Pranab Da, Here’s “Great Son of India” Hedgewar Contradicting You

RSS founder Hedgewar called Indian Muslims “yavana (foreign) snakes” and doubted their will to respect “Bharat Ma”.

Updated
Politics
4 min read
On 7 June, former President Pranab Mukherjee called RSS founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar “a great son of Mother India”.
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On Thursday, 7 June, former President Pranab Mukherjee called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar “a great son of Mother India.”

Apart from being the RSS’ first sarsanghchalak, Hedgewar is remembered for his vision of a Hindu nation, the times he referred to Indian Muslims as “yavana (foreign) snakes”, and when he doubted their “willingness to join in paying homage to Bharat Ma.

On the sidelines of his speech at an RSS event, Mukherjee decided to visit Hedgewar's birthplace in Nagpur. Here’s what he wrote in the visitor’s book there.

Today I came here to pay my respects & homage to a great son of Mother India KB Hedgewarji.
Pranab Mukherjee

And here’s an excerpt on the same Hedgewar, the first RSS chief, from an article by Hartosh Singh Bal in The Caravan:

Another biography, by CP Bhishikar, noted that Hedgewar referred to Muslims as “yavana snakes” — using the Hindi term for Greeks, often applied to foreigners generally — and argued that they were “anti-national.”

Pranab’s Speech on Secularism Versus Pranab’s Praise of Hedgewar

Pranab Da, Here’s “Great Son of India” Hedgewar Contradicting You
(Photo: Meghnad Bose/The Quint)

Is there an inherent contradiction between Mukherjee’s speech at the RSS event on Thursday evening and his praise of Hedgewar a few hours prior to it?

During the speech, the former President said, “The soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance. Secularism and inclusion are a matter of faith for us. It is our composite culture which makes us into one nation.”

Yet, the man Mukherjee eulogised as “a great son of Mother India” clearly did not think the same way. Till date, the RSS boasts that its founder KB Hedgewar dreamt of a Hindu nation. In fact, it says so right on the RSS’ own website.

Hedgewar’s Idea of India: A Hindu Nation

Pranab Da, Here’s “Great Son of India” Hedgewar Contradicting You
(Photo: Meghnad Bose/The Quint)
The RSS website proudly states, “Hedgewar founded the RSS in Nagpur, Maharashtra in 1925, with the intention of promoting the concept of Hindu nation.”
On the RSS website, Hedgewar’s bio mentions his “intention of promoting the concept of Hindu nation”.
On the RSS website, Hedgewar’s bio mentions his “intention of promoting the concept of Hindu nation”.
(Photo: Screenshot/rss.org)

In Hedgewar’s biography, ‘Dr Hedgewar, The Epoch Maker’, authors BV Deshpande and SR Ramaswamy wrote:

Savarkar’s inspiring and brilliant exposition of the concept of ‘Hindutva’, marked by incontestable logic and clarity, struck the chord of Doctorji’s heart. For he too, out of his clear historical insight and practical experience, had arrived at the same truth of Hindu Nationhood.
Excerpt from Hedgewar’s biography, ‘Dr Hedgewar, The Epoch Maker’

Now compare this to Mukherjee’s speech in Nagpur on Thursday evening.

India’s Nationhood is not one language, one religion, one enemy. It is the ‘Perennial Universalism’ of 1.3 billion people who use more than 122 languages and 1600 dialects in their everyday lives, practice 7 major religions, belong to 3 major ethnic groups- Aryans, Mongoloids, and Dravidians live under one system, one flag and one identity of being ‘Bhartiya’ and have ‘No Enemies’. That is what makes Bharat a diverse and united nation.
Pranab Mukherjee

The contradiction between Mukherjee’s speech on secularism and his praise of Hedgewar couldn’t be any more apparent, could it?

Hedgewar’s Distrust of Indian Muslims

Former President Pranab Mukherjee pays his respects to RSS founder KB Hedgewar.
Former President Pranab Mukherjee pays his respects to RSS founder KB Hedgewar.
(Photo: Twitter/RSS)

Hedgewar opposed Gandhi’s overtures to Muslims during the Khilafat movement. The post-World War I campaign to restore a multinational caliphate was not palatable to several Hindu leaders, who argued that Indian Muslims who participated in the movement showed more loyalty to Islam than to India.

The following excerpt from Hedgewar’s biography sheds light on the RSS founder’s views on Indian Muslims in this context.

While the cries of ‘Hindu-Muslim Bhai Bhai’ continued to reverberate in the air, its prospect in reality was receding farther and farther. Doctorji became engrossed in finding answers to certain basic questions : Over these years of our fraternization, have the Muslims ever responded positively to any of our gestures? Have they developed any warmth towards the Hindu society? Have they reciprocated the Hindu tradition of tolerance, of ‘live and let live’? Have they exhibited the slightest willingness to join us in paying homage to Bharat Ma?
Excerpt from Hedgewar’s biography, ‘Dr Hedgewar, The Epoch Maker’

Faultline Hedgewar

Arguably the most controversial thing Pranab Mukherjee did in Nagpur lies not in what he said during his speech, or what he didn’t. Instead, his praise of KB Hedgewar in the visitor’s book at the RSS founder’s birthplace is what has drawn the sharpest of reactions.

Ironically enough, 78 years after his death, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar is making headlines not because of the comments of a pracharak or sarsanghchalak of the institution he founded, but due to the praise heaped on him by a (former) Congress veteran.

Amidst all their differences and seeming contradictions, that is a striking similarity between the two. Hedgewar too had been an active Congressman. But political winds had driven him far adrift from the grand old party. Could the same be said of Pranab as well?

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