Fall And Rise of The Hindu Right

The ideas and philosophy of Right-wing leaders have opened the path for RSS to firmly propagate that in society and preserve their roots fiercely in the context of national revival movements, which emerged during the nineteenth century as a moral defence against British imperialism

By Arun Bhatnagar
  • Swami Dayananda led a major reform movement of the Vedic tradition. He was the first to give the call for Swaraj
  • The revivalist movements gathered force and Hindus and Muslims began to assert themselves as separate entities
  • Savarkar stressed the cooperation between the Hindus and Muslims against their common adversary, the British
  • Bhaiyyaji Dani was among the first pracharaks to be involved in spreading the RSS ideology through personal contact and meetings
‘To speak of Hindu fundamentalism is a contradiction in terms, it does not exist. Hinduism is not this kind of religion ….. The older I get, the more Hindu I become...’ 

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (1932-2018)
Internationally acclaimed Novelist & Essayist,
Nobel Laureate in Literature, 2001

INDIA was declared to consist of two nations by Vinayak Damodar (‘Veer’) Savarkar in his Presidential Address at the Annual Session of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937 – three years before the Muslim League did so and again in December, 1939, three months before the Pakistan Resolution was adopted by the League at Lahore. Savarkar (1883–1966) coined the term Hindutva to represent the predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India. It has been championed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and affiliated organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) of the Sangh Parivar. The French political scientist, Christophe Jaffrelot, has said that Savarkar’s concept of Hindutva marked a ‘qualitative change’ in Hindu nationalism. His older brother, Ganesh Damodar Savarkar (1879-1945), popularly called Babarao Savarkar, founded the Abhinav Bharat Society (Young India Society) in 1904 at Nasik (Nashik).

VINAYAK SAVARKAR CLARIFIED THAT HINDUTVA WAS A NEW CONCEPT: 

‘…Hindutva – Hinduness – is more comprehensive than the word Hinduism. It was to draw pointed attention to this distinction that I had coined the words Hindutva, Pan Hindu and Hindudom when I framed the definition of the word Hindu … Hinduism concerns the religious systems of the Hindus, their theology or dogma… This is precisely a matter which the Hindu Mahasabha leaves entirely to group conscience and faith…’. In 1937, he declared ‘… So far as the Hindus are concerned, there can be no distinction or conflict … between our communal and national duties as the best interests of Hindudom are simply identified with the  best interests of Hindustan as a whole…’. 

MOVEMENTS OF NATIONAL REVIVAL

In the background were movements of national revival which materialized during the nineteenth century by way of a moral defence against British imperialism. The impact of Western thought and civilization led to an awakening of political consciousness and a sense of frustration in the face of colonial dominance. The Hindu mind sought solace in the hallowed memories of the Golden Age of the Vedas, in the founding of the Arya Samaj in 1875 by Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1824–1883) and in a resurrection of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s cult in, primarily, present-day Maharashtra. The Hindu psyche, in trying to rehabilitate its pride, glorified its lost achievements.

Swami Dayananda led a major reform movement of the Vedic tradition. He was the first to give the call for Swaraj as ‘India for Indians’ in 1876 which was taken up by Lokmanya Tilak. He worked for the revival of Vedic ideologies; among those he inspired were Swami Shraddhanand (1856-1926) an Arya Samaj missionary, who emerged in the 1920s, as an important force of Hindu Sangathan.

 Mahatma Hansraj  Mahatma Hansraj (1864-1938), an educationist in the Arya Samaj movement and a compatriot of Lala Lajpat Rai; he started the Dayanand Anglo-Vedic Schools System (DAV) in Lahore in 1886 and Lala Lajpat Rai.

Savarkar coined the term Hindutva to represent the predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India. It has been championed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and affiliated organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)

By a similar psychological process, the Muslims took their minds back to the glories of the Islamic conquests of the lands around the Mediterranean. 

The revivalist movements gathered force and Hindus and Muslims began to assert themselves as separate entities. Hindu culture and Muslim culture were being looked upon as distinct, even irreconcilable, conceptions.

In 1906 (in which year the Muslim League was founded at Dacca, East Bengal), a Scheme was drafted by Lala Har Dayal and sent to Shyamji Krishna Varma in Britain for organizing a society of workers to achieve a free India which would, in effect, be a Hindu India.

The Akhil Bharatiya (All India) Hindu Mahasabha was a functioning body before the RSS came up in Nagpur in 1925. Known earlier as the All India Hindu Sabha, it amended its constitution under the presidentship of Maharaja Sir Manindra Chandra Nandy of the Cossimbazar Raj (in Bengal) to remove the clause relating to loyalty to the British Government and added a clause committing itself to a ‘united and self-governing’ Indian nation.

Among the prominent leaders in the Hindu Mahasabha, at one point in time, were stalwarts like Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lala Lajpat Rai. By the late 1920s, it was coming under the spell of Dr Balakrishna Shivram (BS) Moonje (1872–1948) and Savarkar who was a severe critic of the Congress.

One of the Mahasabha’s influential members, Keshav Baliram (KB) Hedgewar (1889–1940) departed to establish the RSS as a Hindu Volunteers Organization that abstained from active politics. 

Dr Moonje, who was Savarkar’s senior in age, held a degree from the Grant Medical College in Bombay (Mumbai) and was a follower of Lokmanya Tilak; their relationship was very close. Moonje introduced the Ganesh and Shivaji festivals in Central India (he was born in 1872 at Bilaspur, in the then CP & Berar, now Chhattisgarh) and mobilized funds. A staunch Hindu, he inspired military training programmes and set up institutions, like schools and orphanages and hostels for Dalits. 

Tilak’s death brought Moonje’s association with the Congress to an end. He was the President of the Hindu Mahasabha from 1927 until Savarkar took over from him a decade later.

SAVARKAR, HINDU MAHASABHA AND HINDUTVA

If there is a single personality who inspired the Hindutva protagonists the most before his early demise, it was Lokmanya Tilak. Born in 1856 in the Ratnagiri District in the then Bombay Presidency, he was Gandhi’s senior by thirteen years and a ‘natural leader’ who motivated a host of men like Moonje. Driven by realism, the triumvirate of Lal – Bal – Pal might have provided an altogether different direction to settling the Hindu – Muslim question.

In a monumental work, the ‘Indian War of Independence, 1857’ which appeared in 1908, Savarkar stressed the cooperation between the Hindus and Muslims against their common adversary, the British. He depicted the revolutionary principles of Swadharma and Swaraj as being shared by Hindus and Muslims who fought British rule. 

The redoubtable Syama Prasad Mookerjee who succeeded Savarkar as the Mahasabha President, felt that a new political party should be formed that would be open to all religious communities, ‘using the broadest possible definition of Hindu’

The antagonism that emerged after the 1921 Moplah uprising was reflected in Savarkar’s later work of 1925, ‘Hindu Pad – Padashahi’ (Hindudom and Hindu Kingdom) where Muslims replaced the British as enemies of Hindus. Here, the heroes are the Marathas who fought to avenge Hindu honour and to restore Hindu dharma to its power and glory.

This was the backdrop in which the Hindutva network spread in Central India, primarily in the then Maratha princely States of Gwalior, Indore, Dhar, Dewar (Senior), Dewas (Junior) and others, including Rajput principalities, which merged to become Madhya Bharat, post-1947.

Savarkar prophesied the importance of the Hindu Princes. He criticized Congress’ attacks on the policies of Hindu States, extolled Mysore, Travancore and Baroda as examples of progressive administration and pronounced Hindu rulers to be capable of patriotic leadership. He also strove to unify the rulers through their support for the Hindu Mahasabha and, in 1945, presided over the All India Hindu States Conference held in Baroda (Vadodara).

Support for Savarkar’s militant ideology was particularly strong among the Marathi Brahmins.

During much of his public life, while a definite rivalry, even animosity, characterized his relations with the Congress, a few in that Party favoured an alliance and tried to induce the Hindu Mahasabha to join forces with its conservative faction. Public functions honouring Savarkar were, however, off-limits for Congress politicians; no Congress minister attended Savarkar’s seventy-fifth birthday and none came to his funeral. When Lal Bahadur Shastri was the Prime Minister, a monthly honorarium was paid to him by the government.

He advised Mahasabha candidates not to be discouraged if they lost elections and counted several Congressmen as sympathetic, claiming they supported the Congress only because it ‘affords them the guarantee of being elected, whether to the local bodies or the legislature, or assures them of some post or profit, here or there’.

The RSS membership increased from around 76,000 in 1943 to about 600,000 in early 1948. In the late forties, its fortunes were inevitably linked to the events surrounding the Partition. The sincere labours of the RSS cadres helped lakhs of Hindu and Sikh refugees who were fleeing West Punjab

The Hindu Mahasabha’s standing was damaged by accusations of involvement with Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. Its leaders and workers were arrested and the organization was banned. After the ban was lifted, the Mahasabha leaders disagreed over the future of the organization. The redoubtable Syama Prasad Mookerjee (1901 – 53), who succeeded Savarkar as the Mahasabha President, felt that a new political party should be formed that would be open to all religious communities, ‘using the broadest possible definition of Hindu’. Other Mahasabha leaders disagreed with Mookerjee who resigned and founded the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) in 1951.

Following Gandhiji’s murder, Savarkar was arrested in February, 1948 from his house in Shivaji Park, Bombay and kept under detention in the Arthur Road Prison. He was charged with murder, conspiracy to murder and abetment to murder. The trial of the accused persons by a Special Court comprising a member of the Judicial Branch of the ICS, Justice Atma Charan, was held at the Red Fort, Delhi. Savarkar was acquitted in February, 1949. 

A few months after Savarkar’s demise, the Government of India appointed a one-man Commission of Inquiry into the conspiracy to murder Mahatma Gandhi. Justice Jeevan Lal Kapur, a former Judge of the Supreme Court of India, completed his report in November, 1969 and reached, in respect of Savarkar, a conclusion contrary to that of the Special Court which had exonerated him for want of corroborative evidence in support of the approver’s confession. The Commission concluded: All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group. 

The RSS was banned once during British rule and thrice, post-1947 – first, following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, second, during the Emergency (1975-77) and for a third time after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992

Savarkar’s prediction of the future success of the Sangathan movement (when the Congress would have to compete with Hindu political parties to prove their pro-Hindu credentials) now sounds uncannily apt:

“If the Hindu party persists in contesting elections, a day will come when the Congressite Hindus shall have to go to the polls with a conspicuous “bandhan” besmeared on their foreheads and the Tulsi rosary in their hands or prove to the Hindu electorate that it was they, the Congressites, who were Hindus of a purer ray serene than the Hindu Sangathan”.

He advocated a Hindu national identity based on contempt for British rule. Lacking the qualities to lead a mass movement, he has been described as moody and erratic and unable to negotiate with other parties. Nonetheless, his powerful Hindutva polemics led the way for people to conceptualize and articulate their political and cultural identity in Hindu nationalist terms.

Savarkar is widely acknowledged as a leading light of the Hindu revivalist movement which was coming into its own, first under Dr Hedgewar and then Guru Golwalkar, and he is reverentially remembered for having devoted his life to the cause of Hindu Sangathan. The same could be said of Moonje and of Laxman Vaman (LV) Paranjpe, the volunteers of whose earlier organization, the Bharat Swayamsewak Mandal, were asked to wear a uniform, subsequently adopted by the RSS as its own dress code.

Subhas Chandra Bose conferred with Savarkar (then heading the Hindu Mahasabha) in Bombay in 1940, their first and only interaction. The meeting was part of Bose’s initiative to contact national leaders, across party lines, to build up support for a united effort against British rule. 

The Mahasabha contested the 1952, 1957 and 1962 general elections and steadily lost electoral support. In 1952, it fielded thirty-one candidates for the Lok Sabha and four seats were won. In 1962, there were thirty-two candidates and only one seat was won. However, it remained a voice of Hindu nationalism; its political role was, in later years, much more successfully adopted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its religious and cultural activism by the VHP.

EMERGENCE AND EXPANSION OF RSS

When Savarkar passed away on February 26, 1966, an estimated 100,000 men and women came to pay their last respects and over 2,000 RSS workers lined the procession route to the cremation ground.

The Mahasabha’s importance declined, even as the organizational strength of the RSS was growing. While Mookerjee’s decision to leave (after Savarkar refused to accept non-Hindus in the Party) weakened the Mahasabha, other leaders were joining in the forties and fifties.

Dr Narayan Bhaskar Khare (1884-1970) was an important figure to leave the Congress in the late 1930s. He was the Party’s first Premier of the Central Provinces & Berar, an elected member of the Provincial Legislative Council since 1923 and was jailed for joining the Civil Disobedience Movement.

Khare soon faced disciplinary action for removing three senior ministers from the provincial cabinet and had to resign.

The RSS was banned once during British rule and thrice, post-1947 – first, following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, second, during the Emergency (1975-77) and for a third time after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992

He had taken his degree in medicine and was, in 1913, the first MD of the Punjab University. Khare was later the Member for Commonwealth Relations in the Viceroy’s Executive Council and, subsequently, Prime Minister of Alwar State (1947–48) when he was placed under house arrest in connection with the Mahatma’s murder. He joined the Hindu Mahasabha in 1949 and wrote his autobiography in 1959 in which he claimed to have prevented the Maharaja of Alwar from joining Pakistan.

The RSS was born on the day of Vijayadashmi in 1925 and Dr Hedgewar insisted on the term ‘rashtriya’ for the organization. Babarao Savarkar is considered to be one of the five founders of the RSS. This fact finds mention in senior journalist MJ Akbar’s book, India: The Siege Within. Akbar writes: ‘The five friends who started the RSS were Dr BS Moonje, Dr LV Paranjpe, Dr Tholkar, Babarao Savarkar and Dr Hedgewar himself’. 

Having assisted the RSS’ expansion, the Hindu Mahasabha would have felt entitled to ask for the support of the Sangh’s swayamsevaks. Its Nagpur leadership, however, demurred and was not willing to divert the organization from its long-term objective of a Hindu Rashtra. 

An examination of the trajectory of the Hindu Mahasabha under Savarkar and of the way in which the RSS unfolded itself shows that there were basic differences in priorities between the two organizations. Savarkar’s emphasis was on turning the Mahasabha into a political party in opposition to the Congress whereas neither Hedgewar nor Golwalkar wished to be associated with confrontational activities directed against the Congress. By the early 1950s, the Mahasabha and the BJS were in contest for the same political space in an environment that was not conducive to either of them. 

The RSS membership increased from around 76,000 in 1943 to about 600,000 in early 1948. In the late forties, its fortunes were inevitably linked to the events surrounding the Partition. The sincere labours of the RSS cadres helped lakhs of Hindu and Sikh refugees who were fleeing West Punjab. 

Hedgewar was influenced by the writings of Lokmanya Tilak and Savarkar (both Chitpavan Brahmins, like the famed revolutionary Wasudeo Balwant Phadke), whereas he himself was born in a Marathi Deshastha Brahmin family in Nagpur. His early followers included Prabhakar Balwant (Bhaiyyaji) Dani, Babasaheb Apte and Balasaheb Deoras, as also Madhukar Rao Bhagwat whose son, Mohan Madhukar Bhagwat, is the present Sarsanghchalak (Chief Executive) of the RSS.

The RSS set up a Womens’ Wing in 1936.

Dogged by failing health, he had started delegating his responsibilities to Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar (1906–73) who was declared as the Sarkaryavah (the second-most important position in the RSS) at a gurudakshina festival in 1939 and became the Sarsanghchalak the following year. He was widely known as Guruji.  

SPREAD THE WORD

Bhaiyyaji Dani was among the first pracharaks (full-time propagators) to be involved in spreading the RSS ideology through personal contact, meetings and public lectures, he played a crucial role in expanding its network in the erstwhile Madhya Bharat where his first team of pracharaks included Manohar Rao Moghe who went to Ujjain, Kushabhau Thakre (1922–2003), a later-day BJP President, who went to Mandsaur-Ratlam and Haribhau Wakankar who went to Kukshi.

Earlier, Hedgewar had sent Dani as a pracharak to the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) with the approval of the University’s founder, Madan Mohan Malaviya, and with the instruction to intermix with the students. Among those recruited by him at the BHU was M S Golwalkar, a young lecturer. 

The RSS was banned once during British rule and thrice, post-1947 – first, following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, second, during the Emergency (1975-77) and for a third time after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.

Eknath Ranade, Balasaheb Deoras and Dani negotiated with Sardar Patel the issue of lifting of the 1948 ban. The three of them wrote a Constitution for the RSS, which was a pre-condition to lifting the ban. In practice, however, the democratic measures put into the written Constitution had little effect since an exact number of candidates was nominated for all posts without the need for any elections.

The RSS leadership indicated preference for a Kesari (saffron) flag and a Hindi name for the Party, such as Bharatiya Lok Sangh or Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Mookerjee chose the latter

Among the first pracharaks to take initiation from Dr Hedgewar was Umakant Keshav (Babasaheb) Apte (1903-71) who was born in a Chitpavan Brahmin family in Vidarbha. He formed a Vidyarthi Mandal for discussing revolutionary ideas; a visit by Hedgewar provided sufficient inspiration for Apte to merge his fledging organization with the RSS.

The memory of Eknath Ranade (1914-82), another leading figure of the RSS, was honoured at an event organized in connection with his Centenary Celebrations in November 2014. Prime Minister Modi described him as “a perfectionist that others found difficult to match”. He succeeded Bhaiyyaji Dani as the Sarkaryavaha.

Having long been under the influence of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings, Ranade published a tribute ‘Rousing Call to Hindu Nation’ and took up, with the wholehearted support of Guru Golwalkar, the project of building the Vivekananda Rock Memorial near Kanyakumari where the Swami had meditated in 1892. He later founded the Vivekananda Kendra as a Hindu spiritual organization, based on the principles of Renunciation and Service. 

FIRM FOOTING UNDER GOLWALKAR

Bhaiyyaji Dani, Babasaheb Apte and Eknath Ranade were among the men of rare integrity who, led by Hedgewar, put the RSS on a firm footing. 

Hedgewar’s choice of Golwalkar as his successor came as a surprise, since senior activists were passed over. One factor that, apparently, weighed with Hedgewar was Golwalkar’s educational credentials, his unshakeable determination and his organizational skills. It was also thought that he would maintain the independence of the RSS, otherwise liable to be regarded as a youth front of the Hindu Mahasabha.

Guru Golwalkar had come under the spell of Swami Akhandananda (1864-1937), a direct disciple, like Swami Vivekananda, of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He received his ‘diksha’ in January, 1937 but travelled to Nagpur in a state of depression after his guru’s death. It was Hegdewar who convinced him that his obligation to society could best be fulfilled by working in the RSS.

In the annals of the RSS, Guru Golwalkar occupies a very special position. In 1938, he translated Babarao Savarkar’s ‘Rashtra Mimansa’ (Nationalism) from Marathi to Hindi and English which was published as ‘We, or our Nationhood Defined’ and is considered as a treatise for RSS cadres.

In his early years as the Sarsangchalak, the RSS footprint spread to the then Jammu & Kashmir State when Prof Balraj Madhok (later President of the BJS) was sent as a pracharak to Jammu; a shakha was opened in Srinagar four years later. 

He took care not to give the British authorities a chance to take action against the RSS. On their part, the colonial dispensation acknowledged that the RSS organization “scrupulously kept itself within the law and refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942”. On more than one occasion, he praised Savarkar’s ‘Essentials of Hindutva’ and in May, 1963 acknowledged his debt to Hindutva philosophy.

Hindu leaders supported the State of Israel at its formation and Guru Golwalkar praised the Jews for preserving their ‘religion, culture and language’. In later years, Narendra Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel

Guru Golwalkar continued the organizational expansion that Dr Hedgewar had overseen. When the Congress – led by Mahatma Gandhi – announced the Quit India movement in 1942, Golwalkar said: ‘Right from the beginning, the Sangh has decided to observe certain constraints in some matters’. He argued that ‘the Congress leaders did not make adequate preparations …… On careful thought, I have realized that we cannot reach our goal even if we took part in it with all our might …. In such a situation, I think the Sangh’s participation in the movement would serve no purpose’.

Prof Balraj Madhok wrote in 2008 that, after quitting the Nehru cabinet, Syama Prasad Mookerjee appealed to all sections, particularly those connected with the Arya Samaj and the RSS, to extend support to his new Party. According to Madhok, while the attitude of the Arya Samaj was encouraging, no response came from the RSS. However, Golwalkar remained in discussion with Mookerjee. The RSS leadership indicated preference for a Kesari (saffron) flag and a Hindi name for the Party, such as Bharatiya Lok Sangh or Bharatiya Jana Sangh. Mookerjee chose the latter. Eventually, Golwalkar and Mookerjee agreed that for the newly-established Party to enlist the cooperation of the Sangh Swayamsevaks, it should have the same ideal as the Sangh.

Guru Golwalkar’s last major institutional endeavour was the founding of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) in 1966, by when the RSS’ labour wing, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) had already been formed. 

In recognition of the assistance extended by the RSS to the civil administration during the Sino-Indian hostilities in 1962, Prime Minister Nehru allowed a Sangh contingent to participate in the 1963 Republic Day Parade.

FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS

In 2008, after his Assembly Election win in Gujarat. Narendra Modi authored ‘Jyotipunj’ (beams of light) recounting the stories of the lives of the extraordinary men who have inspired him. The longest biography is of the RSS’ second Sarsanghchalak, Guru Golwalkar, who historically expanded the organisation after he was given its charge by the founder. 

The reverence with which Modi writes about Guru Golwalkar in the essay titled ‘Pujniya Shri Guruji’ suggests that the Guru was an extremely important influence in his life.

Narendra Modi said that Guru Golwalkar was spiritually inclined and was convinced that he could best contribute to the task of nation-building (in line with Swami Vivekananda’s message) through the Sangh. 

Hindu leaders supported the State of Israel at its formation and Guru Golwalkar praised the Jews for preserving their ‘religion, culture and language’. In later years, Narendra Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel with which diplomatic ties were established in 1992 during the tenure of PV Narasimha Rao.  

Vasant Rao Oak, a Chitpavan Brahmin of Nagpur who joined the RSS in 1927, is remembered for his devotion to Hindutva, as also Nanaji Deshmukh (1916-2010) who entered the RSS in 1929 in Akola and became a leading figure in the Jana Sangh, the Janata Party and, then, the BJP. 

GROWTH AFTER GOLWALKAR

Madhukar Dattatraya (Balasaheb) Deoras (1915-96) became a Swayamsevak in 1926 when he was about eleven years of age; he rose in the Sangh, from a Swayamsevak to a Mukhya Sikshak, a Shakha Karyavah, a Varga Sikshak, Sarkaryavah and, then, the third Sarsanghchalak. He met Dr Hedgewar regularly at the shakha and later recalled that Hedgewar displayed rare qualities of leadership; he himself cleaned the Sanghasthan (the site where a shakha is held), sprinkled water that was brought from a nearby well and participated in all the physical activities, along with other swayamsevaks.

During the ban on the RSS in 1975, Balasaheb Deoras was the Sarsanghchalak. Other organizations were also banned. He was invited to deliver a lecture in which he quoted Abraham Lincoln ‘if slavery is not wrong, there is nothing wrong in this world’ and added ‘if untouchability is not wrong, there is nothing wrong in this country ……..’. 

During his term as Prime Minister, between 1977-79, Morarji Desai approved the setting up of a Minorities Commission. Balasaheb opposed the decision and argued that a Human Rights Commission should have been formed in its place. He pitched for Indianisation, saying ‘if a person is reluctant to call himself Hindu, he must, at least, identify himself as a Bharatiya, irrespective of his form of worship …..’. 

Balasaheb echoed Savarkar in stating ‘We do believe in the one-culture and one-nation Hindu Rashtra. But our definition of Hindu is not limited to any particular kind of faith. Our definition of Hindu includes those who believe in the one-culture and one-nation theory of this country. They can all form part of the Hindu Rashtra. So by Hindu we do not mean any particular type of faith. We use the word Hindu in a broader sense…..’. 

He was more involved with political work than his two predecessors and got the RSS to support the JP movement against the Indira Gandhi regime.

For reasons of poor health, Balasaheb Deoras stepped down in 1994 paving the way for Prof Rajendra Singh (Rajju Bhaiya) to replace him. He survived just long enough to witness, in May 1996, the installation of a 13-day government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee – the first politician of RSS affiliation – to become Prime Minister. 

Rajju Bhaiya (1922-2003) had been active in the Quit India Movement. His father rose to the position of Chief Engineer in the then United Provinces. A Professor of Physics at the Allahabad University (where Murli Manohar Joshi was his student), it was the mission of the Sangh that really dominated his life and he quit the post at the University in 1966 to devote himself, full-time, to the RSS. He was the first non-Brahmin and the first non-Maharashtrian to head the RSS.

Rajju Bhaiya, a person of innate decency, was among the first to announce that Vajpayee would be the BJP’s prime ministerial face. He is also thought to have interceded with Vajpayee for designating L.K. Advani as Deputy Prime Minister, a move that Vajpayee was, perhaps, not overly keen to make.

 Of the same age as Rajju Bhaiya but from the pre-partition Punjab was Bhai Mahavir (1922-2016), son of Bhai Parmanand. The two were as senior as Vajpayee in the RSS organization. Bhai Parmanand (1876-1947) belonged to an Arya Samaj family of Jhelum district, West Punjab. He went on a hunger-strike in the Andaman Islands to protest against the harsh treatment of political prisoners.

His generation in the RSS had men like H V Sheshadri (1926-2005) who, inspired by the principles of the RSS since childhood, played a pivotal role in its growth in what is present–day Karnataka.

K.S. Sudarshan, popularly known as Sudarshanji (1931-2012), assumed the reins from Rajju Bhaiya on the latter’s retirement in March, 2000. In his Acceptance Speech, he recalled how he was hand-picked to head the Madhya Bharat region and that he had been hesitant to take up the responsibility. He said it was Guru Golwalkar who helped him to make up his mind, adding that ‘I was able to discharge my duties because people senior to me cooperated fully…..’. 

After the BJP-led coalition was voted out, he opined that Vajpayee and Advani should make way for a younger leadership to take charge of the BJP.

Sudarshanji stepped down as the Sarsanghchalak in March, 2009 and was succeeded by Mohan Madhukar Bhagwat (born in 1950 in Chandrapur, Maharashtra) signifying a generational change in the RSS. In November, 2021. Bhagwat expressed opposition to the Partition of India, declaring: ‘The only solution to the pain of Partition lies in undoing it’. 

Had the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS agreed upon a common set of objectives, pre-1947, both might have been able to oppose the Partition vigorously.

CONTRIBUTIONS OF MOOKERJEE

In the BJS and the BJP, two individuals, namely, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee (1901-53) and Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya (1916-68) stand out. Mookerjee, a remarkable figure in Indian public life in the forties and early fifties, is admired for his lofty idealism and impeccable character; he became the youngest Vice-Chancellor of the Calcutta University. His father, Sir Ashutosh Mookerjee (1864-1924) had been the second Indian Vice-Chancellor of the University. 

It is for his enunciation of a philosophy of integral humanism that Deendayal Upadhyaya is particularly remembered. Unlike some others who have risen phenomenally in the BJP, Upadhyaya was extremely simple in his habits, abjuring personal comforts

In April, 1950, Mookerjee and Kshitish Chandra (KC) Neogy resigned from the Union Cabinet following disagreement over the Pact concluded between Prime Ministers Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan, the provisions of which, they thought, left the Hindus in East Bengal at the mercy of Pakistan. KC Neogy was a member of the Constituent Assembly. He was Minister of Rehabilitation in the first Nehru cabinet and took charge, after the resignation of RK Shanmukham Chetty, as the second Finance Minister in 1950. However, he held office for only 35 days since he resigned alongwith Syama Prasad Mookerjee.

Mookerjee was also opposed to Article 370 whose abrogation became an article of faith with the newly-formed BJS. The Jammu & Kashmir State was allowed its own Flag, with Sheikh Abdullah becoming the first Prime Minister, to which Mookerjee responded: ‘Ek Desh mein do Vidhan, do Pradhan aur do Nishan, nahi chalenge’.

Speaking in July, 2017 at the release of a book titled Syama Prasad Mookerjee: His Vision of Education, the then BJP chief, Amit Shah, said that ‘If Jammu and Kashmir is our part today, the maximum contribution is of Mookerjee’s ….. his sacrifice ensured that we Indians do not need a permit to visit Kashmir’.

Mookerjee and Upadhyaya are the pillars on which the edifice of the BJP stands today, with the RSS as a steadfast ideological and organizational partner. Mookerjee was so impressed with Upadhyaya’s dedication that he said: ‘Give me two Deendayals and I will completely change the face of the nation’.

It is for his enunciation of a philosophy of integral humanism that Deendayal Upadhyaya is particularly remembered. Unlike some others who have risen phenomenally in the BJP, Upadhyaya was extremely simple in his habits, abjuring personal comforts. He did not subscribe either to the strident march of capitalism or to the commonly understood elements of socialism, emphasizing that the quest for greater wealth had not made the West any the happier nor had socialism been able to ensure human dignity.

HINDUTVA UPRISING

In the first general elections of 1952, the BJS won three Lok Sabha seats, including Mookerjee, who was elected from West Bengal. The Hindu Mahasabha (four seats) and the Ram Rajya Parishad (three seats) were the other like-minded parties that formed a bloc in Parliament led by Mookerjee. 

In 1967, a decisive blow was delivered to the Congress as it lost power in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal and Samyukta Vidhayak Dal (SVD) coalition governments were formed in States like Madhya Pradesh where a Congress ministry headed by DP Mishra was ‘toppled’ through the strenuous efforts of the Rajmata of Gwalior. Defections from the Congress resulted in a political coup which became the first occasion for the Jana Sangh to be in a power-sharing arrangement.

While much has changed since 1967, the SVD experiment offers insights to the present and the future. What is striking is that politics then was the obverse of what it is today. The Jana Sangh, struggling on the margins, prised open the doors of power with alliances. The Congress, then the pre-eminent force, currently stands at about the same electoral level, more or less, as the Jana Sangh then. 

Mahant Digvijay Nath was initially in the Congress and was arrested for taking part in the protests in Chauri Chaura in 1922. He entered the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937 (when Savarkar was its President), became the head of the UP unit and was imprisoned in 1948 for, allegedly, inflaming passions

The Hindu Right benefitted from the Emergency (1975-77) and RSS participation in the JP movement gave it a new legitimacy. The active involvement of the RSS cadres also provided the template for the Hindutva mobilizations of the late eighties and early nineties.  

After Upadhyaya’s sudden and untimely demise, Vajpayee found himself catapulted to the leadership, with seniors like Prof Balraj Madhok (1920-2016) being sidelined; Madhok, who was instrumental in establishing the Students Wing – the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) – was expelled from the Party.

The services of the Rajmata of Gwalior (1919-2001) to both the BJS and the BJP, were invaluable. She remained steadfast in her commitment; Vajpayee’s own political career might never have got so far as it did but for her unflinching support. 

On a broader Hindu nationalist plank, the BJS found an ally in the Shiv Sena (SS) – founded in June, 1966 – which follows an aggressively pro-Marathi ideology. At a poll rally in September, 2014, Uddhav Thackeray claimed that it was his father, Bal Thackeray, who had stood up to protect Narendra Modi amid the clamour for his removal as Chief Minister, Gujarat, he said that Balasaheb had categorically advised LK Advani that if Modi were to be replaced, the BJP would lose Gujarat forever.

In the early 1960s, a meeting took place between Dr Ram Manohar Lohia and Pt Deendayal Upadhyaya – facilitated by Lal Krishna (LK) Advani, then a journalist with the RSS weekly, Organizer – which turned out to be an intensive discussion on relations between India and Pakistan and between Hindus and Muslims. Lohia seems to have told Upadhyaya that the concept of Akhand Bharat had become a hurdle in trying to normalize India-Pakistan ties, saying that ‘many Pakistanis believe that if the Jana Sangh came to power in New Delhi, it would forcibly reunify Pakistan with India’, Upadhyaya replied: ‘We have no such intentions. We are willing to put to rest all the concerns on this score’.

A GENERATIONAL SHIFT

On March 23, 2017 at Lucknow, the Chief Minister, Mahant Yogi Adityanath (born June, 1972) paid glowing tributes to Dr Lohia on his death anniversary, which was interpreted as a gesture to all-inclusive politics. The Samajwadis have so far refrained from acknowledging Deendayal Upadhayay; by recalling Lohia’s achievements, the Chief Minister was subtly conveying that thinkers (like Lohia) cannot be the property of any one individual or political party.

Mahant Yogi Adityanath belongs to a tradition of Hindutva politics in Uttar Pradesh that is traced back to Mahant Digvijay Nath, who led the Babri Masjid agitation in Ayodhya in December, 1949. Both Mahant Digvijay Nath (1894-1969) and his successor, Mahant Avaidyanath (1921-2014), were aligned to the Hindu Mahasabha and were elected to the Lok Sabha on that Party’s ticket. The BJP and the Sangh Parivar joined the Ayodhya movement and Mahant Avaidyanath switched to the BJP in 1991. 

Mahant Digvijay Nath was initially in the Congress and was arrested for taking part in the protests in Chauri Chaura in 1922. He entered the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937 (when Savarkar was its President), became the head of the UP unit and was imprisoned in 1948 for, allegedly, inflaming passions. After release, he spearheaded the Ram Janmabhoomi movement of 1949 and organized a recitation of the Ramcharit Manas, at the end of which the idols of Rama and Sita were placed inside the Babri Masjid which was locked down as a result. 

This led to Mahant Digvijay Nath’s political rise.

Under Mahant Avaidyanath, the Gorakhnath Mutt moved closer to the Sangh Parivar. This was a time when several monastic orders located in Uttar Pradesh became politicized through their involvement in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

After Mahant Avaidyanath, his successor, Yogi Adityanath, became the Mahant (Peethadhishwar) of the Mutt. He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1998 on a BJP ticket. Once regarded as a leader of eastern UP – or Gorakhpur, to be precise – his profile has shot up dramatically in recent years.

In February 2017, Prime Minister Modi saluted Savarkar’s memory on his death anniversary: “Remembering Veer Savarkar on his punya tithi. He was a true patriot who envisioned a strong and developed India”.

Notwithstanding the dynamics in play, the fact remains that Savarkar was a very influential figure and a pioneer-theoretician of the idea of Hindu Rashtra. Syama Prasad Mookerjee and he are the only two Hindutva personalities whose portraits adorn the Central Hall of Parliament. Mookerjee’s portrait – donated by the BJP – was unveiled by President R Venkataraman in May, 1991. A bust-size portrait of Swatantryaveer Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was unveiled by President APJ Abdul Kalam in February, 2003 during the Vajpayee-led government. 

It was as late as in January, 1978 that Subhas Chandra Bose’s portrait found a place in this Gallery of Fame.

Given Vajpayee’s long connection with the RSS, his ideological and cultural roots in the organization should have, with the passage of years, have grown stronger rather than weaker. During his six years in office, a flexible outlook and affable temperament (he had virtually outsourced the Government of India to retirees like Brajesh Mishra and the so-called foster family), effectively conveyed the impression that the BJP was no more an ‘untouchable’ in electoral politics. 

With Narendra Modi’s ascent, the forces of Hindu Organization are here to stay in the political field.

The family of the present Sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat, has been associated with the RSS for three generations. Both Narendra Modi and he were born in September, 1950 and he is believed to push for Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, the reasoning being that the old order had to change. His preference for younger leaders was clear when he ensured that, at 52 years, Nitin Gadkari became the youngest-ever BJP chief.

Under his guidance, the RSS strategists analyzed the relevant data and found that the BJP had won at least once from around 278 seats across the country and that there were 70-75 seats where the party was second. A strategy was chalked to focus on these 350-odd seats. 

As the term of President Pranab Mukherjee approached completion in July, 2017, speculation was rife about the possible successors. Quite out of the blue, the Shiv Sena suggested that Mohan Bhagwat would make an ideal candidate for the position. In a response that spoke volumes of his commitment, Bhagwat said:

‘On entering the RSS, I closed all other doors. Even if my name is recommended, I will not accept…… Every swayamsevak knows that I can never be a presidential candidate…. I am a swayamsevak first and I have responsibilities in the Sangh…… The speculative reports in the media …… should be seen only as entertainment’.

Narendra Modi and Mohan Bhagwat would both be turning 75 when the RSS observes its first Centenary in the year 2025. 

Arun Bhatnagar

Arun Bhatnagar was formerly in the IAS and retired as Secretary, GOI. He attended St. Stephen’s College, Delhi in the early sixties. After retiring as Secretary (Personnel & Training) in the Union Government in 2004, he worked with the National Advisory Council (NAC) and, later, as Chairman, Prasar Bharati, New Delhi. He has had postings in the President of India’s Secretariat and in the Indian High Commission,
London. Bhatnagar’s earlier Book, ‘India: Shedding the Past, Embracing the Future, 1906-2017’, was well received as a historical narrative.

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