Hedgewar Means Nation First
On Marsh Pratipada of 1889 or the first day of the Hindu Calendar (Vikram Samvat) also celebrated as Gudi Padwa in Maharastra, that reminds every citizen of the country of its history, civilization, cultural traditions and legacy of its ancestors, was born the youngest illustrious and precocious child Keshav in the family of Baliram Pant Hedgewar, who imparted a new dimension to the day through his persona, actions, character, resoluteness, dedication and originality of thought and grew to be the architect of Modern Bharat.
Keshav is a name that has obliterated oblivion ; he is among the few ones who at once span the past, the present and the future. He charted a new course by drawing ideal from its conceptual theology to a substantive form. His message of renaissance, reorganization and renewal of the nation has eternal significance and relevance. When Keshav was 13, he lost both his parents to plague and faced severe economic hardships while studying in school. He, literally, had to raise himself up.
It was in 1919 that Hedgewar became very active in the Indian National congress. He attended the Amritrar Session of Congress in 1919. As an active member of Rastriya Mandal, a group formed by the followers of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak he tirelessly worked to promote a Hindi weekly. He also founded Rashtriya Utsav Mandal to inspire the youth through the lives of national heroes of India, and worked closely with Dr. L.V. Paranjape who had founded the Bharat Swayamsevak Mandal to set up a corps of around 1000-1500 volunteers for the Congress Session. He was arrested on the charge of sedition in May 1921 and was released in July 1922. His acceptability across all political parties and sections of society is obvious from the fact that in the grand public reception that was organised on the occasion of his release were present the senior Congress Leader Motilal Nehru, and Hakim Ajmal Khan.
As Joint Secretary of the Provincial Congress in 1922, Hedgewar was also part of the Hindustani Seva Dal, a Congress wing of volunteers. However, the communal riots that broke out in 1923 in the wake of the Khilafat Movement, proved to be a tipping point. The failure of Congress leadership to address the concerns of Hindus made Hedgewar set up an organisation to unite Hindus.
Keshav Baliram Hedgewar founded the Rashtriya Swayamseak Sangh (RSS) in 1925 as an ideological alternative to the dominant Indian National Congress to uphold the primacy of Hindu civilization and Hindus in India. Though Hedgewar with 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 Shyama Prasad Mookerjee led to the formation of Jan Sangh; his tragic death in Srinagar consolidated the fledgling party’s national credentials and the legacy was transferred to its remake, Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).
It is not surprising that Jawaharlal Nehru loathed both the RSS and the Jan Sangh because they did not value his Western liberal world view and sought inspiration from India’s native ethos. Like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and B.R. Ambedkar, Nehru very well knew that RSS was not innately anti-Muslim, but was astute enough to realise that painting RSS in communal colours would give him the consolidated Muslim Vote banks, which kept his party in power for decades.
Hedgewar sounded the bigul of ideological war and addressed a complex range of political, social, cultural and civilisational issues that have crystallised in the Post-independence India. He was of the view that the patronages offered to Muslim orthodoxy by the Congress and other secular parties is no longer possible. Rahul Gandhi’s vituperative attacks on the RSS, and his allusion that it did not participate in the Freedom struggles is therefore baseless, for the founder of RSS Hedewar himself was a stalwart who opposed both British colonialism from early childhood and rubbed shoulders with Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Subhash Chandra Bose and Savarkar brothers. As a student in the sixth standard, Keshav 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 dissuaded children to go to see the light on Nagpur Empress Mill as part of the Celebrations. When he was in standard 10th, 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, and was rusticated. In Pune he threw a bomb at a Police Post on Vijayadashami; he was arrested but released, for the was a student.
Dr. Hedgewar, a visionary with formidable organisational skills felt that the nation needed a vehicle, different from the Congress, which placed Hindutava as the basis of nationhood. The RSS was founded in a meeting at 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 remained in the Congress and participated in the freedom struggle under Gandhi’s leadership. In 1932, he inspired the Jungle Satyagraha wherein 6000 persons cut jungle grass in defiance of a Government ban, similar to the ban on making salt. For this he was sentenced for nine months.
Rarest of the rare Hedgewar established a hallowed tradition of selfless and dedicated service to the nation. He gave up all the traditional practices, explanations and personal bondages associated with family and dedicated himself to the nation. He influenced the great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Vithalbhai Patel, Veer Savarkar, Subhash Chandra Bose among others. Nation be worshipped and Nationalism be inculcated became his motif. To concretize the idea, the Sangh adopted the tradition of Guru Puja on the occasion of Gurupurnima. Forbidding the Puja of any individual, the place of its Guru (preceptor), the Sangh has given this honour to the pristine saffron flag. The reason for this is that howsoever great a person may be, he/she cannot be perfect. Hence, rather than inviting ridicule by making any individual our Guru, he exhorted that our history, tradition and nationalism symbolised by the saffron flag is to be worshipped. The energy and enthusiasm that emanates from this flag will far exceed that coming from any human being” Dr. Hedgrewar suggested the younger generation not to follow any leader blindly. He guarded the Organization from self-aggrandizement and adulation by keeping it apart from the cult of hero worship. He emphasised that hero-worship is the biggest bane of Hindu society. He even stated “that to a certain extent this is the cause of the downfall of our society and nation and that the Sangh must wipe out this pernicious individualism and reestablish pure nationalism.” It is for this reason that the negation of hero-workship
is the integral part of the Sangh’s functioning. The next Sarsanghchalak Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar on the occasion of the death anniversary of Dr. Headgewar on 22nd August, 1940 said “The absence of the Sangh’s founder Hedgewar haunts our minds, but this should not make us panic, because Sangh has never endorsed hero worship nor will it do so in future.”
Dr. Hedgewar Practised what he preached demonstrating his ability to abide by the principles and ideological doctrines he espoused till his last breath. In 1935 Damodar Pant Bhatt, a writer from the Central Province requested Dr. Hedgewar to send information on his life along with a few photographs to write his biography. Dr. Headgewar, however, very politely refused, “I am grateful to you for the respect and affection you have for me and the Sangh. Your desire is to publish a biography on my life. However, I do not think I am so illustrious or have done anything great in my life that merits publishing. Also, there are no photographs available either of me or of the Sangh’s programmes or events. Briefly, all I wish to state that I don’t think I fit anywhere in the list of those whose biographies ought to be written. I shall be very grateful if you don’t endeavour to do so.” Till this occurrence, there was actually no photograph of Dr. Hedgewar in Sangh uniform. It was only the consistent insistence of Sanghchalak Kashinath Limaye that made Dr. Hedgewar agreed to be photographed on May 2, 1935 in Sangh uniform. He gave his assent only on the condition that the negative of the photograph would be destroyed and the photograph would not be published. Dr. Hedgewar’s decline of the request made by an educationist from Nasik Ram Gosavi also shows that he was deadly against self-glorification. In his reply Dr. Hedgewar wrote “There is no place in the organisational scheme of things for self-promotion, self-glorification or personal ambition. The arduous promotion of personality can never let the organizational edifice stand firm”. Dr. Hedgewar advocated “Prasidhi Parangmukhta” (detachment from fame or publicity). Jagadguru Aadi Shankaracharya’s birth anniverssary was celebrated in Nasik in May 1936. Though the RSS was not involved in organising the event in any way, praises were showered upon Dr. Hedgewar by the then Shakaracharya of Nasik Vidyashankar Bharati Swami. He bestowed upon Dr. Hedgeawar the title of ‘ Rastrasenapti.’ (the commander of the Nation). When it was published in the newspapers and Dr. Hedgewar began receiving congratulatory messages, he immediately put an end to the use of such titles for him; the fancy titles for him were a display of vanity and self-defeating trait. He, therefore, instructed everyone concerned that no title be conferred upon him, or used for him., nor should it be publicized. He issued a statement, “the title conferred by Vidyashankar Bharati Swami has no relevance for me. Bearing this in mind, please issue instructions that none among us should use this title anywhere, anytime. It is also necessary to end its use in newspapers. News about the Sangh and its proggrammes and initiatives were published in the newspapers, but Dr. Hedgewar was careful to prevent the Organization and its functionaries from using the press for self-promotion. Dr. Hedgewar firmly believed that the greed for publicity and self-promotion was instrumental in the truncation of many organization by separating them from their roots and confining them to a mere letter-head. The following lines are sung in every Shakha of the Sangh -Name, fame in newspaper, After these, many hanker, Cast aside this cheap desire, For you are a nation-builder, Becoming the brick and stone, The nations’ foundation we must make, Worshipping both knowledge and valour, Its responsibility we must undertake Whenever this tendency of self-promotion manifested in any Karyakarta knowingly or unknowingly, Dr. Hedgewar would take stern action to nip it in the bud. In his letter dated December 11, 1936 written to Umakant Apte and Vasantrao Alok, Dr. Hedgewar added, “News of your arrival at Delhi for RSS work has already been published in the newspaper. Irrespective of whose mistake this is, this does not augur well from the organizational point of view. This kind of publicity raises many obstacles in our mission right from the outset. Therefore, eschewing any promotion of our work, if it is apparent to people, it will be automatically promoted, which is also beneficial to the Organization. Please make the people there in Delhi understand this and take care that such mistakes are not repeated.”
Dr. Hedgewar remained unperturbed by the allegations and counter-allegations on the Orgnization. Recalling his visit to Varanasi in 1937 when he was labeled as “Fasicist Crony,” he wrote to Kashinathrao Limaye on October 30, 1937 – “A day before I reached Varanasi, some student of the BHU had published a pamphlet and distributed it. They thought this pamphlet would provoke us and create hindrance in our work. No sooner
did I reach Varanasi, our Swayamsevak showed me the pamphlet. In keeping with our policy, I asked them to ignore it. My suggestion was much appreciated by everyone.” Dr. Hedgewar would tell every Karyakarta that no RSS worker should get involved in replying to or refuting allegations or criticism against Sangh either in public meeting or in newspapers. He wrote to Kashinathrao Limaye on November 12, “News reports published against Sangh are actually source of entertainment for us. We are not in
the least affected by the ideological dust kicked up on us. “Hedgewar, however, would never allow the ideological heat to penetrate into social and day-to-day life. Hedgewar also urged the Sangh’s Swayam Sevaks to counter the opposition in a polite manner. Those opposed to the ideology of RSS were often invited to the Sangh’s public functions as guest speakers. Sangh has continued this tradition till date Late Dr. Pranav Mookerji, the former President of India and a staunch Congress man was invited by the Sangh in its prominent function.
Dr. Hedgewar defined “Sangh work is divine work; Sangh work is national work.” He dedicated his whole life to carry out these two prominent works. As a result, the RSS right from its birth has worked incessantly towards the institutionalization of Hindu work as national work by instilling cultural values in people and awakening a sense of togetherness in them and thereby shaping the national character.
Dr. Hedgewar opposed the practice of untouchability in social life. He was also alive to the social, political and cultural role of Women. Owing to his inspiration, Rashtra Sevika Samiti was formed. He rejected class struggle but stood firmly for the democratic rights and justice for the workers. His principled positioning inspired the Sangh to step into labour movement in 1950s. At present the RSS has the credit to command the biggest labour organization in the country-Bhartiya Majdoor Sangh (MBS) founded by Datto-Pant Thengadi. Throughout his life, he continued to be a staunch patriot -Nation First, and firmly rejected any approach of compromise with the imperialist leaderships or its methods. The need of the hour is to bring him to the mainstream of historical consciousness to inspire the youth and thus enable the country attain its lost glory.
By Dr Suresh Kumar Agrawal
(The writer is Professor & Head, Department of English, Maharaja Ganga Singh University, Bikaner.)