I entered political life in 1937. Quite active in Pune in those days were the RSS and the Savarkarites (followers of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar) on the one hand and nationalist, socialist and leftist political organisations on the other. On May 1, 1938, we took out a march to observe May Day. The marchers were attacked by the RSS and Savarkarites when, among others, the well-known revolutionary Senapati Bapat and our socialist leader, S.M. Joshi, were injured. We have had serious differences with these Hindutva organisations ever since.
Our first difference with the RSS was over the issue of nationalism. We believed that every citizen had equal rights in the Indian nation. But the RSS and the Savarkarites came up with their notion of Hindu Rashtra. Mohammad Ali Jinnah too was a victim of a similar world view. He believed that India was made up of two nations, the Muslim nation and the Hindu nation. Savarkar too said the same thing.
The second major difference between us was that we dreamt of the birth of a democratic republic while the RSS claimed that democracy was a western concept that was not appropriate for India. In those days, members of the RSS were full of praise for Adolf Hitler. Guruji (Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar) was not only the sarsanghchalak (head) of the RSS; he was its ideological guru as well.
There is amazing similarity between the thoughts of Guruji and the Nazis. In one of his best known books, We or Our Nationhood Defined, that ran into several editions, Guruji explicitly says that all non-Hindus must be treated as non-citizens. He wanted all their citizenship rights taken away. Incidentally, these ideas of his were not newly formulated. From the time we were in college (in the mid-1930s), members of the RSS were inclined to follow Hitlerian ideals. In their view, Muslims and Christians in India deserved to be treated the same way that Hitler treated Jews in Germany.
The extent of Guruji’s sympathies for the views of the Nazi Party is evident from the following passage from We or Our Nationhood Defined: “To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races—the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well- nigh impossible it is for races and cultures having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
Our third major difference with Guruji and the RSS has to do with the caste question. They are supporters of the caste system while a socialist like me is its greatest enemy. I am of the firm view that there can be no economic and social equality in India until the caste system and the inequalities based on it are demolished.
The fourth issue on which we differ is that of language. We are in favour of promoting the languages of the people. All regional languages, after all, are indigenous. But what does Guruji have to say on this? Guruji says that for now Hindi should be made the common language for all while the ultimate objective should be to make Sanskrit the national language.
Fifth, the national movement for independence had accepted the idea of a federal state. In a confederation, the centre would definitely have certain powers on specific matters but all others would be a subject matter for the states. But following partition, in a bid to strengthen the centre, the Constitution stipulated a concurrent list. As per this list, several subjects were made concurrent, subjects over which both the centre and the states have equal jurisdiction. Thus the federal state came into existence.
But the RSS and its chief ideologue, Guru Golwalkar, have been consistently opposed to this basic constitutional provision. These people ridicule the very concept of ‘a union of states’ and maintain that this Constitution, which envisages a confederation of states, should be abolished. Guruji says in his Bunch of Thoughts, “The Constitution must be reviewed and the idea of a unitary state should be written into the new Constitution.” Guruji wants a unitary or, in other words, a centralised state. He says that this system of states should be done away with.
Another issue was the tricolour, the flag chosen by the national movement. Hundreds of Indians sacrificed their lives, thousands bore the brunt of lathis for the honour and glory of our chosen national flag. But surprisingly, the RSS has never accepted the tricolour as the national flag. It always swore by the saffron flag, asserting that the saffron flag has been the flag of Hindu Rashtra since time immemorial.
Guruji had no faith in a democratic system. He was of the firm view that democracy is a concept imported from the West and the system of parliamentary democracy did not jell with Indian thought and Indian civilization. The RSS believes in the one leader principle. Guruji himself maintained that the RSS creates a mind-set which is totally disciplined and where people accept whatever they tell them. This organisation operates on the principle of one leader. As for socialism, that for Guruji was a totally alien idea. He repeatedly said that all isms, including socialism and democracy, were alien ideas which should be rejected, that Indian society should be founded on Indian culture. Speaking for ourselves, we believe in parliamentary democracy, in socialism, and we aspire to establish socialism consistent with Gandhian principles in India through peaceful means. On the other hand, the RSS specialises in casting young minds in a particular mould from a very young age. The first thing they do is ‘freeze’ the minds of children and of youth, making them impervious. After this they are rendered incapable of responding to other ideas.
Guruji felt no compassion for the poor. In his Bunch of Thoughts, he expressed unhappiness over the abolition of the zamindari system in India. He was deeply saddened, deeply disturbed by the abolition of the zamindari system.
It is a fact that we formed an alliance with these people (RSS and Jan Sangh) when Mrs. Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency. Lok Nayak Jaiprakashji believed that if the opposition did not unite under the banner of a single party it would be impossible to defeat Mrs. Gandhi. Choudhary Charan Singh was also of the view that we should come together and form a united party. While we were in jail, we were all asked to give our opinions on the need to form such a party and contest elections. I recall sending a message that in my view we must contest elections. Millions of people would participate in elections. Elections are a dynamic process. As the electoral tempo builds up, the shackles of emergency are bound to snap and people are bound to exercise their democratic right. Therefore, I stressed, we must participate in elections.
Since Lok Nayak Jayprakash Narain and other leaders were of the view that without coming together under the banner of one party we could not succeed, we (socialists) too gave it our consent. But I would like to stress that the understanding that was arrived at was between political parties—the Jan Sangh, the Socialist Party, the Congress (O), the Bharatiya Lok Dal (BLD) and some dissident Congress factions. We did not come to any arrangement with the RSS, nor did we accept any of its demands. What is more, through a letter by Manubhai Patel that was circulated among all of us in jail we learnt that on July 7, 1976 Choudhary Charan Singh had raised the issue of a possible clash of interests because of dual membership when members of the RSS also became members of the new party. In response, the then acting general secretary of the Jan Sangh, Om Prakash Tyagi, had said that the proposed party should feel free to formulate whatever membership criteria it wanted. He even said that since the RSS, having faced many constraints had been dissolved anyway, the question of RSS membership did not arise.
Later, when the constitution of the proposed Janata Party was being drawn up, the subcommittee appointed to draft the constitution proposed that members of any organisation whose aims, policies and programmes were in conflict with the aims, policies and programmes of the Janata Party should not be given membership to the new party. Given the self-evident meaning of such a membership criterion, there was no question of anyone opposing it. However, it is significant that the sole opposition to this came from Sunder Singh Bhandari (Jan Sangh). At a meeting convened in December 1976 to thrash out issues, reference was made to a letter written by Atal Bihari Vajpayee on behalf of the Jan Sangh and the RSS, stating that a section of leaders of the proposed party had agreed that the RSS issue could not be raised in connection with membership of the Janata Party.
But several leaders told me that no such assurances were given because the RSS was nowhere in the picture at the time when the idea of a merger of opposition political parties was mooted. I want to clarify that I was in prison at the time and even if there was some secret understanding, I had no part in it.
I can categorically assert that the election manifesto of the Janata Party did not in any way reflect the concerns of the RSS. In fact, each point in the manifesto was clearly spelt out. Is it not a fact that the manifesto of the Janata Party spoke of a socialist society based on secular, democratic and Gandhian principles and in which there was no mention of Hindu Rashtra? The manifesto assured the minorities equal citizenship rights and vowed to safeguard their rights. Did the manifesto state that it upholds the caste system? Did it maintain that the Sudras’ duty was to devote their life in the service of others? On the contrary, the manifesto not only promised that the backward castes would have full opportunity to progress, it pledged special policies for them: 25–33 per cent reservation for them in government jobs.
The Janata Party was committed to decentralisation while Guruji was a hardcore proponent of centralisation. He wanted to abolish separate states, abolish state legislatures and ministries while the Janata Party emphasised the need for greater decentralisation. In other words, the Janata Party had no desire to snatch away the autonomy of states.
Yes, it is true that members of the RSS did not genuinely accept the provisions of the party’s election manifesto. It was my contention and I had once even complained in writing to Kushabhau Thakre that during discussions you people (RSS, Jan Sangh) very readily agree on matters that you at heart totally disagree with. That is why your motives are suspect. I wrote this letter to him a long time ago and I have always had doubts about the RSS.
Since it was Lok Nayak Jayprakashji’s desire that all parties should merge for a united opposition to dictatorship and since the party manifesto did not make any compromises, I consented to our coming together. At the same time, I would like to say that from the beginning I was very clear in my mind that to emerge as a unified and a credible body the Janata Party would have to do two things. One, the RSS would have to change its ideology and accept the ideal of a secular democratic state. Two, the various organisations that are part of the sangh parivar, such as the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Vidyarthi Parishad, would have to dissolve themselves and merge with the secular-minded trade union and student wings of the Janata Party. I was very clear about this from the beginning and as the Janata Party had given me the responsibility to manage the affairs of its trade union and student wings, it was my consistent attempt throughout to ensure that the Vidyarthi Parishad and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh ended their separate existence.
I told members of the RSS that you must abandon your ideal of organising Hindus alone and find a place for people of all religions within your organisation, that you must merge your different class-based organisations with those of the Janata Party. They responded by saying that this could not be done so soon, that there were very many difficulties involved but they did want to change, bit by bit. They continued to give such evasive replies.
From their behaviour I concluded that they had no intention of changing. Especially after the assembly elections of June 1977, when they managed to gain power in four states and one union territory, they began to think that with this newly acquired clout they had no need to change. Now that they had already captured four states, they would gradually also gain control of other states and finally even the centre. The leaders of other political parties in the Janata Party were older leaders who would not live long; and they would ensure that no younger (non-RSS, non-Jan Sangh) leader emerged at the top.
Still, I tried. On one occasion I convened a meeting of all trade union leaders. The representatives of all constituents of the Janata Party attended but the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh boycotted the meeting. Not just that, they hurled abuses at me for no apparent reason.
Similar efforts were made with the Vidyarthi Parishad and the Yuva Morcha but despite all attempts at a merger, they held aloof. This is only because of the RSS’ desire to function as a “super party”.
Their aim is not only to enter into every aspect of people’s life but also to control it. Similar views have been repeatedly asserted by Guruji in his We or Our Nationhood Defined as also in Bunch of Thoughts. No totalitarian organisation allows any space for freedom, its tentacles reach everywhere: art, music, economy, culture. This is the essence of any fascist organisation.
What these people (the RSS) do on the odd occasion is however of little importance. Has the RSS ever said that they have abandoned Guruji’s way of thinking? These people pleaded for pardon while in prison; Balasaheb Deoras congratulated Indira Gandhi when the Supreme Court ruled in her favour in the Raj Narain case. So I have no faith in the utterances of these people. I am of the firm belief that I could only have trusted these people (erstwhile Jan Sangh leaders in the Janata Party) if they had ousted RSS leaders from the party, expelled them from the working committee, placed restrictions on RSS activities and, in particular, expelled people like Nanaji Deshmukh, Sunder Singh Bhandari and company from the party.
(Madhu Limaye was veteran freedom fighter, Socialist leader and Parliamentarian. Though dated, many of the issues he raises in this article are relevant even today.)
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