Hindu Vivek Kendra
"Manu, Sangh and I"

Chapter III

I wrote my first newspaper article in 1982. The title was "Untouchability: Dr. Hedgewar, Dr. Ambedkar". Before I wrote the article, I was ruminating a great deal about its structure. Both these great men thought a lot about equality and their thoughts on the subject appealed to me immensely. Their obsession with ending untouchability had led me to do a lot of thinking. The urge to write something did not allow me to remain quiet. I therefore started writing to the best of my ability.

I showed my article to Shivrai Telang, a Sr RSS leader. Shivrai is a very senior and talented Pracharak in the Sangh. A man of mature social awareness, he reads a lot and that too, keenly and critically. I therefore gave my article to him rather nervously. He went through the article, gave me that characteristic Shivrai look and said, "Surprising that such thoughts occur to you. Please make only one alteration in the article. Change its title to 'Two doctors and one disease'." Needless to say, I carried out the suggestion.

Chittaranjan Pandit was then the Editor of Mumbai Tarun Bharat, a Marathi daily. I took the article to him. We had known each other long. He accepted the article for publication, and also gave it a competent editorial touch. The article appeared not only in the Mumbai Tarun Bharat but also in the Pune and Nagpur Tarun Bharat editions, editions of "Tarun Bharat". My very first article made me a writer and thinker! It was heartily welcomed in the Sangh circle. It was also translated into Hindi. The credit for making me a writer belongs to Shivrai Telang and Chittaranjan Pandit.

In a way, the article gave a definite direction to my reading, and also defined my role in the work of the Sangh. It was also accepted as the guiding principle for the Samarasata work.

The Samarasata Manch was founded in Pune in April 1983. In that year, the birth anniversaries of Dr. Hedgewar and Dr. Ambedkar occurred on the same day according to both English and Hindu calendars. Dattopant Thengdi spoke on the occasion. Later, the speech was published under the title "Social equality is impossible without social harmony (Samarasata)". This speech is regarded as the main thesis of the Samarasata work.

From 1980 my visits to Sambhajinagar (Aurangabad) became frequent. There I used to meet Sukhadev Navale, a senior RSS worker. We used to have lengthy discussions which mainly centered around the current status of the work of the Sangh, social awareness among Sangh workers, the image of the Sangh in Maharashtra, the disaffection for the Sangh among dalits. Between Sukhadev and me, I felt there was a great deal of similarity in our thinking. Not only did Sukhadev think about these things but also sought to translate his thoughts into action. He had very affectionate contacts with hundreds of dalit workers. He paid personal attention to the dalit brothers, and took pains to fulfill their material needs. He used to inculcate in his colleagues that 'the Sangh work encompasses the entire society and is not confined to middle classes. The Sangh should reflect all sections of our society.' The social orientation which the Sangh activities in Sambhajinagar had acquired was indeed a rewarding experience.

Navale had made intensive study of Dr. Ambedkar and Mahatma Phule. He had good diction, could deal with a subject systematically, and was adept in quoting appropriate references. My friendship with him, both at the emotional and intellectual levels, started growing apace. Later, we became very close.

At this time, I came into contact also with Bhikuji Idate. We used to come together in provincial meetings. Bhikuji hails from Dapoli, a Taluka place in Konkan region. Like me, he was a Shudra by caste, Atishudra to put it correctly in the parlance of the progressives. He belonged to one of the nomadic tribes which move about from place to place without a fixed house or property anywhere. In the "communal" language of the Sangh, however, he was a Hindu. Emotional and intellectual bonds of friendship developed quickly between us. The Sangh had brought about a radical change in our life and outlook. That was one basis for our friendship, and the other was that we had the same respect and reverence for Dr. Ambedkar.

Whenever Navale, Idate and I came together, we talked a lot about the problems of dalits, exchanged our experiences, and discussed new books and articles we had read. We also discussed the venomous propaganda against the Sangh launched by the leftists. We were now becoming sharply aware of the need for the Sangh to take a firm and definite stand on the subject of dalits.

All three of us were 'influential' officers in the Sangh. Influential in the sense that we held important positions in the Sangh. While I was Sahakaryawah of Mumbai metropolis, Idate was the Karyawah of Ratnagiri, a District Place in Konkan region, and Navale the Karyawah of Marathawada. Our understanding of the Sangh was also thorough. That is why our views carried weight in the Sangh.

During this period I came into closer contact with Damuanna Date, a senior Pracharak of the Sangh. He has been a Pracharak since 1950. After his graduation in Engineering, he set out to promote the work of the Sangh. Damuanna is endowed with a pleasant and attractive personality. Of course, external appearance is of no importance to the Sangh. Besides a handsome personality, Damuanna has many other magnetic qualities. He is a patient listener, tries to understand everything that is being said, and never poses as the wisest and most experienced. There are very few Pracharaks of the Sangh to equal Damuanna in there qualities. Invariably he sent the workers fully satisfied after a meeting with him. Some people command respect because of their age, others are honour because of their experience. I value Damuanna most as a friend, philosopher, and guide.

Although not its office bearer, Damuanna is responsible for the functioning of the Samarasta Manch. Workers like me who are office bearers, work under his guidance. He is our guardian angel.

"Dalit" was one subject on which Damuanna had made abundant scholarly reading. Well versed in dalit literature, he had read the autobiographies of dalits, and writings literature about them. Some activists of the Sangh were continuously urging Damuanna that the Sangh should start work in the field of dalits. Damuanna himself had realised the need for it. Damuanna had precise, well defined views on reservations for Dalit, their problems, and Hindutva and his thoughts were clearly reflected in his speeches.

While outlining our approach to and mode of thinking about Dalit problems, he used to say, "Medical students are required to dissect dead bodies to understand the functioning of human organism. They have to do the dissection to understand how the different parts of the body like liver, heart, eyes, ears function. None of them has any attachment to the body which is dissected.

"Suppose among them, there is a student who is a close relative of the dead person whose body is being dissected. It may well be a mother, uncle or brother. What will the student feel about the whole thing? Dissection for analysis may be acceptable but the student will certainly feel unbearable anguish. The same is of social problems. A great deal of post mortem has taken place in respect of untouchability, inequality, and social customs.

"We should not forget that we are organically related to this society. Our relationship with it is one of blood. A keen awareness of this relationship will enable us to find out means for elimination of social distortions". He used to give the example of Shri Guruji. In the wake of his interview to 'Navakaal', Shri Guruji was subjected to a lot of mud-slinging. Yet he had never said that the Chaturvarnya was needed today for the sustenance of the society. Instead, Shri Guruji had suggested an effective way of eradicating untouchability. In a simple but powerful religious gesture, the Shankaracharya should garland the untouchables, and announce that untouchability has ended. The socialists in Pune criticized this suggestion. "Who is this Shankaracharya to end the untouchability in this way? We don't recognize him", the socialists said.

Some socialists like Shirubhau Limaye and Vaidya met the Guruji at Pune. They asked the Guruji the same question. The Guruji replied, "The question is not whether you recognize the Shankaracharya or not. Chores of Hindus respect him. And what is untouchability? It is another name of the narrow-mindedness of the Savarnas, the higher castes. That should be cured".

Such conversations used to highlight the meaning of social unity and integrity and what precisely is the eradication of untouchability.

Although the Samajik Samarasata Manch was set up in 1983, its work was still to commence. In Maharashtra, it was difficult for the Manch to push its programme ahead unless the Sangh took its charge. In 1984, I was Karyawah in the Second year Sangh Training class. It was the first time that the class of the three regions viz., Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Vidarbha, was held together. Dattopant Thengdi was with the class for three days. I discussed with him for the first time, issues like equality and social harmony. Initially, I was not happy with the word Samarasata. My friends, Navale and Idate too, had reservations about the word. There was a reason for that.

For equality 'Samata' has been the word in vogue in Maharashtra. People quickly understand its meaning. Then why replace it with "Samarasata" which was rather difficult to pronounce as compared to "Samata"? If the word "Samata" was replaced with the word "Samarasata", there might be problems. It may be interpreted that we are rejecting "Samata" (equality). Neither Dr. Ambedkar nor Mahatma Phule used the word "Samarasata". Then why should we do it? 

Dattopant Thengdi's reply to this question was a gem. He said "The movement for equality (Samata), is a movement of the leftists. If we started our movement with their shibboleth, people will not realise the uniqueness of our movement. Moreover, the leftists will start claiming that 'the Sangh is borrowing their words because the Sangh philosophy does not have room for equality'. We must have our own concept of equality, he continued. Of course we want equality but more than that, we want Samarasata which alone can bring equality on a durable footing. Whatever we do, will be subjected to criticism. To criticise us has become a profession of some people. Do not bother about them. Do your work with patience and diligence. Do not be hasty. Keep in mind Shri Guruji's saying- "Hasten slowly" and you will have few difficulties," said Dattopant Thengdi. 

As said earlier, the Samarasata Manch was inaugurated on April 14, 1983 at Pune. Honourable Dattopant Thengdi spoke on the occasion. His speech became famous under the title 'Equality Impossible Without Harmony'. Dattopant is known as a great thinker in the Sangh. His presentation is usually accepted as that of the Sangh. In the said speech, he had traced the common points in the social ideology of Dr. Ambedkar and Dr. Hedgewar. He had shown how the orientation of a worker engaged in Samarasata should occur. The third Sarsanghchalak, revered Shri Balasaheb Deoras, had made the Sangh stand clear on 'Hindu organisation and social equality' in 1974. He said that the Varna (in Sanskrit it means colour but here it is used in the context of Chaturvarnya i.e. four caste system and means caste only) and the caste system should be thrown out lock, stock and barrel as they had no relevance today. Since we had firm direction from the Sangh, and from Sanghchalak like Balasaheb Deoras, our task was made easy. We did not have to inject any new thinking in the Swayamsevaks. Our work was limited to conveying the thoughts of Balasaheb Deoras and Dattopant Thengdi to Swayamsevaks in our own language.

In 1985, the Sangh activists decided to spread the work of the Samarasata Manch all over Maharashtra. Meetings were called and names of activists finalized. Later, a meeting of all the leading activists was held at Sambhajinagar (a new name for Aurangabad). As the Sahapracharak, Damuanna Date was to take charge of the Manch. A lot of discussion in respect of the structure of the manch took place in this very first meeting. Dattopant Thengdi was of the view that the Manch should remain a movement and no constitution should be thought of for the time being. As per his advice an ad hoc committee was set up.

Mohanrao Gawandi was appointed the chairman of the Manch. Bhikuji Idate became the Executive President. In the meeting it was decided to publish a bulletin to disseminate our ideas and give directions to the workers. The bulletin was entitled Samajik Samarasata Patrika (bulletin). I was appointed the Editor of this Bulletin. Namdeorao Ghadge, a senior Sangh Pracharak, was entrusted with the organizational work of the Manch. Sukhdev Navale and Arvindrao Harshe were included in the executive committee.

The nature of work of the Manch was also discussed at this meeting. It was not possible for us to fully understand the complexity of our undertaking at the very first meeting. We could only comprehend its broad outline. Strictly speaking, Sangh workers do not need any training in the Samarasata brotherhood theory as it is. They live it every moment in their Sangh work. However in the first meeting itself, we realised that we had to work for the Manch at two levels.

Whatever the name given to it, the Samarasata work was going to be looked upon by others as a 'Sanghist' programme in so far as would be operated by the Sangh workers and Swayamsevaks. Sangh Swayamsevaks and Sangh Karyakartas do not believe in caste nor do they harbour inequality in their minds and therefore their actions too are never tainted with it. Even then, the average Swayamsevak regards Mahatma Phule and Dr Ambedkar as strangers. He bears anger and animus against Dalits not because they are Dalits or Mahars. He does not feel Dalits in the Ambedkar movement are his own because of the policy of Reservation, the language of revolt in Dalit literature, the tenor of speeches of leaders in the Ambedkar movement and their hostility to Hindutva. It was necessary to change this attitude of Swayamsevaks. Doubtless, It was an extremely difficult task. It remains so even today.

To change the outlook of the Swayamsevaks it was necessary to familiarize them and also the people around them, with the thoughts and actions of Mahatma Phule and Ambedkar. Socialist, progressives, and transformationists were freely using the names of these two great leaders to malign Hindutva. No pro-Hindutva writer had taken any serious cognizance of Phule and Ambedkar in his writings. The Samarasata Manch started projecting the Phule-Ambedkar philosophy in a different context.

A number of Sangh workers took the lead in interpreting Phule-Ambedkar in the context of Hindutva. Dr Ashok Modak, Dr Bapu Kendurkar, Sahasanghchalak of Mulund Zone, Prof. Aniruddha Deshpande, and Arvindrao Harshe are senior and respectable leaders of the Sangh. They are well-versed in the work of the Sangh. They made a thorough study of the Phule-Ambedkar philosophy, reflected deeply on it, and took great pains over its interpretation. Workers like me who held responsible positions but were not particularly studious, were immensely benefited by it.

The regional leadership of the Sangh also seemed determined to push forward the Samarasata programmes. In one of the early meetings, Vasantrao Kelkar gave us valuable guidance on "Samarasata in the Sangh work". Kelkar's experience of the Sangh's work since the pre-ban days of 1948 is substantial. He gave many examples to illustrate how all castes were well represented in the Sangh, and how, right from its commencement, those in the Sangh live in a spirit of harmony and togetherness. There is an acute need, he said, of explaining the equality and togetherness inherent in the Sangh to the people who are moving away from Hindutva and whom we have to take with us. We have to give social expression to our thoughts, he said.

Thereafter, we started trying to harmonize the Phule-Ambedkar thought with the Hindutva philosophy. That was not difficult. Balasaheb Deoras had often said from public platforms that both Phule and Ambedkar were concerned with the problems of the Hindu society. The problems they took in hand belonged to the entire Hindu society and therefore, it would be quite appropriate to call them Hindu reformers. 

I studied Dr Ambedkar and Mahatma Phule on my own, in the light of the viewpoint expressed by Balasaheb Deoras. Sukhadev Navale, and Bhikhu Idate also studied them. Damuanna Date too is well-versed in the subject. Our studies prompted us to find out what were the timeless thoughts in the writings of Phule and Ambedkar, what were purely topical issues, and to analyze their thoughts in the context of time. Along with others, I developed a habit of reflecting on these questions.

Samarasata Manch workers had frequent meetings to discuss the ways and means of organising the Manch programmes. Social problems also figured in the talks. To start with, simple programmes that were easy to organise were undertaken. Damuanna Date issued a guideline that since saints and social reformers belong to the entire society, their commemoration should not be confined to specific castes. Their birth or death anniversaries should be celebrated in the central part of towns and villages, with all people participating. Thereafter, the birth anniversaries of Sena Maharaj, a poet saint of Maharashtra from barber community, Valmiki, a great poet saint of ancient times who became a Rishi (sage) and wrote Ramayana in Sanskrit but originally who hailed from a lower caste of fishermen, Rohidas, another great saint of Maharashtra from cobbler community, and Lahuji Salve a freedom fighter from low caste, began to be celebrated in which people belonging to all castes participated. The Ambedkar Jayanti (birth anniversary) too started being celebrated at a central place in the town, with people of all social hues joining in the celebrations. The practice was started in Bombay, Pune, and Nashik by the Samarasata Manch. Every where, the programmes were organised on a big scale, and we took that opportunity to explain our viewpoint on Phule and Ambedkar.

A number of funny incidents occurred in the early stages of the Manch activities. My booklet 'Samajik Samarasata Dr Hedgewar and Dr Ambedkar' was published in 1988. The cover of the book featured colour photographs of Dr Hedgewar and Dr Ambedkar. In the picture, Dr Hedgewar was capless (Dr Ambedkar, of course, never wore any cap). The copies of the book went to all parts of the state including Vidarbha. Swayamsevaks in Vidarbha got hold of the book. In Vidarbha, where the Sangh has been around virtually from the beginning, there were any number of Swayamsevaks who had seen Dr Hedgewar from close quarters. Sukhdev Navale was on a tour of Vidarbha. When he returned, he told me, "Ramesh, Swayamsevaks in Vidarbha are greatly annoyed over your book".

"What for?", I queried.

"First, you have printed a joint photograph of Dr Hedgewar and Dr Ambedkar. Secondly, Dr Hedgewar's photo is capless". 

"I used the photograph that was available to me. I did not decap Dr Hedgewar", I said.

"Your explanation is all right, but they feel you are doing all this to please Dalits. They asked me, 'Who is this Patange? What does he think about himself?' You may be in trouble, Ramesh", Navale said.

Amusing situations also arose when we started looking for workers to carry the Manch activities. As the Manch work would cover Dalit localities, we wanted workers who were willing to go and work there. Not every worker in the Sangh was favourably disposed to do so. Many workers thought that only Dalit workers should work among Dalits. This assumption was dangerous from the Sangh is stand point. The Sangh was striving to de-caste the Hindu mind and was poised to achieve astonishing success in it. At such a juncture, picking up only Dalit workers among us might be extremely hazardous. The matter therefore called for very tactful handling. I remember a dialogue a prominent worker had with Idate.

"Who among you is the Samarasata Manch worker for your district?" Idate asked.

"We don't have a worker of that type" was the reply.

"That type means what type?" asked Idate.

"We mean we don't have an active Dalit worker".

"Who told you that we want a Dalit worker for the Manch? From when have we started thinking in terms of caste?"

"There is nothing like that", said the worker, "But I was under the impression that as the Manch work is among Dalits, workers from that section will be preferred".

It took us two years to remove these misunderstandings. Many people did not like our working among Dalits in this way. Their dislike was theoretical. They felt that since we did not believe in castes and untouchability in the Sangh, where was the need for separate work for Dalits? Would it not lead to separation of sentiments? The only way to counter their objection was through our work.

As the Samarasata programmes gained momentum, the number of those who took notice of them also grew. The Manch work was initially described as a stunt by the RSS to attract Dalits. "How is Dr. Ambedkar related to these Manuists?", it was asked, "The Sangh's samarasata game is chicanery of counter-revolutionaries", said others. We were taken note of in the choicest epithets. By this time, I had made a great deal of progress in comprehending the progressive parlance. It was not difficult for me to give them a dose of their own medicine.

I had established myself as a regular writer in "Vivek" and "Tarun Bharat". Undoubtedly the Sangh, was the inspiration behind my penmanship. I felt that the Sangh philosophy should find expression in different contexts consistent with its backdrop. I therefore took to writing although nobody specifically asked me to do so. Shivrai Telang had always a word of encouragement for the writer in me. Damuanna used to describe my writings as 'outstanding'. Later, in 1988, I was appointed as assistant Editor of Vivek, and after a year became its Executive Editor. Thus a paper came in my charge. Besides, the Samarasata Manch Patrika was already there. 

The Manch work had hardly reached its second year, when a highly sensitive and provocative problem confronted Maharashtra. The Congress government had decided to publish Dr. Ambedkar's entire works and some volumes had started appearing every year. The fourth volume of Dr. Babasaheb's writing appeared in 1987. This volume contained a chapter entitled 'Riddles of Rama and Krishna' In this article, Dr. Ambedkar has severely criticized Rama and Krishna and taken exception to their characters. Even Sita is not spared.

After the volume was published, Madhav Gadkari, the then editor of Loksatta wrote about it in his column 'Chaufer' (literal meaning "all around"). The government, by publishing literature maligning Rama and Krishna, has hurt the feelings of Hindus, he said. Gadkari talking of Hindu feelings was a big joke, as he is not known for his love of Hindutva. He moves about in progressive circles and is generally known as Sharad Pawar's drumbeater. However, his criticism of the fourth volume of Dr. Ambedkar's work had a distinctly political purpose.

When the government of India had banned Salman Rushdie's book, when "Satanic Verses". The Ramjanmabhoomi (a place in town Ayodhya where Lord Rama is believed to have been born and considered to be a great holy place by Hindus and yet on which a structure resembling a mosque was imposed by a invader and hence was called Babri Masjid) movement had commenced in 1986. The temple in Ayodhya was unlocked. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad had assumed leadership of the campaign for the liberation of Janmabhoomi. Earlier, in 1985, the Shiv Sena a political party in Maharashtra had adopted Hindutva as its political ideology. The emotional atmosphere was charged in favour of Hindutva. Rajiv Gandhi superseded the Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Bano case (a case of grant of alimony in which Supreme Court's verdict was against the provisions of Shariat of Muslims) by enacting a new law taking the issue of alimony out of the purview of court. This act of Rajiv Gandhi produced a sharp reaction among Hindus.

In Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar and Shankarrao Chavan, were locked in an intensive power struggle in those days. Shankarrao was the Chief Minister at the time of the Riddles controversy. Political manoeuvres were afoot to incite conflict between the Dalits and non-Dalit Hindus, to create problems and embarrassment for the Chief Minister.

Gadkari used the Riddles chapter toward this end. Shiv Sena by then had become a Hindutva organisation, adopting Hindutva ideology as a political ploy with an eye on votes. To maximize political advantage from the Hindutva ploy, the Sena added to it a rabid anti-Muslim stand, and an equally rabid anti-Ambedkarism. Ambedkarites any way did not command much sympathy in the minds of other large sections of non-Dalits in Maharashtra. Gadkari's write up was indeed a God-send for the Shiv Sena.

The Shiv Sena Pramukh (Chief) demanded that the controversial chapter should be deleted from the fourth volume of Ambedkar's writings. His stand was that the calumny of Rama and Krishna had hurt the sentiments of Hindus, and we would no longer tolerate anybody at will coming and kicking us this way. He naively walked into the trap set by Sharad Pawar and Gadkari, and got enmeshed in it. The declaration of the Shiv Sena policy awakened the Dalits. Their leaders like Ramdas Athavale, Prakash Ambedkar, and Gangadhar Gadhe joined hands, and the socialist bands gathered around them. They did not obviously want to let go the opportunity to attack Hindutva through Dalits.

Dalits took out a huge procession on the issue of the Riddles chapter. Highly provocative speeches were made by their leaders. The Shiv Sena too, organised a huge procession, and inflammatory harangues were duly delivered. There was already a wide social gulf between Dalits and non-dalits (savarnas). The processions and counter-processions widened the gulf. The rancour spread to far off villages too. Tremendous social tensions ensued. A single untoward incident might have resulted in our own people cutting each other's throat. Once it is decided to politicize an issue, the question of social stability and solidarity becomes superfluous. 

I myself felt very uneasy and restless in these circumstances. My outlook was not the same as before. I no longer thought that the Sangh was only shakha, and the shakha was the be-all and end-all of my Sangh life. I was of the view that the Sangh should take a decisive stand in the context of the Riddles controversy. The Shiv Sena was not the sole spokesman of Hindus. We too, were there. I proposed to the main workers that our viewpoint should be explained to the people. This was followed by a meeting. The issue was discussed with Damuanna Date, Shripati Shastri, Vasantrao Kelkar, Navale, and Idate. It was decided that I should write an article explaining the viewpoint of the Sangh, and the article should have a credit line in the name of "Karyawah, Samajik Samarasata Manch." I accordingly wrote in the 'Vivek' weekly an article entitled "Ram versus Ambedkar a controversy gnawing at the vitals of social unity". The viewpoint of the Samarasata Manch and therefore, of the Sangh was clearly reflected in this article.

In a forthright manner the article made the following suggestions: 

1) The Riddles chapter should not be deleted.

2) Dr Ambedkar is not an enemy of Hindu society.

3) In case this controversy is stretched too far, it will cause tremendous loss to the Hindus, and Muslims will take advantage of it.

4) Madhav Gadkari and Sharad Pawar are driving a wedge in society by inciting conflicts to achieve their selfish ends.

It was not easy to take a stand against pro-Hindutva Shiv Sena. Ambedkarites (followers of Ambedkar's dogmas and hence mostly Dalits) were not friends of the Sangh. From the ideological point of view, the Shiv Sena was closer to us than the Ambedkarites. The question before us was whether to look for a temporary advantage or to think of the long-term future and well being of the society. Dr Hedgewar and Shri Guruji had never given a thought to temporary advantages. We decided to follow them.

My article was appreciated. Our viewpoint was conveyed to the people. It was not that this viewpoint was approved by all the seniors of the Sangh. There was a large group which felt that the Sangh should keep aloof from the controversy. We, the Manch workers, were rather worried about it. Although we held positions of responsibility in the Sangh, at that time, we were still second rank workers. Our grasp of social problems and our scholastic ability were yet to be prove. An incident which took place helped the credibility of my article.

A senior and elderly Sangh worker asked Dattopant Thengdi in Pune, "What is our stand on the Riddles issue?" Dattopant replied, "Please read Patange's article in Vivek. The article explains our stand". The senior worker held me close to him, patted me approvingly on the back, and said, "Henceforth, we will have to take your writings quite seriously." The incident overwhelmed me. I was having a direct personal experience of how a worker in the Sangh is moulded and how his importance is built up. After this, I started wielding my pen with greater caution and responsibility.

In the course of the Riddles controversy, a time came when it was felt that the Sangh should take a lead in the matter. There appeared to be a need for release of a statement by the regional Sanghchalak or the regional (prantik) Karyawah. Progressives are always in the forefront in issuing statements. The Sangh, however, does not have this type of statement mentality. Prant Sanghachalak represents Sanghachalak, and Karyawah is a representative of Sahakaryawah. Their views consequently are the Sangh's views in its entirety in the sense that all organisations affiliated to RSS hold the same views. No institution of the Sangh will counter it. This is not the case with progressives and socialists. Most hold personal views without any commitment to any organisation. How then was the Sangh to issue its statement?

I discussed the matter with Idate and Sukhadev Navale. I also met Damuanna Datey. It is normally not difficult to place a matter before Damuanna. He immediately accorded his consent. Shripati Shastri was the prant karyawah at that time. It was decided to issue the statement with his signature. It was also decided to organise a seminar on "Stop the Riddles Controversy" in Bombay.

While the proposal for the seminar was on the anvil, the then editor of "Tarun Bharat" (Bombay), Sudhir Joglekar wrote an editorial entitled "Stop this Riddles controversy". Going against the current of popularism and publicity, he put forward a plea in favour of the larger and long-term interests of the society. The editorial earned kudos at that time. It also won him the Dr. Kakasaheb Khadilkar Best Editorial Award of the Bombay Union of Journalists.

In Mumbai, Dilip Karambelkar, then editor of Marathi Weekly "Vivek", Sudhir Joglekar, then editor of Marathi daily, Mumbai Tarun Bharat and I called on Prakash Ambedkar, and 'Navakal' editor, Neelkanth Khadilkar, to request them to participate in the seminar. Prof. Ram Kapse and Wamanrao Parab were undoubtedly our own people. Meanwhile, a statement on the speech of Shripati Shastri Prant Karyawah, RSS was released. I took copies of the statement to Pune and had it distributed to leading newspapers. 'Navakal' featured it on the front page with a heading in bold letters. The statement read like this :

"Dr Ambedkar was a friend of the Hindu society, never an enemy"
 - Shripati Shastri 18-1-1988

A noisy controversy has been raised in Maharashtra on the chapter, 'Riddles of Rama and Krishna' written by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. It would be a great blunder to regard Dr Ambedkar as the enemy of Hinduism by misinterpreting his controversial writings. To resort to this type of propaganda in respect of Dr Ambedkar is tantamount to distortion of his work and message. Dr Ambedkar's lifetime mission was to reconstruct and reorganize the Hindu society on the basis of equality, freedom and fraternity. A thorough study of his entire life and literature should therefore be made before making any comments on him in the present context. Instead of doing so, to conduct disinformation campaigns about him by using his writings, which he kept unpublished, would be the height of myopia", said Shripati Shastri, Karyawah, RSS, Maharashtra Prant. He was speaking on the occasion of the publication of the journal "Samarasata" brought out by the Samajik Samarasata Manch at Pune. 

He further said in his speech that to create a gulf between Dalits and non-Dalits would be against the interests of our country. Mahatma Gandhi staked his life to prevent such rifts in the society. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar too, while working for the uplift of Dalits, did not resort to any step which might cause cleavage in society or would lead to unnecessary conflicts. In today's difficult times, it is exceedingly necessary to maintain social harmony and solidarity, to promote fraternity and friendliness in the society, and to ensure amity and cordiality. Efforts in this direction will be conducive to the interests and happiness of all of us. 

Unfortunately, many politicians have been misusing Dr Ambedkar's writings to serve their selfish party ends to strengthen their leadership. Crores of people in this country have faith in Shri Rama and Shri Krishna. Dalit leaders should bear this in mind while projecting their views on them. Dalit brothers would not like this type of strong language being used in respect of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar whom they hold in faithful reverence. Similarly, unnecessary use of harsh words about Ram and Krishna would disturb social peace and harmony.

The show of strength against each other by Dalits and non-Dalits would benefit the enemies of society. Christian missionaries, Muslims and Communists are waiting for such an opportunity. The Hindu society, therefore, should not sentimentalize the Riddles issue and should look at it in the perspective of reason. Heavens are not going to fall if the chapter 'Riddles of Rama and Krishna" remains in the fourth volume published by the State Government.

Finally in his speech, Shripati Shastri appealed to the wise and mature people in the society to come together to evolve a common platform. "That was the need of the hour", he said.

The statement of the Sangh and the proposed seminar worked like a magic wand. On the previous night itself, Chief Minister Chavan had called a meeting of Dalits and the Shiv Sena leaders. In the meeting it was decided not to remove the 'Riddles' chapter from the fourth volume. The controversy was over. 

The 'Riddles' affair considerably enhanced the stature of the Samajik Samarasata Manch in the Sangh circles. The Manch had played a highly decisive role in defusing a terrible social storm. This was recognised by all. Personally speaking, it was now well established that Idate, Navale and I had some insight into social problems and there was substance in what we said. This recognition proved immensely helpful in subsequent efforts.

The Riddles controversy was viewed as a golden opportunity to lash at the RSS. The entire lobby of progressive prophets, however, must have felt disappointed. They had probably thought that the Sangh would not take any stand in the controversy, and the passivity of the Sangh will enable them to put the entire blame for the opposition to Dalits at the door of the Sangh. They had tried the same thing at the time of the movement for change in the name of the Marathwada University. The change in the name was opposed by socialists. The frontline socialist leaders were Govindbhai Shroff, Prof. Narahar Kurundkar, and Anantrao Bhalerao. They cooked up a theoretical background for their opposition to the change in the name. They tried the same experiment in respect of Dalits. They were so smart that they opposed the change in the name of the University but passed on the blame dexterously to the portals of the Sangh, and cleverly projecting the Sangh as hostile to Dalits. They thought the Riddles affair too, offered a similar opportunity. But their hopes were dashed. We, in their parlance, Manuists, opposed the opposition to 'Riddles'. We took a stand against Hindutva protagonists and therefore, socialists could not call it sham or hypocrisy. 

This success gave a fillip to the work of the Manch as well. A need had now arisen to speedily propagate our thoughts at the social level. We all wanted to organise programmes which would be widely discussed in the social circles in Maharashtra. After a great deal of deliberations, we scheduled a programme in 1987.

We had detailed discussions about the message we wanted to put across through the programme. The Dalit movement appeared to be one-sided. It was synonymous the Ambedkarite movement. The impression was that the Dalit movement stood only for revolt, and was devoid of any constructive outlook. The reality, however, was different. There are countless workers in the Dalit movement doing constructive work. We should seek them out, and felicitate and honour them, I proposed. The proposal was duly discussed, and we all decided to go ahead with the programme.

Once a programme is agreed upon, the entire Sangh machinery starts working to make it successful. We started looking out for constructive workers in the Dalit movement who deserved to be honoured. Our workers met them and requested them to accept our felicitations. They agreed. Eighteen individuals belonging to different castes were to be thus honoured.

The venue for the programme posed a problem. Damuanna held the view that the programme should be staged at a central place in Pune, not in the Dalit localities outside the city, nor in the schools run by Dalits. Accordingly, the place of the programme was fixed at the Bharat Natyamandir, a premier theater in Sadashiv Peth at Pune.

Sadashiv Peth has an exceptional historical context. A lot of propaganda has been made that the Peth is a stronghold of traditionalists, and the orthodox in the Hindu society. The felicitation function of Dalit workers was being organised at a place with such exceptional reputation. All manch workers were very happy with the venue and also because they felt that such programmes would go a long way in reaching the true image of the RSS to the people.

The programme will have to be called unique. The hall was filled to capacity. Socialist comrades were also seen in the audience perhaps with the hope of disrupting the proceedings. The felicitation was truly an event organised by the society in that the Government had nothing to do with it. Moreover, the felicitation function was being held under the aegis of people who were hitherto maligned as Manuists, communalists, and anti-egalitarian. Those who were going to be honoured carried a huge baggage of misunderstanding about us. Not that all of us were equally well acquainted with leaders like Chandram Guruji, Gotad Guruji, Smt Salunkhe, M D Shewale (of the Depressed Class Mission) and Laxmanrao Kelkar. The event offered a pleasant glimpse of 'Samarasata'. Those who were felicitated were moved by the unprecedented experience of being respectfully invited and honoured. Many felt that now that the Sangh had concerned itself with the problem of social inequality, it would not be long before social inequality became a thing of the past.

The programme thoroughly confused the so-called socialists in Maharashtra. They could neither commend nor condemn it. The Sangh could not be called Manuist nor could it be called egalitarian. The big guns among socialists in Pune kept mum. To use the progressive parlance, the majority of the planners, organizers, financiers and volunteers were "Brahmins". "Non-Brahmins" were comparatively small in number. But neither in our mind nor in our conduct even a trace of caste feelings exists. This was of course natural since the Sangh swayamsevaks work with only one consciousness the consciousness, of being a Hindu. The consciousness class and caste has been we have gifted away by us to the socialists.

The problem of reservations had became a delicate and sensitive issue. Gujarat, a Western state of India witnessed a big agitation against the Reservation policy in 1981. A meeting of the All India Delegates of the RSS took place in March that year. The issue of agitations in Gujarat inevitably came up in the meeting. The workers from Gujarat had become high strung on the issue. When Resolution justifying reservations came up for discussion at the meeting, every word of it was subjected to minute scrutiny. Many representatives opined that the Resolution was hasty, and likely to evoke adverse reaction in a large section of the people. Swayamsevaks from Gujarat understandably were naturally were unhappy. I was intently listening to the discussions. In view of so much opposition from workers, I was worried and felt the resolution would not go through. But it did.

Sarsanghachalak Balasaheb Deoras was calm but attentive at the meeting. After debate was over, the meeting broke for tea. When the meeting resumed, Balasaheb Deoras said, "I have heard the discussion in the meeting. I have understood that Many amongst us are not in favour the of Resolution. I request you all to imagine yourself in the place of those for whom the Reservations are meant. Try to enter their minds and see the present condition of those of our brethren, who have been neglected for hundreds of years. Understand their feelings. Then only take your decision." After his speech, there was hardly any discussion and the Resolution was passed. The Sangh had officially endorsed the Reservations.

The wily progressives did not take any cognizance of this Resolution of the Sangh. The Resolution was rather inconvenient to them. They continued their propaganda that the Sangh was against Reservations. The workers of the Samrasata Manch started explaining the Sangh's stand on Reservation in clear and forthright language. To enable the workers to speak on the subject effectively, Bhikuji Idate wrote a booklet on 'The Need for Reservations' in Marathi. Twenty thousand copies of the booklet were sold out. This booklet, served as our official literature.

Navale used to tell a succinct story in the context of Reservations. "I have some farmland," he said, "However, I don't do any farming, my cousins do it. But on record, the land is in my name. Once I received a notice from the Land Development Bank asking me to repay the loan which it said I had taken against this land. I was surprised as I had not taken any loan. Enquiries revealed that there indeed was a loan outstanding in my name, because the entry was based on the Saat-baara extract and which showed my name as the holder of the land. I had therefore to repay the loan which I had never taken." (Saat-baara is an authenticated document with correct names of the owners of all plots of land duly defined.)

After this story, Navale used to say, "In the same way, we should take out the Saat-baara document in respect of Mother India. Our forefathers have taken a massive loan on our account, we are under obligation to repay it. We can't say that our own generation has not perpetrated any injustice on Dalits. We can't claim inheritance in respect of only good things. We would have to accept our heritage along with the debt. There is no escape from it." Navale's story was so relevant to the issue that it went home, making the audience think over it seriously.

When we, who were branded as Manuists, began to speak in support of reservations, Dalit problems and Dr. Ambedkar's thought, there was a stir in the society. The Sangh opponents were at their wits end. Why are the Sangh swayamsevaks, quiet about Dr. Ambedkar's thoughts for so long, speaking out, now of all times? They drew the conclusion that having found Hindutva inadequate to link all special sections together, the Sangh is now taking resort to Dr. Ambedkar. It is just a ploy, they said, to woo the Dalit voter on BJP's behalf.

Those who sympathized with the Sangh felt that the Sangh was going through an ideological transformation, which was long overdue. But better late than never. They were happy that the Sangh has accepted social commitment, relinquishing orthodoxy. I find both these attitudes rather amusing. As per its ideology, the Sangh is concerned with each and every problem of the Hindu society. The Sangh will take them up as and when it thinks doing so is consistent with its strength and the society's needs. No ideological transformation takes place in the Sangh. The Sangh only charts out the truth. The truth is eternal. It is manifest in a variety of ways. Although we project Hindutva, we do so in a dynamic social context.

Thus Samarasata Manch commenced its work. While Manch was new, could the same be said of its philosophy? Dr. Hedgewar had expressed it in two words, "Hindu Sanghatan (Unification)". In Maharashtra, Dr. Hedgewar is not counted as a thinker and philosopher. According to me, he was the greatest philosopher of this century. The impact of his thought is enhancing every day. The workers draw inspiration from it. It is his philosophy which they project through their work in the context of the changing times.

In 1988, we organised a programme which triggered off quite a commotion in the social life of Maharashtra. Prior to 1988, a social conference was held under the sponsorship of Madhav Gadkari, editor of Loksatta. The conference was a revival of the original idea of the Nineteenth Century reformer, Justice Mahadeo Govind Ranade. The conference was held at Niphad, a place in eastern Maharashtra, with the usual fanfare and publicity which an Editor of an influential daily normally commands. Gadkari was successful in collecting all progressives in Maharashtra for the Conference. The Sangh as of course, is never invited to such social conventions since progressives regard it as socially untouchable. Any contact with it pollutes the sanctity of socialist Brahmins!

After the social "connection" conference at Niphad, an Equality (samata) conference took place in Pune. Baba Adhav, a prominent socialist had taken a lead in organising the conference, and Dr. Sharadchandra Gokhale, an eminent Sociologist, and writer presided over it.

A Sangh Swayamsevak and prominent BJP activist in Pune, Dr. Arvind Lele was invited to participate in the conference. When his name was announced from the dais, Dr. Baba Adhav stood up and took exception to Dr. Lele making a speech in the conference. "I will walk out of the meeting if Lele is allowed to speak," he said. The atmosphere in the auditorium became tense and explosive. The conference was on the verge of disruption. Dr. Lele behaved like a mature Sangh Swayamsevak and relinquished his right to speak. That was an insult which he swallowed, quietly, with dignity.

The news of that incident stung me with the force of a hundred scorpion bites. Dr. Lele and I were in no way closely connected. We had met in the Sangh's meetings and programmes. I did not view the Samata episode as an insult to his person alone. I felt that the entire Sangh was the target of the insult. I was aware about Dr Baba Adhav, his ideological bias, and the roots of his hatred for the Sangh. Bhiku Idate had told me many anecdotes about him in the Yerwada prison in Pune. This person who claimed heritage to the thoughts of Mahatma Phule and Dr Ambedkar had a rancorous mind. Even after being submerged in the Ganga-like stream of the philosophy of these two great souls, he had remained unaffected by them. Subsequently I have often quoted this incident to explain the rotten nature of the socialist and progressive psyche.

Against the above setting, the Samarasata Manch decided to hold a social conference in Pune. Prof. Anirudhha Deshpande took great pains to make the convention a success. This was the first time we were organising a social conference of this type. Hitherto our experience was limited to holding of shibirs (camps), social meets, and joint lunches or dinners (sahbhojan), and arranging functions and programmes. Convening a conference was something new for us. It was also incumbent on us to explain the raison-d'etre of the conference.

Social conferences and social meets in Maharashtra are normally 'social' only in name. Most of them are purely political ploys. They serve for many as stepping stones to the political arena. Also, they are found most handy and useful in providing a platform to give vent to anti-RSS sentiments. Speeches against the Sangh are delivered at these conventions, freely using such expressions as communalists, Manuists, counter-revolutionaries, fascists, Hitlerites, inegalitarians, enemies of the oppresed, Dalits and the exploited, Brahminists, champions of social injustice, and so on. Nanasaheb Goray and Tarkateerth Laxmanrao Joshi were invariably chairmen of such conferences, which invariably ended after passing verbose resolutions in favour of agitation to turn the society upside down. We did not want to hold a sham conference of this type.

In stead, we wished to evolve some guidelines and place them before the society through the conference. First of all, social problems pertain to the entire society, and they should not be associated with particular castes. Secondly, society as a whole should come together to discuss the problems confronting it. It should seek the solutions to social problems through dialogue among its different groups. Thirdly, the social platform should be unfettered, autonomous, and above politics. It should not be allowed to be used for political demagogy. We wrote articles expounding these guidelines. Prof Aniruddha Deshpande's contribution in this respect was impressive. It helped build an ideological background for the conference.

We invited Dr Gangadhar Pantavane, an editor of a Marathi periodical and writer from backward class, to inaugurate the conference. Sukhadev Navale was friendly with Dr Pantavane who accepted the invitation. Before his acceptance, it was almost a certainty that he would be appointed the chairman of the Maharashtra State Sahitya and Sanskriti Mandal (Literature and Cultural Committee). The Government led by Sharad Pawar, the then Chief Minister, had already taken a decision, and a report to that effect had appeared in Maharashtra Times. Dr Pantavane had scarcely any idea what storm he was brewing by accepting the invitation, He had yet to have experience of the hate-filled mentality of the progressives.

The Samarasata conference took place in December 1988 at the Saraswati Mandir in Pune. It was attended by 2500 delegates from all over Maharashtra. This was the first convention of its type where the Hindu fraternity belonging to all castes was present. Eminent people like the literary writer Prof. Keshav Meshram and poet Shantaram Nandgaonkar attended the meet. Dr Pantavane was escorted to the conference venue by Vivek Deshpande and Balaram Yerme both RSS workers from Sambhajinagar. 

Dr Panatavane's speech at the conference showed maturity of content, was polite in language and diction, and revealed influences of Dr Ambedkar's thought. He appreciated the Sangh's efforts to hold the conference, but did not utter a single word about "Hindu" or "Hindutva". He had definitely some bitter things to tell us, but he told them with utmost courtesy and grace. 

Within a few days following Dr Pantavane's speech, his rival in the Dalit movement raised a hue and cry against him. Dr Yashwant Manohar, former Dalit writer and literary critic and the Marathi gazalist poet Suresh Bhat led the campaign. Suresh Bhat called Dr Pantavane, "Gangadharshastri Pantavane" (the suffix Shastri is used to ridicule him as a Brahminic fellow). He accused the doctor of getting desecrated by appearing on the platform of the RSS. It was suggested that by staying in the company of social untouchables like the RSS people, he had polluted himself. Dr Yeshwant Manohar used extremely vulgar and ribald language to condemn Dr Pantavane for this great sin. Dr Pantavane was subjected to severe calumny and criticism by Dalit journals and organisations. Attempts were made to exile him from public life in Marathwada.

To top it all, the high priest of progressives, Sharad Pawar awarded the chairmanship of the Sahitya Sanskriti Mandal to Dr Yeshwant Manohar. Punishment was thus inflicted on Dr Pantavane for his appearance on the RSS platform. He was deliberately humiliated. Dr Pantavane was shocked. He openly started proclaiming, "I am not a Sanghist, I am a bitter critic of Hindutva. The RSS concept of Hindu Rashtra is a horrible thing. I have not made any compromise with my commitment to the teachings of Mahatma Phule and Dr Ambedkar", and so on. He also started propagating that the RSS people were "Hindutvising" Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.

I was quietly watching the entire show. I felt I was largely responsible for the social storm that was raging around me. The Pantavane episode exposed the groupism in the Dalit movement, the mutual jealousies and rivalries among the groups, the vulgar language used by self-styled learned people, and not the least, Sharad Pawar's progressive politics. As a responsible officer of the Sangh, I have often been on the same platform as the Sangh's inveterate opponents. But I was never considered a pariah in the Sangh for doing that. On the contrary, Damuanna Date, Vasantrao Kelkar and Bhikuji Idate always insisted that we should continue to be present at different platforms. I could not but help compare the attitude of the 'communalist' Sangh with that of the people who called themselves egalitarian, progressive, and humanist.

I still retain a great deal of respect for Dr Pantavane. His speech at our conference in no way reflected the Sangh's way of thinking. He projected only Dr Ambedkar's thoughts in his speech. This being the case, he should have taken a firm and determined stand. "Who are you", he should have asked his critics, "to observe untouchability on social platforms? What right have you to tell me where I should go and what I should speak? I enjoy the right to personal liberty and this right is very dear to me. It is an article of faith with me, I will defend it at any cost." Had he done so, his image in my mind would have been of one who acts - not only speaks - in conformity with Dr Ambedkar's philosophy. Dr Pantavane did not show this courage.

In 1995, a shift of power occurred in Maharashtra. I felt that it would now be possible to right the wrong inflicted on Dr. Panatavane. By offering the position of chairman of the State Sahitya and Sanskriti Mandal to him he could be suitably compensated for the past injustice. Damuanna Date and Bhikuji Idate felt the same way. Senior journalist D. V. Gokhale too, made a telephonic suggestion on these lines. Now that the BJP was a partner in power in the state, it was not difficult to appoint Dr Pantavane as chairman of the Mandal. We conveyed this proposal to the decision makers of BJP and they agreed. When we contacted Dr Pantavane to acquaint him with the offer, he politely declined. He was in no mood to face yet another controversy.

In comparison to Dr Pantavane, the courage shown by the poet Shantaram Nandgaonkar deserves kudos. It enhances one's respect for Nandgaonkar. He started associating himself with the programmes of the Manch from 1987-88, mainly owing to the efforts of Ravindra Pawar. When I heard his speech for the first time, I was delighted. In a frank and forthright manner, he affirmed that he used to attend a Sangh shakha as a kid. There he received lessons in love and fraternity. He felt he owed a great deal to the teachings of the Sangh for everything that is good in him. Dr Ambedkar had advised us to throw away the Dalithood. Why do we hold it tight to our bosoms in defiance of his advice, he asked. He has often pleaded from the Manch platform that Samarasata was the only way to achieve social equality.

Shantaram Nandgaonkar is an eminent person in his own right. He is influential. He could easily have joined the progressive hordes and maligned the Sangh. In that case, Sharad Pawar would have rewarded him handsomely. But Shantaram Nandgaonkar did not succumb to any of these temptations. He did not make any compromise with his principles. Therein lies his greatness.

Even as the Samarasata conference was just ending, an article on Mahatma Phule by Dr. Bal Gangal, a writer advocating Hindutva, published in the December issue of the 'Sobat' weekly, once more created a kind of upheaval in Maharashtra. "What sort of Mahatma is he? He is a stench called Phule", was the heading of the article. Dr Gangal had taken strong exception to Mahatma Phule's abusive language and his statements culled from his writings. The 'Sobat' weekly was in no way related to the RSS. Though Bal Gangal was a swayamsevak, he was not a spokesman of the Sangh. Even then, a violent commotion was created, needless to say by progressives, with a view to maligning the Sangh. 

The progressive gangs who called themselves champions of the freedom of writers, freedom of expression, freedom of the individual concertedly stood up to gag the mouths of Editor G V Beherey, the Editor of a famous Marathi weekly "Sobat" and Dr Bal Gangal. I too, was encountering the ferocity of intellectual terrorism, cunning, and double-dealing. The jealous and the rancorous hypocrite had ganged up. They were blessed by the high priest of progressives, Sharad Pawar. Copies of 'Sobat' were consigned to flames at various places. Threats were hurled at Bal Gangal. It was made difficult for him to move in public places. Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Progressives did not believe in religious edicts as Khomeini did, but in all other aspects the mentality of both appeared identical to me. Mahatma Phule can criticise our religious scriptures, he can interpret them as he likes. In the same way, if somebody criticizes Phule, why should he be subjected to intellectual terrorism? Why is an intellectual answer not given to him?

Hari Narke, an activist and writer from backward class made an attempt to provides a strictly intellectual response. His book "Mahatma Phule: Seeking Truth" was a scholarly text. Logical arguments were carefully pitted against each other. While the controversy raged, I too, toed the line in my writings in 'Vivek' suggesting that it is not proper to project Mahatma Phule in a bad light, and that doing so would be damaging to Hindutva. Mahatma Phule was a satyshodhak (seeker of truth). Hari Narke gave an excellent reply to the criticism of Phule from the Satyashodhak's (Literal meaning: Seeker of Truth perspective.

At about this time, I came in closer contact with Hari Narke. Sukhadev Navale, an astute judge of men, had developed a friendship with Hari Narke. Gradually, Narke started coming to the Manch platform. In the wake of the Samarasata conference, similar meets were organised at some other places in Maharashtra. Hari Narke, Uttam Bandu Tupe, a writer and erstwhile activist of Shiv Sena and I attended the conference at Sambhajinagar. It came to our notice there that Hari Narke was a well-read orator. Narke had liked our stand on Mahatma Phule and Dr. Ambedkar. He was highly impressed by Navale's allegorical reference to the "Saat-baara" document of Bharatmata (Mata = Mother). He did not entertain any doubt about our motives and sincerity.

In July, 1989, a seminar on the life and mission of Mahatma Phule was held in Bombay. Hari Narke also read a paper in the seminar. The entire proceedings of this seminar were published by the Samarasata Manch. Thereafter the relationship between the Manch and Hari Narke started cooling down. What were the underlying reasons for this sudden change?

Probably it was because of the pressure exercised on Hari Narke by progressive gangs. He was appointed on a number of government committees. The admirer of the ideology of the Samarasata Manch suddenly turned into its bitter opponent. He started calling us fundamentalists, communalists, and enemies of Phule-Ambedkar in the context of the Ayodhya movement. He got entangled in Sharad Pawar's trap. We in the Sangh are never bothered by such flimsy comments and criticism. The painful part is that there are is any number of intelligent people in Maharashtra who sell themselves to run us down. Their egalitarianism and ideals of liberation from oppression and exploitation are closely linked to governmental positions and appointment on governmental committees.

1990 was the centenary year of Dr. Ambedkar's birth and also Mahatma Phule's remembrance. In the light of the tradition of progressives in Maharashtra, it was fairly obvious how these two centenaries would be celebrated. Dr. Hedgewar's birth centenary had been celebrated in 1988-89 on an unprecedented scale all over the country. It was felt that at least in Maharashtra, we should pay a fitting homage to the memory of these two great men. But how to bring it about was a problem. That was the time when the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi liberation movement of Vishwa Hindu Parishad was in full swing. The 'Shilanyaasa' (ceremony of laying foundation stone for the intended Temple on the site of Babri Masjid which had also created a controversy) was over in 1989 in Ayodhya. The kar-seva (voluntarily working for the building of the Ram Temple at the site of Babri Masjid site) programme was fixed for 1990. That was the topmost programme on the Sangh agenda.

The Sangh works systematically. It never takes for implementation more than one major programme at a time. Enormous organizational strength was necessary to ensure that the kar-seva would take place at the fixed time according to a plan. The entire atmosphere was charged with making preparations for the kar-seva programme. This programme was of phenomenal significance from the point of Hindu renaissance and emotional reawakening. As swayamsevaks, it was also our first and foremost duty to participate in the kar-seva

Another organizational tenet followed by the Sangh leadership is that it expects every worker to focus only on the work entrusted to him. Who will take care of politics? What will happen to kar-seva programmes of the Sangh? A worker is not expected to worry about all these problems. We were holding charge of the work of the Samarasata Manch. The kar-seva was not something which was essential to our work. What was essential was to organise celebration of the centenaries of Dr. Ambedkar and Mahatma Phule, and to pay homage to their sacred memory. This issue was discussed at a meeting of the Samarasata Manch. The matter had already been discussed with the Prant Pracharak Vasantrao Kelkar, Asst. (sah) Prant Pracharak Damuanna Date, and with the karyawah and the sahkaryawah. Damuanna was to give the final decision. At the beginning of the meeting, a proposal was mooted for conducting "Vichar Yatra", i.e. 'Think Pilgrimage. Prof. Aniruddha suggested that it might be called Sandesh Yatra, (Message Pilgrimage). It was decided to have the yatra on the basis of the message of 'Brotherly Social Life' of Dr. Ambedkar and Mahatma Phule. The programme of the Samarasata Manch was finalized. Damuanna gave a decision that the Sangh should offer all possible cooperation for this programme.

It was planned that the yatra would start from Mahatma Phule's house in Pune, and winding its way through all the districts of Maharashtra, it would end at the Deekshabhoomi (place where Dr Ambedkar publicly became a Boudhdha) in Nagpur. Navale was assigned the task of the organisation of the yatra, and Bhiku Idate was advised to be with the yatra for a long stretch. The yatra would last from September 28 to December 6, and cover a distance of 7000 to 8000 kilometers. Organising a yatra of this magnitude was not a bed of roses. Sukhadev Navale toiled literally round the clock. Once in his frustration, he did not spare even me! "You get all these crazy ideas and I have to suffer. I wanted to go to the kar-seva in Ayodhya but because of you, I could not go" he said.

Bhiku Idate would also say, "I am a karyawah of the Sangh. I advise the swayamsevaks to go to Ayodhya. However, myself I will go with the yatra and not to Ayodhya".

The workers participating in the yatra were subject to a similar dilemma. But they had faith that the work they were poised to do was in the interest of society. Only we could take the message of Phule and Ambedkar to the people, they felt. It was necessary to release Mahatma Phule and Dr. Ambedkar from the progressive jail. Had the programmes of the yatra not taken place, distortions of the teachings of these luminaries would have continued even on a larger scale by the progressives and socialists. In the name of their teachings, they would have continued to fan the fires of inter-caste hatred, and spread discord and dissensions among them. They would have exhumed the ghosts of Manuism and Brahminism. Therefore, a counterattack on them was the need of the hour.

Sukhadev Navale was fully aware of the prevailing social environment. He knew that some social literature would be required at the time of the yatra, and therefore got thirteen books and brochures printed. This published literature included books on the Mandal Ayog ( Commission), Reservations, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar's life, Mahatma Phule, and his thoughts, Samarasata, Dr. Ambedkar, and Dr. Hedgewar. The books proved useful in the yatra. Their sale too was handsome. 

Bhaurao Deoras graced the yatra's inauguration. He made a two-minute speech there. He also joined the Shobha Yatra (general procession) which was taken out on the occasion. We had invited Prakash Ambedkar, R. S. Gawai and Texas Gaikawad both senior leaders from backward class to join the yatra.

Ambedkarites in the Dalit movement were astonished at our yatra. Why are these Sanghists taking out a Sandesh Yatra when the kar-seva (voluntary services offered for building of temples etc.) is in full momentum at Ayodhya, was the question for which they were tying to find an answer. Progressives were thoroughly confused by our programme. They regarded us as Manuists, and propagated that the Ayodhya movement was a movement launched by Manuists to perpetuate Manuwaad. Revitalisation of Hindutva means revitalisation of social inequality, they said. They were, however, at their wits end in explaining the Sandesh yatra. They could not call the yatra 'Manuist'. That would be tantamount to calling Phule and Ambedkar Mauists. That would have incensed the Dalits. Still, it is not as though there was no opposition to the yatra. There was opposition, and I was rather amused by it.

During the time of the yatra, leaflets were distributed in Dalit localities asking the Dalits not to join the yatra. Samarasata is a poisonous word, the Sangh means slow poisoning it was charged. Since they have lost all support in society, they are trying to prop themselves up by resorting to the names of Mahatma Phule and Dr. Ambedkar. They have Phule and Ambedkar on their lips but Manu in their heart. Those and other such assertions were made. I had collected all the leaflets. Ironically, these leaflets helped us a lot by publicizing our yatra. Even before the yatra reached a destined place, its information reached there, and many people would join the yatra out of sheer curiosity.

We had evolved some strict do's and dont's for the yatra. Speakers were advised to confine their speeches only to the subjects relating to Mahatma Phule and Dr. Ambedkar. Other subjects like Ayodhya and the kar-seva were to be eschewed. If somebody asked any question about them, the reply would be, "The subject does not pertain to this yatra." No political leaders should be allowed to make political speeches. Meetings should be held at central places in the towns and villages. They should not be organised intentionally in Dalit localities. The speeches should be addressed to the entire society, and not only to the Dalits.

The speeches made during the course of the yatra were of different tenor altogether. Mahatma Phule and Dr. Ambedkar were interested in the uplift of Hindus. Their ideas revolved a round the reconstruction of the Hindu Society. They advocated social nationalism. They were well aware of the dangers from Islam, Christianity, and the missionaries. Both of them were religious souls. Anti-Brahminism was not the basis of their thought. They worked to finish the mindsets which believed in inequality. These points were put forth with numerous examples from their lives and thought. Bhiku Idate's speeches in the yatra held the audiences spellbound. They spurred people to think, to introspect. I met many people who said "We have never found anybody projecting Dr. Babasaheb's teaching in this light. You are giving us a new insight into their teachings".

I vividly remember 30th October 1990. I was in Mahad with the yatra. A meeting was fixed in the evening. The kar-seva was to take place at Ayodhya on that day. While lakhs of swayamsevaks had gathered in Ayodhya, we were at Mahad. What might have happened in Ayodhya? Had the kar-seva taken place ? Was there firing on the swayamsevaks? Mulayam seemed the very reincarnation of Aurangzeb. We could not sit glued to radio or television, though we very much wanted to do so. Only late in the night, after the programme was over, we came to know about the successful Kar-seva at Ayodhya. We rejoiced greatly.

I was not able to keep accompany the yatra throughout its course. The work of the weekly, Vivek, awaited me in Bombay, and I could not stay away from it for long. I went with the yatra upto Dapoli and from there, I returned. The yatra offered happy glimpses of the Dalit life and society. Their faith in Dr. Ambedkar, their devotion to him, was dazzling. There is tremendous power in faith and devotion. I had glimpses of that power while I was in the yatra. I could also observe how shrewd Dalit politicians exploit Dalits at different levels. They collect funds in the name of Dr. Ambedkar, but misappropriation of these funds is rampant. They raise the bogey of the RSS and speak hysterically about it. It was therefore necessary for us to have a dialogue with common Dalit people, without any biased mediator. The yatra gave us an opportunity to do so.

The yatra made the Samarasata Manch famous in all Ambedkarite localities in Maharashtra. Many funny anecdotes came to our knowledge. In all localities, Dalits were giving fitting replies to exhortations not to participate in the yatra, and to allegations that the yatra is a Sangh trap. "What is your programme for this very big occasion of Dr. Babasaheb's centenary? If they are organising some programme, why should you feel jealous?" They asked. "Dr. Ambedkar belongs to the entire country!" They asserted their devotion to Dr. Ambedkar manifested itself in this way.

Even as the yatra was in progress, we made efforts to persuade Prakash Ambedkar to join it. Prakash Ambedkar lacked courage to do so. He was probably afraid of the monstrous progressive tendencies in Maharashtra. Also, he might have feared that the progressive would make another Dr. Gangadhar Pantavane of him. It was not that his joining would have enhanced our prestige or the popular appeal of our yatra. While the yatra was on, Bhiku Idate once happened to meet Prakash Ambedkar. Idate once again invited him to join the yatra. "Is your yatra still on?", asked Prakash Ambedkar. "Yes, it is going on". "Surprising! When such a colossal movement is on in Ayodhya, you are taking out yatras on social themes! Only you can do it" said Prakash Ambedkar.

It is worth knowing how the progressives, socialists, and radicals in Maharashtra reacted to our yatra. These people are in the media in large numbers. But none of them took any cognizance of the yatra by writing articles, editorials, or special newsletters. The brave pen-pushers who had talked about setting Maharashtra on fire at the time of the chaturvarnya interview suddenly cooled down. I was closely watching them. Perhaps they were nervous as the yatra in no way offered them a chance to spread fires of casteist hatred. Besides, the Ayodhya movement of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad was in full swing. This movement had brought before the people problems like pseudo-secularism, anti-Hindutva, and appeasement of Muslims, in their true dimensions. The movement was getting tremendous popular support. While on one hand, intellectuals were wrestling with the problem of how to analyze the Ayodhya phenomenon, what to do with secularism, and how to stop the growing prestige, power and influence of the RSS, the poor socialists had lost sight of common sense. On the other hand, we were causing upheavals with our yatra.

Even while planning and implementing these programmes, I never ceased to mull over the key issues. We are the Hindutva people. The contemporary social problems are the problems of the Hindu society. Being the Hindutva people, the responsibility for all these problems devolves on us. I observed that in Maharashtra, the spokesmen of Hindu culture were also those who abused Hindutva day in and day out, spurned Hindutva, and even refused to accept that something akin to a Hindu Society existed all through in this country. These self-appointed interpreters of Hindu problems parodied the very word 'Hindu'. And yet, they were trusted to speak about the Hindu society's social problems. Why should the names of Hindutva protagonists not come forward as the spokesmen for Hinduism and commentators on several of its problems? Why does nobody from among us project himself as our authoritative spokesman on social problems? These question harassed my mind continually.

It is not ray for the Hindutva protagonist to come forward to comment on social issues. It came to my notice that, in fact we always strike a defensive posture on social problems. The heavy historical burden of constant criticism of Hindutva retards our ventures in this sphere. An ideological campaign has been conducted for four to five decades to brand the Sangh as 'reactionary'. The social, ideological, and intellectual atmosphere is charged with tones, undertones, and overtones, of this campaign. The pre-conditions for attainment of success in the fields of art and literature is rejection of Hindutva. Those who aspire for eminence in social fields or want to build up political careers have to prove their anti-Hindutva bonafides. May be, as consequence of this, no Hindutva protagonist shines in social fields.

Madhu Mangesh Karnik is a name in Marathi literature. He was the president of the Marathi Literary convention (Sahitya Sammelan) held at Ratnagiri. I was not aware that he was a Sangh swayamsevak. Both of us were residents of Bombay but I had never seen his name in any list of swayamsevaks. I do not, of course, hold the naive view that he is a great writer because he is a Sangh swayamsevak. I was introduced to him when he had come for the publication function of a book by Shivrai Telang. Had he revealed his relationship with the Sangh during the prime of his literary career, the progressives undoubtedly might have given him a run for his life.

In this context, Purshottam Bhaskar Bhave, an eminent and brilliant original writer in Marathi comes inevitably to mind. He was an inveterate Hindutva protagonist and a devotee of Savarkar. He presided over the Marathi literary convention in 1974. He was duly elected to this position through the normal democratic procedure. 1974 was a prosperous period for progressives. The socialists, particularly the followers of Sane Guruji, grudged the fact of a pro-Hindutva writer being asked to preside over the convention. They conspired to disrupt the convention. They created a lot of noise and disturbances to thwart the Presidential address delivered by Bhave. P. L. Deshpande, (a socialist and popular humourous playwright with bias against Hindutva) was one of those who led this hullabaloo.

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