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Truth behind RSS claim: Did Hegdewar, Vajpayee participate in freedom movement?

By Ram Puniyani* 

As RSS, the parent organization of the ruling BJP, has grown tremendously during the last few years, attempts are being made by ideologues from its stable to prove that it was a major player in the freedom struggle. Rakesh Sinha, a well-known RSS ideologue and currently BJP MP in Rajya Sabha, claims that the Civil Disobedience Movement was “invigorated” due to the participation of RSS founder KB Hedgewar.
There are other claims which go farther. One Saji Narayan states that RSS was in the thick the of freedom movement. Someone has also recalled that the onetime RSS pracharak and ex-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had claimed to have participated in the freedom movement.
The debate came to the fore once again, when Maharashtra chief minster Uddhav Thackeray while replying to the motion of the governor said that RSS never participated in the freedom movement and that merely chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai does not make one patriotic. In response to Thackeray’s statement, former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadanvis said Hedgewar was a freedom fighter.
A deeper analysis reveals that Muslim and Hindu nationalists (Hindu Mahasabha and RSS) did not participate in the struggle for India’s Independence. India’s struggle against the British was led by Mahatma Gandhi, it was all inclusive, and it cut along linguistic and religious boundaries and gave an overarching Indian Identity to the majority of the people.
The communal streams remained aloof from this as their major agenda was nationalism in the name of their religion. Each of them believed that they should cooperate with the British to oppose the ‘other’ nationalism. Muslim nationalism aimed to oppose Hindu nationalism by cooperating with British, and vice versa.
As far as Hindu nationalists are concerned, there are stray exceptions when they were part of the national movement. At most of the times they either remained aloof from it or cooperated with the British. Vinayak Savarkar in his pre-Andaman days did struggle against the British rule, but after he apologized to the British to get released, he never participated in the anti-British movement. In fact, he supported the British war efforts by recruiting soldiers for the British. That was at a time when Subhash Bose formed Azad Hind Fauz to fight the British.
Fadanvis is partly correct when he says that Hedgewar was a freedom fighter. Hedgewar did participate in the 1920s in the Non-cooperation Movement, and was sentenced to jail for a year. After the formation of RSS in 1925, on two occasions he partly aligned with the Indian national movement. But at both these occasions, his differences with Indian nationalism were apparent as he flaunted his Hindu nationalism.
As Prof Shamsul Islam points out: 
“We are told that Hedgewar joined the call of the 1929 Lahore Congress that called for a public unfurling of the Tricolor on every January 26. RSS, under the command of Hedgewar, refused to follow it. Instead on January 21, 1930, he ordered all the RSS shakhas to worship ‘Rashtriya dhwaj arthat bhagwa dhwaj, national flag i.e. saffron flag’.”
So the difference in the approach is very obvious despite RSS people partly showing support for celebrating January 26 as the day of complete Independence. In fact, they replaced the national call of hoisting Tricolor by hoisting of the saffron flag, symbol of Hindu nationalism.
It was ideological commitment to build Hindurashtra that led Hedgewar and others to go jail as Congressmen
It is also true that Hedgewar joined the Civil Disobedience movement in 1930. But Hedgewar made it clear that he was joining the movement in his individual capacity, and for this he handed over the post of sarsanghchalak (the supreme chief) to his friend and colleague Dr Paranjape till he was in jail.
Hedgewar’s biography by CP Bhishikar points out that the RSS founder gave instructions that “the Sangh will not participate in the [Salt] Satyagrah.” Referring to his motive to join the freedom movement, Bhishikar says, it was not to lend strength to the national movement but, “with a freedom loving, self-sacrificing, and reputed group of people (of the Congress) inside with him there, he would discuss the Sangh with them and win them over for its work.”
The biggest movement against the British also saw RSS obeying the British dictates. Golwalkar instructed the shakhas of RSS to continue with their routine work and not to do anything that would annoy the British. In “Guruji Samgra Darshan” (Vol 4, page 39), Golwalkar says:
“There was some unrest in the mind due to the situation developing in the country from time to time. There was such unrest in 1942. Before that there was the movement of 1930-31. At that time many other people had gone to Doctorji (Hedgewar). The delegation requested Doctorji that this movement will give independence and the Sangh should not lag behind.
“At that time, when a gentleman told Doctorji that he was ready to go to jail, Doctorji said ‘definitely go, but who will take care of your family then?’ The gentleman replied, ‘I have sufficiently arranged resources not only to run the family expenses for two years but also to pay fines according to requirement’. Then Doctorji told him, ‘If you have fully arranged for the resources then come out to work for Sangh for two years’. After returning home, that gentleman neither went to jail nor came out to work for the Sangh.”

This again is related to RSS ideology of Hindu nationalism. In the “Bunch of Thoughts”, Golwalkar denounces the freedom struggle as “territorial nationalism” which “…had deprived us of the positive and inspiring content of our real Hindu nationhood and made many of the ‘freedom movements’ virtually anti-British movements”.
It was this ideological commitment to building Hindurashtra that led Hedgewar and others to go jail as Congressmen and not as a part of RSS, which all through remained aloof, even as opposing the freedom movement, whose goal was Indian nationalism.
On instruction of the British, Golwalkar instructed RSS to organise military drill and gave it a uniform too. On April 29, 1943 he issued a circular which said: 
“We have to remain the bounds of law and do our work.” A year-and-a-half after the Quit India movement was launched, the Bombay government of the British Raj noted in a memo, with considerable satisfaction, 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.”
The Vajpayee story has also has a twist. In the context of elections (1998), he issued a statement saying that he had participated in the freedom movement. As the matter was investigated, it came out that he was a mere onlooker in one of the processions in Bateshwar (his native village). He was following the agitators, and as the police lathicharged, he was arrested with the protesters. As per Vajpayee, he was also arrested. Immediately he wrote to letter seeking apology and disowning the protesters. He even named leaders of the protest.
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*Distributed by Peoples Media Advocacy & Resource Centre- PMARC. A version of this article was first published here

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