress leades as �these creatures� to be compared with Jaichand, Mansingh (Akbar�s commander), and Chandrarao More. By 1947, he had only added further words of vituperation: �Those who [like Gandhiji] declared �No Swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity� have thus perpetrated the greatest treason. They have perpetrated the most heinous sin.� He accused Gandhiji and other upholders of inter-communal unity of saying to Hindus: �If they [the Muslims] carry away your wives and daughters, let them. Do not obstruct them.� What was this, if not a direct incitement to violence against the Father of the Nation?


On this ground the RSS began an open call for the killing of Muslims in the spate of riots that began to engulf the country in late 1946 and 1947. The RSS, like its communalist Muslim counterparts, not only rationalised the killings, but also enlarged its ranks by encouraging and absorbing the killers. Wherever massacres took place, the name of RSS cropped up with regular frequency. According to an official deposition before the Kapoor Commission (1969), there were �6000-700 cases against the RSS in a couple of months after independence, the charge against them being of collecting arms and attacking villages and assaulting individuals.� On December 7 and 8, 1947, Golwalkar held meetings in Delhi in which he denounced Free India�s government as �un-Indian� and �satanic� and he called for �guerrilla war� against Muslims. He said, �The Sangh will finish Pakistan, and if anybody stands in their way they will finish him also.� On February 4, 1948 in a formal communiqu� the government of India declared:


�It has been found that individual members of RSS have indulged in acts of violence, robbery, dacoity, and murder, and have collected illicit arms and ammunition� The objectionable and harmful activities of the Sangh have, however, continued unabated and the cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the activities of the Sangh (RSS) has claimed many victims.


Let us go back to the words uttered by Golwalkar on December 8, 1947. He said, �If anybody stands in [the RSS�s] way, they will finish him also.� That one man to stand in their way was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Dauntlessly fighting for humanity, he went on fast on January 13 to 18 to keep peace in Delhi. The Mahasabha and RSS men in Delhi were compelled by the pressure of a new turn in public opinion to sign the statement for �peace, harmony and fraternity between the communities.� Only then would Gandhi give up his fast. The humiliation inflicted on the RSS could hardly be borne: on January 30, 1948 Gandhi was shot dead by Nathuram Godse, an RSS swayamsevak of ealier days and a follower of V D Savarkar.


Under law, Golwalkar�s threat of violence against Gandhi could not be turned into a charge of conspiracy to murder. But in the eyes of the Indian people, the complicity of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS in the crime through the relentless campaign they had conducted against Gandhiji was patent enough. Even the government of India recognised in its communiqu� of February 4, 1948 that the latest and most precious victim to fall to the RSS�s cult of violence was Gandhiji himself.




The BJP and Sangh Parivar have harmed the nation long enough. They have sullied national honour by destroying the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992; they have done everything again and again to incite riots whenever it suited their purpose, as has been established in so many official and judicial inquiries; their shady links with big business houses and hawala scams are now common knowledge. There can be no greater insult to the nation than their claim that, with all this, they are the heirs of Mahatama Gandhi and the National Movement. Gandhiji murder is a dark stain that the RSS and BJP can never remove. The Indian people have the power to decide between the ideals of our National Movement and the dark paths of the RSS Parivar.