Even after 95 years of establishment of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the information about its founder, Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, is scantily available in the public discourse and on various academic and intellectual forums. In fact, whatever little information is available appears to have been peddled around with an objective to create a stereotype.
This outcome is logical corollary of the fact that historians nurtured by the Left and the Congress have interpreted contributions of national icons according to their convenience. For example, an organisation such as the RSS, which is more open than any other organisation, has been portrayed as a secret organisation and at three different occasions it was banned. The historians from the Left and Congress have been competing with each other to undermine the contribution of RSS in India's freedom struggle.
Dr Hedgewar was member of Yugantar and Anusheelan samiti. He purposely joined National Medical College in Kolkota to work with Sri Aurobindo, Trailokya Nath Chakraborty and Rash Behari Bose. After completing his degree he came back to Nagpur. The Central province had only 75 doctors then but he decided not get into the profession and work for India’s independence.
Although Hedgewa disagreed with Mahatma Gandhi’s policy of launching the non-cooperation movement with Khilafat as its major plank was to restore the Caliphate in Turkey, he continued to travel and address meetings to inspire people to join the freedom struggle. He was arrested in May 1921 on the charges of sedition for his objectionable speeches at Karol and Bharatwada. His hearing in the case began on June 14, 1921 and the court was presided over by judge Smely. He read out his statement in the court and exclaimed after hearing the statement, “His defence is even more seditious than his original speech”.
In his judgement delivered on August 19, 1921, the judge ordered him to give an undertaking in writing that he would not deliver seditious speeches in future for a period of one year and furnish bail of Rs 3,000. Dr Hedgewar refused to comply with the order for bail. The judge sentenced him to one year’s rigorous imprisonment. He was released in July 1922 from Ajani jail and a public reception was organised by Congress in which the then senior congress leaders Pandit Moti Lal Nehru and Hakim Ajmal Khan also addressed the gathering.
In a program organised in Nagpur on July 12, 1930, Dr LV Paranjpe participated along with Hedgewar. It was announced Hedgewar would participate in ‘Jungle satyagrah’. Hedgewar stood up after a brief speech by Paranjape and announced his resignation from sarsanghchaalak (chief of RSS) to join the ‘jungle satyagrah’.
Paranjape was appointed sarsanghchaalak (chief of RSS) till the time of Hedgewar’s return. Hedgewar courted arrest in Nagpur on July 21, 1930. He broke ‘Jungle Kanoon’ with 11 people and was immediately arrested. He was tried on the evening of July 21. On the same day, Congress also organised a rally in his support. Justice Bharuche sentenced him for rigorous imprisonment for nine months. Eleven others who accompanied him were sentenced for four months only. This was his second jail term. Hedgewar’s satyagrah was one of the most successful programs of the civil disobedience movement of central province. After returning from jail in February, he once again became the
We got independence on August 15, 1947 along with partition of the country. This partition happened on the basis of Muslim league winning most of the Muslim dominated seats in the 1946 election to the provincial assembly. With partition happened the transfer of population. When the whole country was celebrating the hard fought independence, a part of the country was under blood bath. And people sitting in Delhi showed their apathy towards the suffering of Hindus in those parts, especially west Pakistan.
The Hindus were left to defend them from armed Muslim league men on their own due to lack of impartial security apparatus. In his book ‘Now It Can Be Told published in 1949, Professor AN Bali elaborates how RSS swayamsewak under the leadership of the chief ‘Shri Guruji’ helped abandon Sikhs and Hindus to cross the newly erected border.
He writes, “The police was mostly League-minded... non violence and advice given by Mrs Sucheta Kriplani, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Rajender Prasad etc., to stay out where they were with a firm trust in God appeared to most of the victims as a counsel of perfection which could only be given from a safe distance. Who else came to the rescue of the people at this stage, but a band of young selfless Hindus popularly known as R.S.S?”
He further writes, “They organised in every mohalla, every town of the province the work of evacuation of the Hindu and Sikh women and children from dangerous pockets to comparatively safe centres... these young men were the first to come to help of the stricken Hindus and Sikhs and were last to leave their places for safety. If it was left to Sanghies alone this problem of the rehabilitation of refugees from West and East Pakistan would have been solved long ago.”
Sangh lost a number of swayamsewaks rescuing Hindus and Sikhs for West Pakistan.
The author is a member of the Delhi State RSS executive. Views expressed are personal.