July 05, 2017

How MS Golwalkar’s virulent ideology underpins Modi’s India (Hartosh Singh Bal)

The Caravan

The Instigator: How MS Golwalkar’s virulent ideology underpins Modi’s India
By HARTOSH SINGH BAL | 1 July 2017

EVERY CULT OR ORGANISATION typically carries forward the legacy of its founder, and it is rare for those who build upon that legacy to exercise the same influence—let alone exceed it. But the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, has never been a typical organisation, and, in this regard too, it stands out. It was founded in 1925 by Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, but it bears the far more emphatic stamp of his successor, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar. While Hedgewar is referred to as Doctorji within the RSS, Golwalkar is known as Guruji.

Golwalkar took over as the RSS’s sarsanghchalak, or chief, after Hedgewar’s death, in 1940, and held the post till his own death, in 1973. When he assumed charge, the RSS—also known as the Sangh—was still establishing itself, and did not have a major presence outside Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region. Under him, the organisation passed through great turbulence: it played an incendiary role in the Partition violence, and was banned after the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi. But under Golwalkar’s leadership, the RSS also set down its written constitution and began to expand beyond its shakhas, or local branches, and into front organisations such as the Jan Sangh in politics, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad among students, the Vishva Hindu Parishad in religion, and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh among industrial workers.

By the time Golwalkar died, the RSS had extended across the entire country, and its network of allied organisations—the Sangh Parivar—had penetrated almost every aspect of Indian society. His ideological influence did not end with his death: Bunch of Thoughts, a text that distils the vast spread of Golwalkar’s writings and speeches, remains the Sangh’s bible to date.

In 2004, MG Vaidya, currently the RSS’s leading ideologue, articulated what amounts to the organisation’s official view on Golwalkar. Vaidya, according to the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, “described Shri Guruji as the biggest gift to Hindu society in the 20th century. He said that the credit for today’s importance of the Sangh in national politics should be given to Shri Guruji, who worked tirelessly for spreading the Sangh work in every nook and corner of the country.”

I met Vaidya early in June at his home in Nagpur. In his living room, which is lined with bookshelves, he spoke to me for nearly an hour, often getting up to pull out a book and make me read a particular paragraph to emphasise a point he was making. His energy belied the fact that he was 94 years old; at the end of our interaction, he hopped onto a motorcycle and rode pillion to see a colleague admitted in hospital. “When I joined the RSS in 1941,” Vaidya told me during our conversation, “I took a pledge to make India independent.” After this goal was attained in 1947, he added, “a conceptual storm hit us: what should we do?” Golwalkar, Vaidya said, “inspired the Sangh with a fresh purpose. He said that we have to consider the organisation of the whole society, not just one aspect of it. Life has many fields, like education, industry, agriculture, religion. We have to inspire and organise people in all these areas.”

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Hartosh Singh Bal is the political editor at The Caravan, and is the author of Waters Close Over Us: A Journey Along the Narmada. He was formerly the political editor at Open magazine.