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Colonial legacy behind image deficit of RSS

Colonial legacy behind image deficit of RSS

Author: Rakesh Sinha
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 8, 2002

In a democracy, no organisation can claim that its ideology is the only means for the nation's salvation. Ideological pluralism is essentially a sign of vibrant national community. However, in the Indian democracy, the practice of ideological apartheid has proved to be the biggest hurdle before evolving a consensus on the vital issues of nationalism and secularism. Secularists introduced Semitic politics which eventually created totalitarian mindsets. The RSS has been discussed, but only to be slandered.

The British constantly accused the Sangh of possessing a "communal and fascist" character. One reason was the refusal of the RSS - acknowledged as the most organised and well-trained volunteer organisation in British India - to cooperate in the British war effort during 1940-45. Even before that, the government tried to outlaw the RSS in 1933, using the pretext of its "communal" character. The reason behind the colonial action was the RSS's participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement. But the colonial government faced the most humiliating defeat in the Legislative Council of the Central Provinces and Berar during the budget session in 1934, when one rupee cut motion against the ban on the RSS was passed after two days' discussion. The Government was eventually forced to withdraw the circular. The biggest embarrassment for the Government was the RSS's defence by a Muslim member, MS Rahman, who challenged the Government to cite even one instance of its involvement in any communal strife.

The Muslims had not perceived any psychological or physical threat despite vigorous military training in the shakhas. Muslim League's literature remained silent on the Sangh till mid-1940s. After 21 years of RSS's existence, the League suddenly realised a threat from it in 1946. The Dawn, the mouthpiece of the League, wrote a leader on the RSS on May 13, 1946. Calling the Sangh a "secret underground organisation", the edit said: "It is undoubtedly that the Sangh has been long start and is now already a well organised and trained body; nevertheless, now that details about its object, its modus operandi, and its sinister design are known, it should not be difficult for Muslims to devise counter measure." In fact, the League was barking at the RSS to bite the Congress. In a subsequent editorial, 'Ban the Sangh', on May 31, 1946, The Dawn wrote: "It is the duty of every provincial government to declare the RSS an unlawful organisation... we regret to find that Mr Gandhi, Nehru and other top ranking leaders to whom we had made an appeal to condemn the ideology and activities of the Sangh continue to maintain strange silence." Besides, premeditated attacks were made on RSS shakhas in the Muslim dominated areas to disturb communal amity. For instance, Home Minister of Hyderabad Khan Bahadur Mirgulam Alikhan categorically said on May 26, 1945, in a Government communique, that "40 armed Muslims assaulted the RSS men playing in their Shakhas" in Hyderabad city (Mahratta, May 30, 1945).

After Independence, the RSS received the severest criticism from Nehru who, unlike Gandhi, had not read RSS literature or discussed its ideology or attended any of its programme. Nehru, like many others, perceived its ideology, social base, and ambition in the spectrum of the Mahasabha. He virtually inaugurated anti-RSS propaganda. After the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru found himself vindicated.

The first theoretical study on the RSS was made by an American scholar JA Curran in 1951. The Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee (SVC) published a booklet American Interest in the RSS in 1973. It wrote, "The interest of Mr JA Curran Jr, then head of the CIA operation in Asia and Africa, is particularly remarkable because he undertook his 'Operation Understanding RSS' when the organisation had been banned and when it was not supposed to be a force to be reckoned within Indian politics... the path of the RSS and America coincided on the morrow of Independence."

The slanderous propaganda that the Sangh had CIA links coincided with rising tide against Mrs Indira Gandhi and decline of the Congress in Indian politics. Curran's work was extensively cited by Indian secularists to damn the Sangh as a "militant, revivalist, Nazi movement".

The image deficit of the Sangh militates two-way discourse in Indian politics. Unappetising intellectual inputs by the Sangh parivar's literature fail to counter its highly articulate critics. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee is right in disapproving of irresponsible speeches by some people. Why did the HMS become an archival subject and the RSS continues to grow, can be answered by comparing the difference between Hedgewarian and Savarkarian approaches. The difference was not tactical but temperamental. RSS's founder KB Hedgewar, unlike the Hindu Mahasabha, avoided producing a blue print for his glorification mission of the nation. The only paradigm he set before the organisation was Patriotic Moralism.

Hedgewar bequeathed ideological contours of the Hindutva movement which certainly disappointed the Mahasabha leadership. He made a distinction between Islamic aggressors and Indian Muslims. Common ancestors and cultural outlook, and willful sharing of the cultural heritage and history, Hedgewar believed, bridged the grey areas among the two religions.

(The author teaches Political Science at Delhi University and is a political analyst).

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