Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the second head or Sarsanghchalak of the Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was born on 19 February 1906 in a Maharashtrian Brahmin family. ‘Guruji’, as he was known to his friends and followers, died on 5 June 1973. Golwalkar’s views on minority rights and Indian history are controversial — and while members of the Sangh Parivar (which includes the BJP) and other RSS supporters revere him, a section of Indian historians and scholars consider him to be a divisive figure.
Born in Ramtek near Nagpur in present-day Maharashtra, Golwalkar studied in various schools as his father Sadashivrao’s school teacher job meant constant relocation.
Golwalkar studied science in college, first at Nagpur and then at the prestigious Benares Hindu University (where he would later teach). For some years he joined an ashram in Bengal and dabbled in spirituality. He also secured a law degree.
While teaching zoology at BHU, he began to be called ‘Guruji’ — thanks to his overgrown hair and monk-like attire.
Eventually he joined the RSS after taking a liking to its ideology and participated in its training camp at Nagpur. Golwalkar soon formed a close bond with K.B. Hedgewar, the founder and first Sarsanghachalak of the RSS.
The second Sarsanghchalak
After Hedgewar’s death in June 1940, Golwalkar was his natural successor.
Golwalkar played a key role in expanding the RSS into a multi-layered organisation with branches in everything from labour unions to tribal welfare. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh (that later became the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP), which was set up as a political wing of the RSS, was also created under his leadership. Two Indian prime ministers from the BJP — Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi — are members of the RSS.
Golwalkar, who led the RSS for 33 years until his death in 1973, was arrested after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. The RSS was banned on 4 February 1948. The central government alleged that members affiliated to the RSS were responsible for violent activities, a charge that Golwalkar and other RSS leaders promptly denied. But he voluntarily suspended all RSS activities for six months.
The RSS chief was later released and the ban on the organisation lifted. No direct links between the RSS and Gandhi’s assassination were established.
Golwalkar and the RSS philosophy
Golwalkar through his numerous speeches and writings laid out the RSS philosophy that covered several issues from nationalism and religion to society and economic policy.
For instance, regarding the industrial policy of the Congress government at the Centre, he said: “Nationalization of industries means state capitalism — which is as good or as bad as capitalism. I look forward to a system of industrial cooperatives wherein every member of the cooperatives — why every member of the society at large — would understand both his responsibilities and obligations more than his rights and the way to evade duties. Bharatiya culture lays stress on the duties and obligations of oneself to the community. I would like free Bharat to recapture that spirit.”
He believed that a “Hindu Rashtra” (an article of faith for the RSS) was not simply a religious term but signified a people and their deeply held values. Such a Hindu nation, he said, should lay stress on devotion to the motherland and her cultural ideals, take pride in India’s ancient history, respect its great historical heroes, and work towards building a common life of prosperity and security for all its people.
Golwalkar’s critics and supporters both have strong views on the man.
The renowned historian Ramachandra Guha, for instance, wrote in The Hindu in November 2006: “Golwalkar was a man of much energy and dynamism, under whose leadership the RSS steadily grew in power and influence. His ideas are summarised in the book Bunch of Thoughts, which draws upon the lectures he delivered over the years (mostly in Hindi) to RSS shakhas across the country. This identifies the Hindus, and they alone, as the privileged community of India. It disparages democracy as alien to the Hindu ethos and extols the code of Manu, whom Golwalkar salutes as ‘the first, the greatest, and the wisest lawgiver of mankind’.
On the other hand, former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, a senior BJP leader and RSS man who knew Golwalkar well, said in 2008: “Guruji (Golwalkar) was of the view that theocracy is totally alien to the concept of Hindu polity…I learnt the meaning of secularism from him.”
Golwalkar, who was reportedly suffering from cancer, died on 5 June 1973. His ideology notwithstanding, even his critics would concede that he nurtured the RSS into an effective and disciplined grassroots organisation.
Also on this day:
1865 — Satish Chandra Mukherjee, renowned Indian educationist, was born
1893 — Ram Chandra Kak, Prime Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, was born
1952 — Mukesh Bhatt, Indian film producer, was born
1961 — Ramesh Krishnan, Indian tennis player, was born