The RSS is the antithesis of Gandhi

Has anyone ever seen any Sarsanghchalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh bow to Gandhi at Rajghat at any time since his assassination?

IANS Photos
IANS Photos

Sujata Anandan

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is everything the Congress and Mahatma Gandhi are not. But without the Congress and Gandhiji and their message of pluralism, inclusiveness, peace and non-violence, the RSS would have had no reason to come into being. Its founder KB Hedgewar was a member of the Congress Seva Dal and that is why the RSS cadres are structured the way the Seva Dal once was. But, more importantly, the RSS is because Gandhiji was. But if the RSS gains the upper hand in this country, Gandhi stands in danger of obliteration. With everything else about it (until most recently their ugly khaki shorts and salute modelled on Hitler’s Brown Shirts), the RSS is the antithesis of what the Mahatma was because they oppose every ideal of Mahatma Gandhi.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Congress as a group of elitist Indians and Britishers (established in 1885), was simply not focussing on social reforms. The party was dominated by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and other upper caste leaders who were in bitter conflict against others like Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj and Balkrishna Gokhale, who wanted the Congress to press for universal education of the masses and eradication of untouchability. Tilak and his admirers, who included Hedgewar, paid scant attention to those demands. Social reforms could wait until after Independence from the British, they said. Then two things happened—both Shahu Maharaj, who began affirmative action in his kingdom of Kolhapur (that gave Dr BR Ambedkar, one of his employees, the idea for reservations) and Tilak died within months of each other in 1920, soon after Gandhi arrived in India from South Africa.

Soon Gandhi began to dominate the Congress and advocate unity and inclusiveness—bringing Dalits and Muslims into the party fold and making them part of the freedom struggle. Many Tilakites rebelled against this obliteration of differences among the people. There were bitter debates and verbal fights between Tilakites like NC Kelkar and those supporting Gandhi, most notably Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

The RSS is the antithesis of what the Mahatma was because they oppose every ideal of Mahatma Gandhi

At one time, Jawaharlal’s father Motilal Nehru and Lokmanya Tilak were the best of friends and colleagues, rarely disagreeing with each other on various issues. But now Tilak’s death made him the leading light of the Congress and his son’s secular views and growing affinity towards Mahatma Gandhi influenced Motilal Nehru enough to swing the Congress the Gandhi way. Soon militant Tilakites found a way out to accept Gandhi.

They simply skirted the issue of Hindu-Muslim unity or the integration of castes and communities and focussed on Gandhi’s message of ‘peace and non-violence’. They were clear that while Tilak might have been a militant in his demand for freedom from the British, he did not believe in violence unlike that advocated by VD Savarkar; while Gandhi was less militant than Tilak, he was equally in favour of non-violent action against the British; that thus Tilak and Gandhi were actually heading towards the same goal through their different means of argument with the British. Hence there could be no conflict of interest between Tilakites and Gandhi and all, at the end of the day, were Congressmen.

Unhappy though many of them were with this interpretation by some leading lights of the time, eventually, most of them fell into line. One man who didn’t and could never accept either non-violence or those terms of equality with other less privileged Indians was Hedgewar. Seeing the direction the Congress under Gandhi was heading to, he abandoned the Tilakites, embraced Savarkar and split to form his own organisation which would be the exact opposite of everything the Congress and Gandhi would come to represent in the next few years. So today, when the RSS talks of following Gandhian ideals, you know it is hypocrisy and just lip service. It is an organisation that can, firstly, never let go of caste, more particularly Brahminism. That is why Hindutva today mostly means Brahminism.

In nearly a century of its existence, the RSS has had only one non-Brahmin chief, Rajinder Singh, who was again a compromise candidate during the years following the Mandal agitation and the changes it brought about in socio-political dynamics of the country. Moreover, during all these years, there was just one non-Maharashtrian Brahmin—NK Sudershan—at the helm of the RSS. The organisation is micro-divisive even among the Brahmins, more comfortable with Maharashtrian Brahmins and even among them there is a constant struggle for supremacy between the Deshashtha Brahmins and Chitpavan Brahmins, with the former winning over the entire hierarchy.

Today, when the RSS talks of following Gandhian ideals, you know it is hypocrisy and just lip service. It is an organisation that can, firstly, never let go of caste, more particularly Brahminism. That is why Hindutva today mostly means Brahminism

Mohan Bhagwat, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari are Deshashthas. So when the RSS cannot make a difference or bring about changes within, it is far-fetched to believe that they will ever be able to embrace other castes and communities, in the fully integrated way that Mahatma Gandhi had advocated. Gandhi and Dr BR Ambedkar too had had bitter differences over their interpretations of Dalit upliftment and even means of freedom struggle—Dr Ambedkar had wanted dominion status for India because he believed only the British could help in the upliftment of Dalits while Gandhi would not settle for anything less than complete independence. Yet, like the Tilakites and Gandhians, both broadly agreed that Dalits must be an integral part of mainstream society.

So the RSS hates these two figures the most, even more than they do Nehru, evident from the fact that the maximum desecration of statues of national leaders have been that of Gandhi and Ambedkar. Wherever caught, the violators have mostly been believers in the RSS ideology. However, Mahatma Gandhi has gone down to the core of the Indian ethos and there is no way the RSS can escape it today. They have in the past tried to engineer controversies around Gandhi and the Congress in order to reduce the stature of the Mahatma—for example, there was an attempt a few years ago to run a propaganda that Mahatma Gandhi’s last words when Nathuram Godse pumped three bullets into him were not ‘Hey Ram!’ If Gandhi actually did utter those words they would then have less justification in lauding Nathuram Godse, an RSS member, for ultimately killing a believer. When that did not fly, the RSS fished out a little known great grandson of Gandhiji to write a letter to the Congress asking them to stop exploiting the name of Gandhiji (if the Congress will not garland Gandhi statues, who will?).

Finally, there was the attempt to prove that there was a fourth bullet that killed Gandhiji —not any of the three that Godse had fired into him. It was a subtle but very clear attempt through third parties by the RSS to finally rid itself and Godse of the blame of killing a fellow Hindu. And if Godse didn’t kill Gandhi, the RSS would be on an even keel with the Congress—it would have been a great opportunity to change the political discourse in the country by pretending to have been victimised by the Congress all these years over the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

However, the Supreme Court recently threw out the case and closed all doors on the RSS in this regard. So, I am not convinced when Narendra Modi pays rich tributes to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat. As Prime Minister of the nation, he must indulge in that tokenism. But has anyone ever seen any Sarsanghchalak of the RSS bow to Gandhi at Rajghat at any time since his assassination? Or express regret for incubating the madman who snuffed out Gandhiji’s life before time and within seconds? If Gandhi has been India’s angel to its vast masses, the RSS is most certainly Lucifer.

This article first appeared in National Herald on Sunday

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