The origins of RSS
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the world’s largest voluntary missionary organisation, was founded in the year 1925 by K. B. Hedgewar. Born in 1889, Hedgewar was raised in a Marathi Deshastha Brahmin family from Nagpur. A doctor by profession, he returned to his birthplace after completing his education and apprenticeship in 1915. Soon after, in the 1920s, Hedgewar became actively involved with the Indian National Congress.
It was during this period that he went to jail in August 1921 during the Khilafat Movement. In roughly the same time frame, he came across Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s writings and was deeply influenced by them. Savarkar had first coined the term “Hindutva” – a word that consequently became the basis of RSS ideology. In 1925, Hedgewar finally met Savarkar while the latter was held up in Ratnagiri prison. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was formed soon after, with six initial swayamsevaks. The aim for the same was to strengthen the Hindu society and to protect its culture.
Different lines of thought
RSS was founded at a time when the country was witnessing “the beginning of the end” – a chain of movements that would eventually lead to demise of the British era. Naturally then, the role of RSS in the freedom struggle has been a matter of great interest for all schools of thoughts and opinions.
On March 18, 1999, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then prime minister (NDA), issued a postage stamp to commemorate K. B. Hedgewar as a notable freedom fighter. The honour, while being enthusiastically welcomed by the Sangh members, was criticized by many others. The opposition saw it as an attempt to fabricate a non-existent freedom struggle contribution of RSS- the organisation that is often considered the parent root of Bharatiya Janata Party. Ironically, it is RSS archives and publications that are frequently used to construct a countering opinion against the RSS claims.
RSS and the freedom struggle
K. B. Hedgewar served two jail sentences in his lifetime- in 1921 and 1931, for Khilafat Movement and Salt Satyagraha respectively. The supporters cite these incidents to draw attention to the Sangh’s contribution in the freedom movement. However, there are ample arguments in response. When Hedgewar served his first prison sentence, RSS hadn’t come into existence, and he was an acting member of Congress.
For the 1931 imprisonment, his biography published by RSS states that he went to prison with the thought “that with a freedom loving, self-sacrificing and reputed group of people inside with him there, he would discuss the Sangh with them and win them over for its work”. Moreover, the biography also mentions that he “sent information everywhere that the Sangh will not participate in the Satyagraha. However, those wishing to participate individually in it were not prohibited”.
After the death of K. B. Hedgewar in 1940, M. S. Golwalkar took over the command as the second chief of RSS. Shri Guruji Samagra Darshan (vol 4), published by RSS, is often quoted for the excerpt “Definitely there are bound to be bad results of struggle. The boys became unruly after the 1920-21 movement…”
C. P. Bhishikar, the RSS biographer, has also mentioned that in his speeches, Hedgewar barely ever made any direct comment on the government.
Just like every other story, this one also has two sides. Individual leaders like K. B. Hedgewar did participate in the freedom movement, whatever the intentions might have been. However, when we consider the role of an organisation, it is to be done keeping in mind the all inclusive participation, as well as the official stand of the organisation. In that regard, RSS members were never prohibited from taking part in the freedom struggle. However, there are rarely any records found of a full-fledged declaration by the organisation about its open solidarity for the movement. The struggle, then, becomes to uncover the truth from the midst of biased perceptions from both sides.