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Monthly Archives: JULY 2016


Golwalkar. Proof that poison always sells.
22.07.16 - preet k s bedi
Golwalkar. Proof that poison always sells.



If the tall and strapping Hedgewar was energy and passion, his chosen successor was a diminutive man of learning and scholarship. But for his long flowing hair, he would barely be noticed till he spoke and then all eyes would be on him. In fact, the two complemented each other’s strengths  almost perfectly. While Hedgewar was an entrepreneur who could build from scratch, Golwalkar fancied himself as a social scientist.was a visionary. 
 
Golwalkar was the ninth born to Lakshmibai and Sadashivrao in Nagpur in 1906. All his siblings died young and he was left to grow up alone. He did his schooling from Nagpur and graduation and post-graduation from BHU and after an aborted attempt to pursue a course in Marine Biology in Madras, he started teaching at BHU in 1931. His initial contact with the RSS happened around this time. 
 
He eventually settled for a degree in Law from Nagpur and then proceeded to Bengal to serve his guru Swami Akhandanand where he wrote the book ‘We or Our Nationhood Defined’ which for long served as the RSS bible but has recently been disowned by them out of embarrassment and shame. 
 
Hedgewar had been impressed by the quiet confidence of this young man who shunned the limelight and in all likelihood, had always wanted him to join the RSS as a full-time worker. And that finally happened in 1939; he would take over the organisation the very next year after the death of its founder. 
 
Unlike Hedgewar, Golwalkar did not see the role of the RSS being only to transform the Hindu into a fighting force but as an instrument to script a new India more socially than politically. Presence or absence of the British made little difference to him. The RSS under him took no part in the Quit India movement of 1942 as his priorities lay elsewhere. 
 
He came into his own in 1949 once he was released from incarceration in the wake of Gandhiji’s assassination and unleashed his plan of growth for the RSS. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh was formed In 1951, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh in 1955, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in 1964 and the ABVP in 1972. With these four entities the RSS had spread its wings into every possible domain of public affairs.  
 
While his expansion of the RSS footprint was laudable, Golwalkar will be remembered for  the vision he created for the Sangh before and after independence.  The decades of the twenties and thirties which were growing-up years for Golwalkar were a period of intense religious turmoil. He was fourteen when the Mopallah riots happened and after that for almost two decades there was sustained communal conflict in cities, towns and villages across the country. Riots would be sparked off by religious processions, cow protection, minor altercations and sometimes for no reason at all. This was not a good period to be young and impressionable. Bigotry was an easy option.  
 
This was also the period when Hitler was creating an alternative narrative which must have appeared tempting to people struggling with religious conflict day after day. Like Bose and his own predecessor, Golwalkar was an unabashed admirer of Hitler’s brand of nationalism that would subsume differences. In fact his book We.., was to quote the German example "To keep up with the purity of the race, Germany has also 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 use in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.” 
 
In other words if India is to progress differences cannot be tolerated. But Hitler was cleverer. While he spoke of a purer race, he wisely  stopped short of adopting its philosophic baggage. Golwalkar on the other hand, felt obliged to draw his authority from the Vedas written a few thousand years ago. This and the self-imposed need to always be anti-Nehru pushed him into such an corner that his intellectual prescriptions for India started looking more and more like a mish-mash of ram-rajya, Gandhiji, the local khap leader, pujari from the mandir and a class 8 student of a less than the best school. 
 
To begin with, he genuinely believed that Hinduism is superior to other religions. "It is the Hindu alone in this vast mass of humanity who holds aloft this torch of hope and confidence...it is the grand world-unifying thought of Hindus alone that can supply the abiding basis for human brotherhood.” It is one thing  to preach this kind of stuff to the converted in a temple and quite another to make it the heart of your narrative in a country with considerable religious diversity. 
 
To make this arrogance appear even worse, he declared that  Christianity and Islam were "India’s biggest internal threats”. Adherents of these two ‘foreign’ religions "must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment-not even citizen's rights.’ In other words, either willingly be a Hindu or be forced to be one.  
 
Tough to believe any person claiming sanity would do so but after the 1965 war he regretted that China and Pakistan had not invaded us together thereby giving us an opportunity to defeat them together and let the world see the supreme heights of Bhartiya heroism as it is ‘no fun fighting a petty power like Pakistan’.  
 
If his views on religion were regressive and guaranteed to spread hatred, his lifestyle prescriptions were worse. In fact it appears the Taliban and the Khaps had actually borrowed his words. He hated ‘permissiveness’ and found films and fashionable clothes unacceptable in a country that boasted of Sita and Vivekananda. Songs and dances were nothing but moral depravity. He believed that only decadent western men and women show their love through kisses and embraces. The true Hindu wife does not do so as Indian culture has taught her restraint. He felt that sooner or later America would self-implode as American men wore fashionable garments, kept combs in their pockets and so were effeminate.  He wanted Sanskrit not English to be the national language. He believed that plastic surgery was invented by ancient Hindus. 
 
He refused to accept that the caste system had ever hindered our social development. On the contrary he thought it had helped to preserve our unity quoting the example of the Mohammedans managing to win over the Gandhara area in the North West because Buddhism had shattered the pattern of caste system in that region. 
 
He disagreed with both the flag and the constitution adopted by India. He felt the tricolor was inspired by flags of other countries and three colors suggested a compromise with  purity of Indian heritage better expressed in saffron. He disagreed also with the Constitution as it was also inspired by several other countries and did not reflect the Indian ethos.  
 
If his social perspectives were embarrassing for their antiquity, his views on the economy suggested comedy. Economics was obviously not an area of strength for him and it showed. To begin with he felt that raising the standard of living was by itself a wrong dream as it would lead to accumulation wealth and pursuit of pleasure. He envisioned a kind of ram rajya meets austerity meets socialism, even though the last of the three was a concept he publicly hated. In his system, basic needs would miraculously be met, everyone would earn just enough for their needs, there would be no profiteering as no true Hindu had the right to exploit another person’s labour for personal profit. Everyone would have the right to own property but there would be a ceiling on individual income. Vulgar and ostentatious expenditure would be curbed and above all, there would be no concept at all of consumerism as that is not compatible with Hindu culture.   
 
But sweetly, very sweetly, all this would happen only if "people are imbued with the right philosophy of life and are able to check their self-centred propensities...”. Ideal prescriptions coming from someone who knew he had not the faintest of a chance to ever be in a position to implement what he gratuitously preached. 
 
As it happens, over four decades after his second book we know that almost everything he preached was has proved inappropriate. Or simply wrong. America certainly hasn’t imploded. And despite having taken a secular path against his poison, India prospers.




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Hedgewar and the RSS. We have abused and accused them. Now to understand them.
22.07.16 - preet k s bedi
Hedgewar and the RSS. We have abused and accused them. Now to understand them.



Considering how insulated we were from global influences, impact of the First War on India was far greater than one would have expected.
 
By the time the dust settled not only had we lost over a hundred thousand soldiers and greatly diminished our economy but also gone through some tectonic social changes that would affect us forever.  
 
To understand what was happening lets go back to the turn-of-the-century. 
 
The country had started getting restless. Bengal already had a strong radical tradition  influenced by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Anand Math, Anushilan Samiti, Jugantar and others . The partition of Bengal in 1906 had strengthened it further. And the unrest had spilled over to the west and the north and even the somnolent Congress had split vertically with Tilak, Lajpat Rai and Aurobindo Ghosh creating the so-called garam dal within the party.  
 
Firebrand Bal Gangadhar Tilak was exiled to Burma for six years in 1908. On his return in 1914, though he offered support for the British war effort, he also demanded Swaraj or Home Rule. The very next year Gandhi relocated from South Africa. 
 
Initially he was low-key, participating  in only a few localised protests. But when the British desperately needed help in the war in 1917-18, Gandhi went way beyond Tilak’s offer of support. He actually travelled across the country with the British enlisting recruits for the war. This may or may not have been an attempt to upstage Tilak but that the two shared a testing relationship is a fact. Both were devout Hindus but that was where the similarity ended. Tilak was a radical nationalist keen to go the extra mile even if it meant violence and Gandhi was a votary of non violence and reconciliation. 
 
Tilak’s death in 1920 put a lid on any public airing of their differences but their correspondence reveals a philosophic conflict which was to become a major social fault-line in Indian politics in the future. 
 
Around this time, the Ottoman empire which had once stretched from central Europe to the Gulf and Russia to Africa was on its decline. Towards the end of the war when dismemberment of Turkey was imminent, there was sympathy for the Caliph among Indian Muslims. This led to the birth of the Khilafat Movement to pressure Britain to treat the Caliph honorably. 
 
Though it had been started by a group of Muslims, Gandhi decided to include Khilafat as  part of the Congress’s non-cooperation movement of 1919. Mixing an entirely unrelated event in a distant land with the Indian freedom movement no sense at all and opposition to it was immediate and stiff. The Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha were up in arms. So were most Hindus and many Muslims including his colleague Jinnah.  It had been an expedient political decision taken unilaterally by Gandhi only to outflank the Muslim League and make  Congress the first choice of the Muslims. Today it would be called appeasement. But soon he  realised his mistake and looked for a face-saver to withdraw the agitation. That came in the shape of the Chauri Chaura incident in which many policemen were killed by a rioting mob.  
 
By first including Khilafat in his non cooperation movement and then withdrawing it, Gandhi made enemies on both sides. Hindus felt that they had been taken for granted and Muslims felt let down when he called the agitation off. To add insult to injury, within a year of  Gandhi’s unilateral decision to support Khilafat, the Caliph was deposed by the Turks themselves.  
 
But this was just the beginning; more trauma was to follow. The chasm between the two communities would only deepen.
 
Racked under the burden of heavy taxation and greedy Hindu landlords, the Muslim Mopallah community of the Malabar region of Kerala had long felt oppressed and exploited. The Khilafat Movement gave them a cause to unite and fight for. Initially their target were the British but the protest soon degenerated into a full-scale war against the Hindus of the area. A crude version of Islamic law was imposed and atrocities meted out mercilessly to the Hindu population. Casualties and forced conversions were said to be in thousands not hundreds.  
 
After the Mopallah uprising communal rioting became the norm rather than the exception. Typically happening around festivals and religious processions and sometimes for reasons more trivial. Interestingly even then cow slaughter was a bone of contention. Year after year, from Bengal to Bombay to Lahore to Delhi, hundreds would be killed on either side in a surreal dance of death and destruction. 
 
Our official history downplays this but the big story of the twenties and thirties was not so much the freedom struggle as the deepening divide between the Hindus and Muslims. And neither the Government, nor the Congress nor the Hindu Mahasabha nor the Muslim League had any solution to offer. 
 
As someone born in 1889, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, whose efforts would go on to create an alternative narrative for India a century later, had lived through all of this.
 After his matriculation from Nagpur, he headed for Calcutta as much to pursue medicine as to dabble with ‘nationalist’ organisations like the Anushilan Samiti which believed in the ideal of ‘cultural, political and economic independence’ achieved with ‘muscles of iron and nerves of steel’.  
 
This was the Calcutta of Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Anandmath and Vande Mataram, Aurobindo and Barin Ghosh, Hemchandra Quanungo, Praful Chaki and others. At the Anushilan Samiti, he connected with Prasad Bismil and Sarvakar, fine-tuned his Hindu orientation, imbibe a shriller, more radical brand of nationalism and reinforce his instinctive commitment to physical and mental toughness which he believed should be the cornerstones of a good Hindu.  Though the RSS, keen to associate him with Nagpur more than any other city plays down his Calcutta influences, the fact is that his core philosophy was nurtured in that city.
 
Once back in Nagpur after his medicine, for a while he toyed with the idea of fomenting a violent uprising and set up Krantidal which by today’s definitions was a simple terrorist organization. He recruited a force of 150 volunteers and trained them for an uprising planned for 1918. Unfortunately the ship carrying the weaponry was intercepted by the British. After this failure, Krantidal lay abandoned and he joined the Congress, the only option for a young man wanting to be in public life. But his differences with Gandhi and the Congress on the Hindu-Muslim dynamic were very basic. Within two years of joining including the one spent in jail on charges of sedition, he left the Congress.  
 
Out of the Congress, he was able to crystallise his own thinking and vision. This shifted his focus from the British to the need for a Hindu renaissance. "Even if the British leave, unless the Hindus are a powerful nation, where is the guarantee that we shall be able to protect our freedom?” he had once asked. Creating such a powerful nation now become the raison d’etre of his existence.  
 
His frustration was two-fold. He felt Hindus lacked the physical and emotional strength necessary to fight back and that in any case, the religion was too fluid and random for them to unite and fight as one. In fact he had once complained that uniting Hindus was like weighing a bowl filled with frogs; one or the other would keep jumping out. 
But that was not all. After the Khilafat experience in which he felt Muslims had shown their loyalty to someone beyond the boundaries of India, he had decided that Muslims could not be depended upon in the fight for India’s freedom. "If the yoke of British slavery has to be overthrown, we have to mainly trust the Hindus. We have to awaken patriotism, discipline and bravery. Then only will the Muslims shed their separatist tendencies and stand shoulder to shoulder with the Hindus in the nationalist movement.”  
 
The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh was formed by Hedgewar in Nagpur on the Vijaydashmi day in 1925. With the objective of forging ‘the scattered Hindu society into an organised and invincible force both on the adhyatmik and material plane’.  
 
Using ‘Rashtriya’ as a kind of surrogate for Hindu was an incredibly smart move. In one swoop the ownership of nationalism became a private Sangh affair. 
 
He chose the extraordinarily simple format of a shakha to be held in a park or any public space where those interested would gather for a couple of hours every morning or evening. The routine included exercise and yoga, playing games, undergoing martial training, reciting shlokas and shouting and singing nationalist slogans and songs. Occasionally there would be discussions or discourses on spirituality (read Hinduism) or nationalism related subjects.  And this diverse mélange of activity would be bound by activities like saluting the Bhagwa Dhwaj, taking the RSS pledge, singing Vande Mataram and other songs and the literature from the central office from time to time.  
 
The Shakha concept was self-sustaining, easily replicated and therefore easy to grow. Expansion was fast, helped by the rising antagonism between the communities to which neither the government nor the Congress seemed to have any solution.  He took care to exclude any direct political activity within the shakha. For one thing, with the setting up of the RSS his personal focus had shifted away from politics. Secondly he was aware that a confrontation with the Congress and Gandhi would not be easy to handle for the fledgling RSS and thirdly, anything remotely subversive could invite action by the government.
 
Whatever his objectives may have been have been, on the ground the RSS existed as the very anti-thesis of the Congress. If the Congress was a loose non-ideological construct of people coming together to fight the British, the RSS was a disciplined army with a clear ideological bias. If the Congress spoke of Hindu-Muslim amity, the RSS believed India was a Hindu nation in which the Muslims and Christians were welcome to stay. If the Congress preferred to paper over religious differences, the RSS believed only an understanding of the glorious Hindu past would create the pride that is necessary in building a nation.  
 
In his mind Hedgewar saw the Congress as a continuation of the old British idea of an India that had been united and brought together by them and believed instead in the idea of a rich and and ancient cultural heritage that needed to be made relevant for contemporary times. In fact, when the Congress drafted a committee to decide on a flag for the country, he was  against the idea of a tricolor and lobbied (all but managed) that the Bhagwa Dhwaj be chosen as it best represented India. Later in 1930 when the Congress gave a call for the Indian flag to be hoisted, the RSS office was an exception which continued to fly its own flag. 
 
The riots of 1923-1927 helped RSS expand its footprint into other states as well. Hedgewar personally visited Punjab, Bengal, Karnataka, Delhi, UP and several other parts of the country creating more and more shakhas. His message everywhere was simple. If the country has been ruled by invaders for 800 years, the problem was bound to be within us. We need to look within and fix it. Fighting the British was, by now, just a footnote in the RSS scheme of things. By the time he died an early death in 1940, he had pretty much established presence of RSS in most large cities in the country.  
 
But the philosophy that he espoused has not only remained but grown over the years. Was he wrong? Possibly not. After all despite the fact that India was non-existent as a unity before the British, there must have been a powerful cultural synergy which enabled the British to unite it without too much pain.
 
He simply overlooked the fact that culture is a continuous creation. And that many of the so-called ‘invaders’ from the ninth century onwards had not only made India their home but had also  imbibed and contributed to the culture he so valued. 
 
It was an oversight India, that is Bharat, would pay a big price for in the decades to come.




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