Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar : A VISIONARY REVOLUTIONARY
It was 22nd June 1897, the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Victoria and the whole country was jubilant. Sweets were being distributed to kids in schools. One such school was Neel City, and there stands a boy looking depressed. The teacher inquired, “Keshav, didn’t you get sweets?”
“Of course, I got, but I threw them away. When these English people liquidated our Raja Bhonsle dynasty, how can we celebrate their Queen’s coronation?” said the boy. He was just eight years old then.
The same boy, in 1902, refused to recite the poem “Victoria Dhanyavatee, Avatariliajagati, Bharata khandeejanamanhati Sita deveeti….” (meaning “Victoria, the great has descended to earth, and the people of Bharat call her Sita….) because it was glorifying a queen of a wicked country as goddess Sita.
In later years Keshav instigated all his classmates to greet the school inspector with “VandeMataram” slogans during an inspection. This act was in protest of a circular released prohibiting the uttering of VandeMataram in schools. His full name was Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. He was destined to become the founder of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which would become one of India’s largest voluntary social organisations. Since childhood, such was his nature – full of patriotism and cherishing our Indian cultural moorings.
Keshav was born on 1st April 1889, which happened to be the first day of the Marathi new year-UGADI (Chaitra Suddha Pratipada). This year it befell on 2nd April. Hedgewar’s family originally hailed from Kandkurti, a village in Telangana and migrated three or four generations back to Nagpur owing to financial difficulties. Keshav was the fifth child of his parents. At the age of 13 years, Keshav lost both his parents on the same day to the plague and faced severe economic hardships. He was a self-made man. The anti-imperialist and anti-colonial sentiments further strengthened in him as he grew up, led him to start Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Training and Transformation into a Revolutionary
Hedgewar went to study medicine at the prestigious National Medical College in Calcutta with the assistance of a few revolutionaries in Nagpur in the middle of 1910. He went to Calcutta primarily to receive training for undertaking revolutionary work under the supervision of Pulinbihari Das, a top leader of the revolutionary group Anusheelan Samiti in Bengal. One of the prime tasks of Hedgewar was to procure and distribute underground literature and arms to other revolutionary groups in different parts of the country.
Though Hedgewar had developed a close affinity with all the important nationalists of Bengal, the two closest leaders were Sham Sundar Chakravarty and Moulvi Liaquat Hussain. Chakravarty had returned to Calcutta in 1910 after a period of solitary confinement in Burma. He regularly wrote fierce anti-British articles for Sandhya, Vande Mataram and many other periodicals. He was penniless, and Hedgewar and his friends supported him financially and made all the arrangements for his daughter’s wedding. Hussain was a devout follower of Lokmanya Tilak and had taken the vow of swadeshi. When Hussain was severely ill, Hedgewar personally nursed him for two months.
After completing his five-year medicine course, Hedgewar returned to Nagpur in early 1916, refusing a lucrative job offer in Bangkok. Instead, he had set up a revolutionary group called ‘Kranti Dal’ with the help of BhaujiKarve, a nationalist from Nagpur. In the aftermath of the Amritsar Session of Congress in 1919, Hedgewar became very active in the Indian National Congress. He was an active member of ‘Rashtriya Mandal’, a group formed by the followers of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Nagpur Congress.
A Devout Patriot Par a Leader with Vision
In January 1920, Dr. L.V. Paranjape started the Bharat Swayamsevak Mandal. Hedgewar was an active member of the Mandal and worked closely with Dr. Paranjape to help organise a congress session at Nagpur. When Tilak passed away on the night of 31st July 1920, Dr. Moonje and Dr. Hedgewar tried unsuccessfully to persuade Aurobindo Ghosh to take up cudgels of the Indian National Congress. However, the Congress session went on as scheduled in December 1920, attended by more than fifteen thousand delegates and thousands of ordinary people. Dr. Paranjape and Hedgewar oversaw lodging and food for the delegates.
The environment in India around the 1920s was highly polarised, with the Muslim community demanding more and more privileges for their support of the national movement. Hindus remained disorganised and were divided into several castes and groups working at cross purposes, while most Muslims steadfastly stood behind their leaders. Gandhiji combined the Khilafat struggle (to restore the Caliphate in Turkey) with the Non-cooperation movement. Many stalwarts of the day opposed Gandhiji’s championship of Khilafat. That includes the likes of Dr. Ambedkar, Dr. Annie Beasant, Savarkar, Dr. Pattabhi, Ranga, Rajaji, and Dr. Hedgewar also held the same views. In spite ofhis diagreement, he participated in the non-cooperation movement as a loyal congress worker.
In May 1921, Doctorji was arrested on charges of sedition for his objectionable speeches. The hearing in the case began on 14th June 1921. After hearing Hedgewar’s statement, the judge exclaimed: “His defence is even more seditious than his original speech.” In his judgment, delivered on 19th August 1921, the judge ordered Hedgewar to give an undertaking that he would not deliver seditious speeches in the future for one year. He furnishes a bail of Rs 3,000. Hedgewar refused to comply with the order, and the judge sentenced him to one-year rigorous imprisonment.
A rousing reception was given to him after his release from jail in July 1922. Congress leaders Motilal Nehru and Hakim Ajmal Khan were prominent speakers of the day. Hedgewar was appointed as a joint secretary of the Provincial Congress in 1922. He was also part of the Hindustani Seva Dal, a Congress wing of volunteers.
The communal riots that broke out in 1923 in the wake of the Khilafat Movement made Dr. Hedgewar feel that the Congress leadership had betrayed Hindus by championing the cause of Muslim fundamentalists. Dr. Hedgewar thwarted all attempts of his family elders to bind him in wedlock and determined to remain unmarried and dedicate all his energies to the national cause. Dr. Hedgewar chose to build RSS.
A Life Dedicated to the Nation Building
The RSS was founded on the day of ‘Vijayadashami’ in 1925. Of course, the organisation’s name was decided much later, in April 1926. It was started with just a small group of young boys. Its founder made the neighbourhood boys come together every day for an hour to play kabaddi and other games, do some physical exercises, sing patriotic songs, listen to inspirational stories and anecdotes of our glorious history and epics. He felt that this would instill patriotism in the boys. People laughed at his idea then. Over time, the idea caught people’s imagination, and the mission of RSS spread far and wide.
After founding RSS and even while working for its propagation day and night, Doctorji continued to participate actively in the freedom struggle. As part of the Civil Disobedience Movement, Hedgewar and 11 others protested the draconian forest laws. They were arrested in Nagpur on 21st July 1930. He was tried the same day and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for nine months. Hedgewar’ ssatyagraha was one of the most successful programmes of the civil disobedience movement of the Central Province.
For the next 15 years, Doctorji spent his whole energy on RSS growth before passing away in 1940. Dr. Headgewar’s life and mission were dedicated to the cultural quest for the soul of India. He organised RSS activities as means for the decolonisation of Indian minds. He never hankered for self-promotion, publicity or taking credit for any work he undertook for people, society or nation. Such personalities are rare in current times. Indeed, he was a great soul influencing the thought processes of this vast country even after his death. He had emerged as the father of alternative ideological paradigms, symbols and narratives.
Cultural Subjugation ignored
During the freedom struggle, the focus was on liberating the country from political subjugation and economic exploitation. Though Gandhiji and a few other leaders realised the implications of cultural subjugation, they focused their time and energies on achieving political independence. Cultural subjugation is not visible to the naked eye, but colonialism has a coercive impact on the colonised value system and worldview. Writers and thinkers like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Aurobindo and leaders like Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal, Lajpat Rai did oppose the hegemony of western concepts, ideas and theories. However, their viewpoints did not find a proper place either in Congress’s ideology or its programs.
According to Ramaswarup, the earliest invaders of India ruled through the sword; the later invader, that is, the British, ruled through distorted Indology. The British took over our education and had taught us to see ourselves through their eyes. They created a class – Indian in blood and colour, but anti-native/anti-Hindu in intellectual and emotional orientation. This is the biggest problem rising India is facing now – natives that are disconnected from their glorious past or natives that are indoctrinated to feel inferior because of their past, i.e. the problem of self-alienated Hindus.
Congress, unfortunately, never bothered about such issues. It did not even protest the attempts of then Census Commissioner Risley to divide and segment the Indian population based on caste, language and race. It did not even appreciate the efforts made by individuals like Swami Sraddhaanda and U.N.Mukharjee and a host of others who vehemently opposed the evil designs of the missionaries. The renowned philosopher K. C. Bhattacharya in his epoch-making speech’Swarajya in Ideas’, cautioned the nation about the adverse consequences of intellectual subjugation.
Effects of Colonisation of Minds
Ashish Nandy has aptly summarised the effects of colonisation of minds. He says, “Those members of the Third World elite who never lose an opportunity to lash out against the West have been the worst affected by the colonisation of the mind.” He adds, “They speak in the opponents’ language and subscribe to their values. He further adds that colonialism has a long way to go before it is vanquished! Our nations are ostensibly independent, but our minds remain enslaved.A second more pernicious wave of colonisation has begun, working insidiously on the minds of the colonised. With the connivance of our own elite, it tries to persuade us that there is only one way to progress, the Western way!….”
Nandy also comments, “One aspect of this “psychological colonisation” is the demonisation of native civilisation: The Indian press, like most of its Third World counterparts, puts a premium on all that is modern and condemns as degenerate all that is traditional. In order to put the stamp of legitimacy on modernisation, we have to believe that the traditional civilisation was inhuman. Instilling guilt about the “evils of Hindu society” is indeed a favourite weapon of the secularist elite.”
Decolonisation is a process through which a link is established with our glorious past. RSS has taken up the challenge of decolonising the Hindu minds. It has designed a unique methodology to instill pride in young minds about our past and create positive aspersions about the future of our society, culture and country.
Decolonisation process–RSS way
Dr. Hedgewar was a fierce anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist. He started RSS to decolonise and awaken native young minds and bring them out of the cultural subjugation of colonisers. For him, political freedom without cultural independence is a body without a soul. For political independence, he joined hands equally both with Congress and the Revolutionaries. At the same time, he had built up the organisation (RSS) to propagate and preserve our cultural moorings and values. He gave prominence to local Marathi traditions in the day-to-day running of the organisation in the beginning. However, after its expansion to other states, he replaced them with suitable pan-Indian traditions. For him and RSS, culture is a means to consolidate nationalism and promote patriotic fervour to safeguard the country’s interests. RSS is essentially an anti-colonial movement, eager to complete the job of political decolonisation with (its) hitherto missing component –cultural decolonisation.
Dr. Hedgewar passed away in 1940, when RSS, though spread almost in all the provinces of the then undivided India, was still a small organisation. Nevertheless, the system, methodology, and organisational culture he had established show his farsightedness, experience in social activities, and deep knowledge of human nature. Slowly, it had become a movement to reinvigorate the Hindu society.
He emphasised that the prime responsibility of preserving and flourishing Indian or Hindu culture lay with Hindus who had built it and cherished it. It is also their and theirs only responsibility to eliminate all social evils from their society. Not everything old is gold, and not everything new is bad. The discipline of a follower is impacted based on how the master acts – not on what he preaches. Ethics and patriotic spirit need to be cultivated regularly, not merely listened to or memorised. These are some basic principles on which he had built his movement. RSS did not have any rule book for the first 23 years of its inception. In 1949, RSS came up with a written constitution at the insistence of the Government of India.
In 1934 Gandhiji, during his Wardha trip, noticed that an RSS camp was being held near his camp and became interested to see it. The next day at 6 A.M, he visited the camp along with Meera Behan, Mahadev Desai and others. About 1500 swayamsevaks were participating in the camp and all of them, in a disciplined way, welcomed and saluted Gandhiji. The latter, while expressing his deep appreciation for the way the camp was running, desired to visit the kitchen of the camp. Upon conversing and observing the workings at the kitchen, Gandhiji learned that there was no discrimination among the swayamsevaks based on caste. He was pleasantly surprised at how they all cooked and ate together, wondering how RSS was able to wipe out caste differences prevalent in the rest of Indian society. When he was told that Dr. Hedgewar had made them understand that we were all brothers, Gandhiji expressed his desire to meet Dr. Hedgewar.
On the following day, Dr.Hedgewar met Gandhiji in his camp. Gandhiji questioned the need for starting a new organisation instead of organising the existing Congress Seva Dal. Dr. Hedgewar then explained the purpose and importance of organising Hindus. He then elaborated that while a seva dal volunteer was meant jobs like constructing rostrums, laying carpets and arranging meetings, a swayamsevak was always proactive in the service of his motherland. With this, Gandhiji praised the work of Dr. Hedgewarand gave his blessings.
RSS prayer “Namaste Sadaavatsale Matrubhume…” is recited every day in every Sakha across the world at the end of the meeting. In the first part, a swayamsevak, while saluting his motherland, says that he was being raised by her – the Hindu Bhumi – and wishes that his mortal body be offered for her sake. In the latter part, they ask the almighty for undefeatable strength, virtuous character and the wisdom needed to navigate the voluntarily opted thorn-filled path of reuniting Hindus. While rendered in unison every day, this prayer reaffirms one’s commitment to the goal and thwarts any possible evil influence of colonisation.
Besides the prayer, they also recite a 33 sloka “Ekaatmata Sthothram”. The Sthothram glorifies theMother land with its holy rivers and great mountains and cultural heritage of Bharat.It invokes the names of Arundhati, Janaki, Kannagi, Meerabai, Jhansi Lakshmi, Ahalya Bai, and Nivedita and Bheeshma, Rama, Krishna, Harischandra, Hanuman, Vyasa, Bali, Bhageerath Eklavya and others The names of 34 spiritual gurus like Buddha, Sankara, Jinendra, Panini, Patanjali, Chaitanya, Tulasi das, Kabir, Nayanars, Alwars, Basaveswar, Govind Sing followed by great artists like Kalidasa, Bhoja, Jakkanna, Tyagaraja, Rasa khan, Raja Ravi varma and Bhagya chandra are also remembered. In addition, great historical personalities like Chanakya, Chandra Gupta, Agastya, Koundinya, Rajendra, Harsha, Sri Krishna Devaraya, Rana Pratap Singh and Sivaji, followed by ancient to modern scientists like Kapila, Kanada, Bhaskara, Arya Bhatta, Nagarjuna, SN Bose and CV Raman are remembered. Spiritual and social leaders
like Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Dayananda, Aurobindo, Vivekananda, Gopabandhu Das, Tilak, Gandhi. Malavya, Subrahmanya Bharati, Savarkar, Ambedkar, Phule, Narayana Guru, Hedgewar and Golwarkar, and many more are paid respects. The purpose behind doing this is to establish a connect between our present and our glorious past.
All able-bodied swayamsevaks, irrespective of age, participate in the- games. It is quite a scene for bystanders and newcomers to Sakha to watch a noted college principal playing games with a small-time mechanic, a clerk, a small-scale industrialist and school and college boys. The underlined principle is to build a feeling of brotherhood, forgetting social distinctions.
A typical Sakha proceeds with the narration of an inspiring story of any great person or a discussion on a current topic. Many a time, intellectual training is being conducted. A participant of Sakha will develop immense self-confidence. Staying focused and in the know about our ancestors’ achievements empowers the Swayamsevak to rise above himself and break the mental shackles of colonisation.
RSS never accepts any donation from any individual or organisation. It solely depends on the contributions made by their swayamsevaks once a year. There is a typical tradition to contributing – every Swayamsevak comes to the Sakha and offers his contributions to the BhagavaDhwja (Safron Flag) on Gurupurnima.
All are encouraged to read books, improve themselves and contribute by various means at their disposal for national development and Swadesi. They are encouraged to impart the same habits and qualities to their households, families and family circles.
Many young men are encouraged to spend a few years after completing their studies and before taking up a job to spend full time on nation-building in a field of their choice. Swayamsevaks so engaged in such nation-building are called Pracharaks. Several thousand Pracharaks work for the cause, and some remain unmarried Pracharaks for life. In this way, RSS was able to develop a patriotic citizenry.
RSS, which began its journey as a movement of positive ideas, never looked back. It has never been a closed institution but has always been open to new ideas and new areas of operation. It represents a genuinely decolonised mindset and ideological stream. This source of enormous strength helped it withstand three bans in 1948, 1975, 1992 and helped it survive and grow into the gigantic organisation it is today. This has happened even in the context of a vicious and malicious misinformation campaign against it day in and day out.
RSS focused its attention exclusively on building up the organisation in the first few decades of its formation. Nevertheless, it is attentive to the contemporary problems and issues plaguing Hindu Society in particular
and India in general. For example, in 1974, the then RSS chief asked the organisation to focus on efforts to remove untouchability lock, stock and barrel. The swayamsevaks responded with a massive outreach program which had a positive impact on the mindset of the people.
Similarly, the twin problems of social inequality and the narrative of Bharath have become the focal concerns for the present-day leadership of the organisation. RSS shunned publicity for many decades. It lost that luxury in the information age. It has come out of its shell and is now articulating its viewpoints openly and boldly, now more than ever, on several contemporary and sensitive issues from purely an indigenous perspective. Its voice is now being heard, and its viewpoint is carefully studied. RSS is perhaps the only organisation of that size which hasn’t had any split even once in its nearly hundred years of existence. Its founder nurtured the organisation in such a way that there was never a tussle for top leadership. Doctoriji laid such a strong foundation for the noble cause he has taken up in such a way that he was able to inspire successive generations of swayamsevaks and pracharaks alike to follow the path of discipline and dedication. Remembering such a great son of India on his birthday is a worthy tribute!
By Dr. Bommaraju Sarangapani