Phase Two (1947-57)

ImagePhase Two (1947-57) deals with Advani’s life as an RSS pracharak (organiser) in Rajasthan and as an activist of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. He says: “This phase gave me my grounding in public life and politics. It also steeled my resolve to live a spartan and disciplined life that is dedicated to the ideology and idealism of my organisation.” An important section in this phase deals with the mutually respectful relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and the RSS. Advani convincingly counters the vile propaganda by the Indian Left that the RSS was behind the assassination of the Mahatma in January 1948.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Tragic Assassination

Very early in my life in Rajasthan, the RSS had to face, what was undoubtedly the greatest ordeal in its history. I was in Alwar when, on the evening of 30 January 1948 came the tragic news that Mahatma Gandhi had been assassinated in Delhi while he was proceeding to his customary all-faith prayer meeting. To say that I was shell-shocked is an understatement. The RSS had some differences with Gandhiji regarding his approach to securing India’s freedom. But these were minor, which never detracted from the high regard the Sangh had for the Mahatma. Speaking for myself, I had developed, even at that early stage in my public life, a deep respect for him—and a reverence that would only grow stronger with the passage of time. What had impressed me most about Gandhiji was his absolute honesty and the purity of his personality.

The person who had committed this sinful crime was Nathuram Vinayak Godse, an activist of the Hindu Mahasabha from Maharashtra. He had once been a swayamsevak of the RSS, but had left the organisation nearly fifteen years ago due to his strong ideological differences with the Sangh. He had in fact become a bitter critic of the RSS, charging that ‘the RSS has made the Hindus impotent’. His main grouse was that the RSS had sublimated the ‘militant spirit’ among the Hindus, making them incapable of aggressive action. He ridiculed the Sangh’s focus on character-building. His articles in the Marathi magazine Agrani (which means ‘Pioneer’) from 1933 onwards show how bitter he was toward the RSS.

The RSS Chief, Shri Guruji Golwalkar, was in Madras when he heard the news of Gandhiji’s assassination. He immediately sent a telegram to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Patel and Mahatma’s son, Devdas Gandhi, expressing his shock and sorrow at the ‘cruel and fatal attack on a great personality.’ On the same day, he also sent a telegram instructing all units of the Sangh to observe a thirteen-day mourning, as per the Hindu custom, at the ‘sad death of revered Mahatmaji’. We were ordered to suspend all activities of the organisation during this mourning period.

In a letter which Shri Guruji sent to Prime Minister Nehru from Nagpur the following day, he condemned Godse’s crime in even more anguished and unambiguous terms. ‘This reprehensible deed by an unthinking and corrupt-hearted person has smeared our society in the eyes of the world. Even if a person from an enemy country had committed this black deed, it would have been unpardonable because Poojya Mahatmaji’s life had transcended the boundaries of a specific society and was dedicated to the welfare of the entire humanity. But since the perpetrator of this sinful act belongs to our own country, it is not surprising that the heart of every nationalist is today filled with unbearable pain. From the time I heard this news, a void has filled my inner being. Such attack on an adept leader who could bring together people of different tendencies and set them on a righteous path is indeed treacherous—not only towards the victim but the entire nation.’ He went on to exhort the Prime Minister to deal with the Mahatma’s assassin in an ‘appropriate manner’. ‘Howsoever harsh the treatment meted out to him may be it would necessarily seem mild in comparison to the bereavement we have suffered.’

GANDHIJI AND RSS—A MUTUTALLY RESPECTFUL RELATIONSHIP

I have quoted from Shri Guruji’s letter because it exposes the lie, still being spread by our detractors today, that the RSS was filled with hatred for Gandhiji and had a hand in his assassination. The letter clearly underscores the RSS’s respect and admiration for Gandhiji and its abhorrence toward his assassin. It is necessary to dwell a little more here on the mutually respectful relationship between the two. In its Ekatmataa Stotra, a set of Sanskrit prayers as an ode to India’s national integration, the RSS regards the Mahatma as one of the pratah smaraneeya personalities (persons worthy of being reverentially remembered every morning). Addressing the Sangh Shiksha Varg (the annual training session for would-be organisers of the RSS) of 1946—when Gandhiji was still alive—Shri Guruji had described him as Vishwa vandaneeya (deserving of being revered across the world).

Gandhiji first visited a RSS camp on 25 December 1934 at Wardha in Maharashtra, where he had established one of his ashrams. Gandhiji had come to Wardha and learning that about 1,500 swayamsevaks of the RSS had assembled in the town, he expressed his desire to visit the camp. He was accompanied by Mira Behn and his secretary Mahadev Desai. He was garlanded with fl owers and given a guard of honour. ‘I am tremendously impressed,’ said Gandhiji speaking of his visit, referring, in particular, to the fact that there was no caste distinction among the volunteers and no untouchability towards those belonging to so-called ‘low’ castes. Soon after Independence, when the atmosphere in the country was marred by communal violence and lack of trust between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhiji sent out a message that he wanted to talk to Shri Guruji. Shri Guruji immediately went to Birla House to see him on 12 September 1947. Gandhiji mentioned to him the various complaints about the Sangh that he had received in Calcutta and Delhi. Shri Guruji assured him that, although he could not vouch for the behaviour of each swayamsevak, the Sangh’s policy was purely service of Hindus and Hinduism. It did not threaten any other community, he clarified. The Sangh might not believe in ahimsa (non-violence), but neither did it advocate aggression. The swayamsevaks were only taught the art of self-defence.

In this meeting between Gandhiji and Shri Guruji, both agreed that every effort should be made to control the communal frenzy immediately. During his evening prayer meeting that day, Gandhiji referred to his talk with Shri Guruji and told the audience that the RSS leader was anguished over the gruesome violence all around and that he would make an appeal for peace and normalcy. The appeal was duly published in the press and also broadcast by AIR.

In the same meeting, Gandhiji told Shri Guruji that he wished to address a gathering of RSS workers. Accordingly, on 16 September 1947, he came to meet some five hundred RSS swayamsevaks assembled at Delhi’s Bhangi Colony. Here he recalled his visit, thirteen years earlier, to the RSS camp in Wardha. ‘Some years back, when the founder of the Sangh was alive, I had visited your camp. I was highly impressed to see the spirit of discipline, complete absence of untouchability and simple, rigorous style of living. Any organisation inspired with the high ideal of service and self-sacrifice will never fail to grow in strength all the time.’

It should be evident from the above that, despite its differences with Gandhiji on certain issues, the RSS held him in high esteem. It is also evident that Gandhiji reciprocated this positive attitude. Therefore, the thought of assassinating him would have seemed heinous and sinful to the Sangh. But, sadly, falsehood often triumphs over truth in a nation. Thus, in spite of the RSS having had no role whatsoever in Mahatma’s murder—a fact that would later be established by a government-appointed commission of enquiry—there was a shrill demand from some quarters for a ban on the RSS.

Even those in the Congress who were suspected to be sympathetic towards the RSS were not spared from this malicious campaign, launched primarily by the communists. They publicly demanded Sardar Patel’s resignation ‘for his failure to protect’ the Mahatma and also called for the removal of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee from the Union Cabinet for his association with a ‘communal organisation’, meaning, thereby, the Hindu Mahasabha. Ironically, they disregarded the fact that it was at Gandhiji’s insistence that Pandit Nehru had included Dr B.R. Ambedkar and Dr Mookerjee, both of whom did not belong to the Congress, in his first Cabinet formed after August 1947. Gandhiji had made this suggestion to the Prime Minister because he wanted India’s first government to be truly broad-based in its representation and national in its character.

IN ALWAR JAIL, FOR THREE MONTHS

With the leftist demand for a ban on the RSS intensifying, the government yielded to it on 4 February 1948. Three days before that, in a countrywide swoop, tens of thousands of RSS swayamsewaks, including most pracharaks, were put behind bars. I was incarcerated in Alwar Central Jail. Along with many other Sangh activists, I spent the next three months there in the company of ordinary criminals.

I later learnt why the government had specially targeted RSS volunteers in Rajasthan. There were rumours—baseless and malevolent—that since many RSS functionaries migrating from Sindh in Pakistan had been working in Rajasthan, they were part of the conspiracy behind the Mahatma’s murder. Unfortunately, these rumours had gained currency on account of a letter written by Prime Minister Nehru to Sardar Patel on 5 February 1948: ‘It appears that considerable numbers of prominent RSS people have gone to some of the states, notably Bharatpur and Alwar. They have also taken a good deal of material with them of various kinds. It is possible that they might organise bases there for the purpose of carrying on secret activities elsewhere.’1

Prison life was hard. The greatest source of our discomfort was the food, which consisted of only three thick rotis and tasteless dal, served twice a day. Our discomfort with prison food led to an amusing incident one day. The jailor called me and said, ‘The other inmates of the prison are going to observe a fast until tomorrow evening on account of Maha Shivaratri. Would you and your colleagues like to join them in the fast?’ I said I would consult my colleagues and let him know. When I did so, all of them said, ‘No way. As it is, with the kind of food we get here, we observe a fast practically everyday. We do not want to observe any more.’ I communicated our decision to the jailor. He said, ‘Fine, you’ll get your normal lunch tomorrow morning.’

The bell, indicating lunch time, rang at 11 am, and we ate our normal bland meal. But when it rang again at around 5 pm, we were surprised. ‘It is not dinner time yet. So why have they rung the bell?’ We soon learnt that the other inmates were breaking their Shivaratri fast at the time and prison authorities had arranged special halwa, a sweet dish, for them. We were indeed envious of them!

After a consultation among ourselves, we trooped in to the jailor’s office the next morning and said, ‘We are fasting today. So please make the necessary arrangements.’ He asked in bemusement: ‘But Shivaratri fast was yesterday. Why are you fasting today?’ A quick-witted inmate amongst us came up with an instant response. ‘Yesterday was Shivaratri for the Shaivas. For Vaishnavas, it is today.’ The jailor gave us a knowing smile and said, ‘If you want halwa in the evening, I’ll arrange for that. You don’t have to fast for it.’ And in the evening we savoured the sweet dish, the only time it was served during our stay in the prison.

After my release in August 1948, I spent the next four to five months underground, along with a fellow swayamsevak named Devendra Swarup. This was under instructions from my seniors who apprehended re-arrest and persecution of key RSS activists. Underground existence was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. The biggest trial was finding a safe roof over our heads. Within a few days of staying in anyone’s house, we would hear the same story: ‘Sorry, we cannot let you stay here any longer. There are fights in our household over your presence here.’ Householders were understandably afraid of imminent raids by the police, who used to scour the neighbourhoods searching for RSS activists in hiding. I soon lost count of the number of houses we changed while moving incognito in Alwar and Bharatpur districts. Adding to our woes was the harsh climate of Rajasthan. Alwar is quite simply the hottest of all the places I have lived in. Those days, there was no tap water in Bharatpur. As a result, every morning, we had to go to a pond outside the town for our bath.

RSS EMERGES FROM THE AGNI PAREEKSHA WITH ITS HEAD HELD HIGH

The ban against the RSS was lifted on 12 July 1949. Under Shri Guruji’s leadership, the organisation had emerged from this agni pareeksha (trial by fire) with fortitude and undiminished conviction in its goals and ideals. The lack of justification for the ban was evident from a telltale fact: not a single RSS swayamsevak was chargesheeted, let alone convicted, in the Mahatma’s assassination case. This proved that the ban, as well as the imprisonment of the RSS activists, was based entirely on unfounded, politically motivated accusations.

The above fact was also evident from the correspondence between Patel and Nehru. Replying to the Prime Minister’s letter urging him to ascertain the RSS connection in the case, Patel sent a categorical reply on 27 February 1948, less than a month after Gandhiji’s assassination: ‘I have kept myself almost in daily touch with the progress of the investigations regarding Bapu’s assassination case. All the main accused have given long and detailed statements of their activities. It also clearly emerges from the statements that the RSS was not involved in it at all.’

In spite of this, Shri Guruji was arrested again on the night of 13 November 1948 under the notorious Bengal State Prisoner’s Act. It was the very Act which Nehru had condemned before Independence as a ‘black law’. Soon after his arrest, Shri Guruji wrote a letter to all the swayamsevaks: ‘This state of affairs is humiliating. To continue to submit meekly to this atrocious tyranny is an insult to the honour of citizens of free Bharat and a blow to the prestige of our civilised free State. I therefore request you to stand up for our great cause.’ He gave a call for nationwide satyagraha on 9 December 1948. The main slogan of the satyagrahis was a blatant challenge to the Nehru government: ‘Prove the charges against the RSS or lift the ban.’

The satyagraha was a huge success all over the country. The government soon realised that public opinion was going against Shri Guruji’s illegal arrest. So in order to break the stalemate, Patel communicated a request to Shri Guruji to prepare a written constitution for the RSS and to send it to the Government of India for its perusal. Until then, the RSS had been functioning without a constitution. Shri Guruji readily agreed to this suggestion and the text of the Sangh’s constitution was sent to the government in June 1949. This paved the way for removal of the ban on the RSS on 12 July 1949, followed by Shri Guruji’s release the following day. Sardar Patel’s letter to Shri Guruji on this occasion made a telling remark: ‘Only the people near me know as to how happy I was when the ban on Sangh was lifted. I wish you all the best.’ After the ban was lifted, Shri Guruji embarked on an all-India tour in August 1949, touring the country extensively for six months. Wherever he went, he received a tumultuous welcome. The massive ovation he got in Delhi on 23 August 1949 attracted international attention. BBC radio reported: ‘Golwalkar is a shining star that has arisen on the Indian firmament. The only other Indian who can draw such huge crowds is Prime Minister Nehru.’ In his speeches, Shri Guruji endeared himself to many people outside the Sangh ranks with his magnanimity and moderation. ‘Let us close this chapter of the ban on the Sangh,’ he told swayamsevaks and RSS sympathisers. ‘Do not let your minds be overcome with bitterness for those who, you feel, have done injustice to you. If the teeth were to bite the tongue do we pull out the teeth? Even those who have done injustice to us are our own people. So we must forget and forgive.’

KAPUR COMMISSION ABSOLVES RSS IN MAHATMA’S MURDER CASE

The Nehru government’s communiqué of 4 February 1948 had given several reasons for banning the RSS, the foremost of which was the charge of complicity in Gandhiji’s murder. It said: ‘It has been found that in several parts of the country individual members of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity, murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunitions. They have been found circulating leaflets exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect fire arms, to create disaffection against the Government and suborn the Police and the Military. These activities have been carried on under a cloak of secrecy…. The objectionable and harmful activities of the Sangh have, however, continued unabated and the cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the activities of the Sangh has claimed many victims. The latest and the most precious to fall was Gandhiji himself.’ Ironically, when the same government lifted the ban, its communiqué made no mention of any of these charges, including the gravest of them all—inspiration for Gandhiji’s murder. Instead, it claimed that since the RSS had consented to have a written constitution, the organisation would now be allowed to function.

Even this did not put a full stop to the campaign of calumny against the RSS. After a lapse of nearly two decades, the government, headed this time by Indira Gandhi, set up a new judicial commission in 1966 to thoroughly enquire into the plot to murder the Mahatma. It was headed by Justice J.L. Kapur, a retired judge of the Supreme Court. It examined over a hundred witnesses and submitted its report in 1969. According to the Kapur Commission, ‘they (the accused) have not been proved to have been members of the RSS, nor has that organization been shown to have had a hand in the murder.’ (vol. I, p. 186) ‘It (RSS) had a slant against Gandhism, but its anti-Gandhism did not seem to go to the extent of personally harming Mahatma Gandhi.’ (vol. II, p. 75) Further, the Commission observed: ‘In Delhi also there is no evidence that the RSS as such was indulging in violent activities against Mahatma Gandhi or the top Congress leaders.’ (vol. I. p. 66)

What pains me is that even after a government-appointed judicial commission was established, categorically and conclusively, the innocence of the RSS in the Mahatma’s murder case, some of our adversaries, especially leftists, have continued to malign the Sangh. They seem to believe in Goebbels’ doctrine that a lie repeated a hundred times becomes a truth.

It may not be out of place here to mention that a significant section of the Congress Party, which believed in the patriotic credentials of the RSS and was convinced about its innocence in the Mahatma’s murder case, was keen that the Congress and the Sangh should work together. The CWC, on 7 October 1949, even went to the extent of asking RSS members to join the Congress Party. This immediately triggered off a controversy.

A.G. Kher, who was a Minister in Uttar Pradesh and a known follower of Sardar Patel, countered the critics by asking why certain Congressmen opposed the entry of RSS members when members of the Arya Samaj or Jamat-ul-Ulema were eligible. ‘It cannot be that they were involved in Gandhi’s murder, for they were exonerated of that charge in Court of Law.’ Kher also said, ‘Calling them fascists, abusing and insulting them, and again and again repeating old charges does not serve any purpose, nor is it a Gandhian method.’

Unfortunately, Pandit Nehru could never overcome his personal prejudice against the RSS. And after Sardar Patel passed away on 15 December 1950, there was no one left in the Congress Party to counterbalance Nehru’s negative views on various important issues.