Mohan Bhagwat, the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), recently stated that the RSS could prepare an army within three days if the need arose, whereas the Indian Army would need 6-7 months to do the same. He also said that RSS workers were ready to make sacrifices in times of crisis.
The RSS was formed in 1925, when India was still a British colony, and it can be safely said that this was the time when India needed its people the most to fight against British rule.
What was the role of the RSS, the ideological mentor of the BJP, in the Indian national movement? Historians have no doubt that the RSS was absent from India’s freedom struggle.
What RSS Stands For
According to JNU historian Tanika Sarkar, as quoted in a Frontline article:
The RSS never collectively joined a single anti-British movement. On the other hand, its shakhas systematically preached hatred against Muslims, and its members engaged in anti-Muslim riots. The British used to systematically crush all physical training centres that were remotely suspected of revolutionary conspiracies. The fact that it never bore down on combat training in shakhas proves that no suspicion of anti-colonial activities fell on the RSS.Tanika Sarkar to Frontline magazine
In a program, The NDTV Dialogues: Whose History Is It, Anyway? (aired on 13 November 2016), Chandan Mitra and Shashi Tharoor discussed and debated a range of issues from history to nationalism.
When the anchor of the program asked a question about the “new version of nationalism” (referring to the BJP’s brand of nationalism, which, in my understanding, is: You are a nationalist so long as you are with us), and the Congress’ questioning of the absence of RSS from the freedom struggle, Tharoor gave a reply highlighting the role of his party in India’s freedom struggle.
RSS’ Absence from Freedom Struggle
Chandan Mitra, a two-time Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament from the BJP, and editor of The Pioneer, answered the same question on the role of the RSS in India’s freedom struggle. It is important to quote Mitra in full in order to make the import of his statement clear to the reader.
This [absence of RSS from freedom struggle] is a deliberate misrepresentation of the reality. The RSS from the start, when it was founded in 1925, was not a political party, nor was it a movement of the kind that the Congress was. RSS, from Day One said that their objective is to build a nationalist human being, a nationalist Indian, to imbue a sense of nationalism, national pride and pride in history, so that when India is free, such people who are imbued with nationalism and national ideas can run the country.
He goes on to say, “... However, a large number of RSS swayamsevaks did go to jail for participating in various Congress movements, and because there was only the Congress in those days; Communists were part of it [Congress], and so were Hindu- minded people like Madan Mohan Malviya. So everybody was part of the same broad movement for India’s freedom.”
Mitra leaves no doubt in our minds that the goal of the RSS was never to win freedom from the British rule because the objective of the RSS was different. What was its objective? To prepare “a nationalist human being” who would “run the country” when “India is free.” One might ask: What kind of nationalism is this? If the so-called “nationalist human being” can’t contribute to the nation’s freedom struggle, would one even call such a human being a nationalist?
Or twenty-two years (1925 to 1947) were too short for them to realise that you can ‘run’ your country only when it is free? Mitra makes it clear that the idea of the RSS was to enjoy the fruits of power without toiling hard for the independence of India. And of course, when the British put thousands and thousands of Indians into jail, it is probable that some of them may have been members of the RSS. But the important point to remember is that, as Sarkar highlights, “the RSS never collectively joined a single anti-British movement.”
If there was any participation by the RSS in the freedom struggle (as is claimed by their supporters), then what explains the fact that people at large are not aware of it? The answer lies in the demands of the profession of history. You cannot write about the role of the RSS in the national struggle precisely because there are no sources to support this contention.
The present BJP government cannot count among its ranks intellectuals who can make even a feeble case for the role of the RSS in India’s struggle for independence. The chairman of the Indian Council for Historical Research appointed by the BJP “does not know the difference between fact and fiction, or between history and myth.”
The paucity of historical works about the role of the RSS is also highlighted by the fact that, in television debates, Rakesh Sinha, an ideologue of the RSS, has to repeatedly quote the number of a file kept in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library which contains some information about the imprisonment of KB Hedgewar, founder of the RSS. The fact that he has to do this almost every time makes it clear that he cannot quote a credible historian (or his/her work) who would affirm the systematic participation of the RSS in India’s freedom struggle.
The RSS Oath
One can only humbly suggest to Sinha to organise an international seminar or conference on the role of the RSS in India’s freedom struggle, publish the proceedings, and settle this question once and for all. Paucity of funds cannot be a valid argument today, and it will also be convenient for Sinha to quote a book/article, rather than a file number.
Mitra talked about the “nationalist human being… who would run the free India.” One might ask, once again, what is the RSS (and BJP’s) idea of nationalism? We need not look further than the oath which is administered to all the RSS members for an answer:
Remembering almighty God and my forebears, I take this oath. For the betterment of my sacred Hindu religion, Hindu culture, and Hindu community, I will devote myself to the prosperity of my holy motherland. I swear that I shall serve the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh with my body, my mind, and my money. I will be faithful to this oath throughout my life.
The “nationalist Indian” of RSS would, as is clear from the above oath, strive for a uniform India, in which either there would be no place for the minorities, or they (minorities) would have to survive at the mercy of the majority. The fact that the top leadership of the present BJP government, including PM Modi, has taken this oath, should be a major cause for concern.
Correcting Historical Wrongs
The anti-Muslim agenda of the RSS posed a real threat to peace and communal harmony in the country on the eve of Independence. Pandit Nehru was well aware of the challenges posed by the communal forces, and he sent a strong message by stating on 16 August 1947:
The ﬁrst charge of the government will be to establish and maintain peace and tranquility in the land and to ruthlessly suppress communal strife….It is wrong to suggest that in this country there would be the rule of a particular religion or sect. All who owe allegiance to the ﬂag will enjoy equal rights of citizenship, irrespective of caste and creed.
Mitra made one more point in his answer, and the statement quoted below exposes the nefarious designs of the BJP. This is what he had to say on “correcting historical wrongs”:
“... correcting history or righting historical wrongs is something that has been there as an idea throughout history, for various countries, and also has to be in India. I am not talking only about Babri Masjid. I am also talking about, say the historical wrong of Nehru accepting the ceasefire line and agreeing to the virtual partition of Kashmir. Now this has been repudiated by nothing more sacrosanct than the Parliament resolution passed during Narasimha Rao’s prime ministership, that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. So what is it except correcting a historical wrong? So when you do it it’s all right, when some of our supporters want to correct a few historical wrongs, then all hell breaks loose. I think that is rank hypocrisy.”
The Bhagwat-Modi combo should remember this history as well.
(The author was a pre-doctoral researcher in the University of Groningen, Netherlands. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)