Wednesday, August 17th, 2022 17:54:23

An Epochal Saga

By Nilabh Krishna
Updated: April 4, 2022 9:31 am

If we have to select a person whose life and the organisational capacity has impacted the life of an average Indian the most, that would be undisputedly Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar also known as Doctorji.

Born in Nagpur on the Hindu new year, in 1889 (1st April), he later rose to be the architect of a modern powerful India with an unapologetic pride in Hindu civilisational legacy of the nation. It is an incredible saga of a person who succeeded in transforming the society with a new order of dedicated youth, whose spread is seen today in every corner of India- from Tawang to Leh and Okha to Andamans.

He founded the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) on Vijayadashami day in 1925 but the name was given a year later- the very first announcement that day was a simple one liner- ‘I am announcing the formation of Sangh (organisation) today.’  The name RSS was given a year later after intense deliberations and receiving many suggestions which included- Bharat Uddharak Mandal (loosely translated as – Society to rejuvenate India) and Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. The principal purpose was to create a society that will never fall prey to the internal squabbles and forge solidarity so that none would be able to subjugate us in future. Before that he had been an active member of the Congress and was the co-incharge for organising the famous Nagpur session of Congress. He participated in non-cooperation movement and was sentenced to one year’s rigorous imprisonment for giving passionate speeches for freedom. He had also been a target of the British for his connections with the revolutionaries of Anusheelan Samiti and its leader Pulin Behari Bose.

But he got the least publicity and his life remained less known than the people he moulded who later became international celebrities. Today perhaps the largest networks of service-projects run by any organisation in India are serviced by the RSS – the people who are inspired by Dr Hedgewar. One lakh seventy thousand is the number of these projects- which include hospitals, blood banks, eye banks, special centres to help Divyangs, visually challenged and Thalassaemia affected kids. Whether it’s a war time or a natural calamity – Hedgewar’s followers are the first to reach and provide relief. Whether it was Charkhi Dadri plane crash, Tsunami, Bhuj, Uttarkashi earth quakes or Kedarnath tragedy- the RSS Swayamsewaks were in the forefront to help the affected people and later in rehabilitation work too.


A stalwart from beginning

Keshav Baliram Hedgewar was a stalwart who opposed British colonialism from early childhood and rubbed shoulders with Bal Gangadhar Tilak, BS Moonje, Subhas Chandra Bose, and Savarkar brothers. As a student in the sixth standard, he threw the sweets received on Queen Victoria’s 60th coronation day in the dustbin, saying slavery to the British empire was nothing to celebrate and motivated children not to go to see the lights on Nagpur Empress Mill as part of the celebrations. In the 10th grade, Hedgewar managed to organise students of Neil City High School to shout ‘Vande Mataram’ when the inspector visited the classrooms. When investigations began to identify the mastermind, he confessed to save fellow students from trouble, and was rusticated. He passed the metric exam from Pune as a private student under the Lokmanya Tilak Yojana. While there (1908), he threw a bomb at a police post on Vijayadashami; he was arrested but released because he was a student.

Tilak and Moonje sent Hedgewar to study at Calcutta Medical College and meet leaders of the Anushilan Samiti and organise the revolutionaries of Bengal and Maharashtra. During his six years in the province, he helped the Ramakrishna Mission to provide relief during a famine in Bengal; the Mission later sent MS Golwalkar to join Hedgewar after he founded the RSS. Returning to Nagpur with his degree in 1917, Hedgewar decided to dedicate his life to the nation. He joined the Congress and as general secretary of the Nagpur Congress Sewa Dal, helped organise the Non Cooperation Movement in 1921. He was arrested for sedition and jailed for one year. Later, he became secretary of the Congress in Central Provinces.

Deeply influenced by Moonje, Hedgewar felt that the nation needed a vehicle, different from the Congress, which placed Hindutva as the basis of nationhood. The RSS was founded at a meeting in his home, where like-minded people would gather for weekly meetings, which gradually evolved into the daily shakha. The emphasis was on character building (vyakti nirman); the rest would follow. Hedgewar and many RSS workers remained in the Congress and participated in the freedom struggle under Gandhi’s leadership. In 1932, he inspired the Jungle Satyagraha, wherein 6,000 persons cut jungle grass in defiance of a Government ban, similar to the ban on making salt. He was jailed for nine months. Long a shadowy figure at the edge of historical consciousness, Bhagwat has done justice to a visionary with formidable organisational skills.

It is true that though the BJP owes its moral strength to the RSS and a large number of its leaders are swayamsewaks, it would be an underestimate of Dr Hedgewar’s impact on Indian society to judge it only by the political spread of  the BJP. Hindu rashtra (nation) is not rajya (state), though critics try to obfuscate the issue. A state is a politico-legal entity; a nation is a civilisational, cultural, and psychological entity, generally identified with an ancient or distinct geography linked to its people. Hindus form the bedrock and mainstream of the Indian nation; a Hindu polity respects its minorities precisely because it is Hindu. This is true of both Hindu rashtra and rajya.

Hedgewar founded the RSS in 1925 as an ideological alternative to the dominant Indian National Congress, to uphold the primacy of Hindu civilisation and Hindus in India. Though Hedgewar and many swayamsevaks joined the freedom movement under the aegis of the Congress, mutual distrust due to the Partition and murder of Mahatma Gandhi persuaded the organisation of the need for a political praetorian guard. The fortuitous availability of Syama Prasad Mookerjee led to the formation of the Jan Sangh; his tragic death in Srinagar consolidated the fledgling party’s nationalist credentials, a legacy that transferred to its remake, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Unsurprisingly, Jawaharlal Nehru loathed both the RSS and the Jan Sangh because they did not value his Western liberal worldview and sought inspiration from India’s native ethos, which was by definition Hindu. Like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and BR Ambedkar, Nehru understood that the RSS was not innately anti-Muslim, but was astute enough to realise that painting it in such colours would give him the consolidated Muslim votebank, which kept his party in power for several decades.

The impact of Hedgewar on the social strata of India can be only gauged when one think of Moreh, the last village on India-Myanmar border – who is running a school there and providing medicines to the local villagers? It is the people inspired by the vision of Dr Hedgewar. Similarly, the Mokukchang and Changlang projects for serving local tribes in far North-East and Portblair ashram for the tribal students in Andamans are run by these people only. RSS today has the biggest network of schools and teachers and educational institutions in the country. Vidya Bharati today runs more than 25000 schools, has a quarter million students and one lakh teachers from the farthest village in the northeast to the snow deserts of Ladakh and border areas of Rajasthan, Jammu and Punjab.

There is an incident about Doctorji which one will hear while attending sessions at Sangh which encapsulates his vision towards India. Once Dr. Ambedkar has said that he was born a Hindu, but he won’t die a Hindu. Doctorji did not ridicule or rebuke him because he understood the ordeal Dr. Ambedkar went through to say those words. So, he invited him over to the Sangh to address the members. When Dr. Ambedkar visited, he asked Doctorji where the scheduled caste people were. Doctorji replied that in a Shakha, there are no touchables or untouchables, there are only Hindus! Dr. Ambedkar then realised that the Shakha was an absolutely equal place with no caste consciousness.

There is another which requires a special mention in today’s times of freebies. Once when he came across an area, he saw a colony named “Hindu Colony”. He then remarked that why do Hindus have a colony named after them when this entire nation belongs to them? He wanted us to see the Hindus beyond a community and as a nation. So, whenever we make petty demands for immediate gratification, we all need to take a step back and understand that we need to build a nation together. We cannot just remain happy with small gifts and tokens. The journey that was started by Doctor Keshav Baliram Hedgewar has still a long way to go and we shouldn’t stop till it is finished.


By Nilabh Krishna

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