Mohan Guruswamy | RSS and freedom struggle: Still in search of genealogy
One now has to see the move to instal the statue of Subhas Chandra Bose in the vacant canopy on Rajpath as another act of misappropriation
Soon after Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister, construction began on building a colossal statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first home minister and deputy prime minister, on an inland island called Sadhu Bet facing the Narmada Dam. It cost about Rs 3,000 crores and stands 182 meters (597 feet) tall. This Chinese-made bronze statue is among the tallest in the world.
This statue has become a place of political tourism like the Indira Gandhi Memorial in New Delhi. But beyond tourist commerce there is another reason driving this project. It is to give the RSS, and the wider Sangh Parivar, a genealogy that it doesn’t have. One now has to see the move to instal the statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in the vacant canopy on Rajpath as just another act of misappropriation.
There can be no doubt that Netaji was a great hero of his times. But in the pantheon of the heroes of the freedom movement he is not the primus inter pares, the first among equals. That place must undoubtedly belong to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who became the unchallenged leader of the nationalist movement.
Now the question, if Bose, why not Bhagat Singh or Chandrashekhar Azad, or for that matter even V.D. Savarkar, whose contributions to our nationalist history cannot be considered any less? But Bose suits the recent nationalists because of his perceived rivalry with Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi’s opposition to him and his militaristic tendencies. So, he will adorn Rajpath in his Nazi-style tunic, breeches and jackboots, all accouterments that will appeal to their mentality.
Manufactured genealogy is recurring feature of our history. Pre-Islamic invaders from Central Asia like the Hepthalites (White Huns) and Ahir Gatae from the region extending from Bactria to present day Xinjiang conquered a good part of northern India and established kingdoms. The greatest of these invaders was Kanishka, whose realm stretched from Turfan in the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang to Pataliputra on the Gangetic Plain. Kanishka was of Turushka or Turkestani origin.
These new rulers, some of whom were Buddhists, were quickly absorbed into Hindu society and were made Agnikula Rajputs (family of the fire god), others got more extravagant genealogies deriving from the sun and moon, hence the Suryavanshi and Chandravanshi Rajputs. In this manner, the integrity of the Brahminical Varna system was preserved.
This concoction of genealogies is a continuing pattern of all those who usurp power by stirring up sectarian and communal passions, like the Nazis. Nazi theologists gave the Germans an elaborate genealogy of descent from the Aryans, with blond, blue-eyed and Nordic looks. But like unschooled genealogists, they got the Aryan swastika wrong, which is just the mirror opposite in the Nazi depiction.
The ultra-nationalist RSS is still in search of a genealogy that will connect it to the nationalist movement that won India its freedom. The truth is that the contemporary writings and speeches of RSS leaders have a very different story to tell. These leaders showed little enthusiasm for the anti-British struggle. Though the founder of the RSS, B.R. Hedgewar, had an early association with the Congress and other nationalist movements like Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad’s Hindustan Republican Association, he left it all behind to found the RSS.
He also stopped his followers from the nationalist path. In fact, a later sarsanghchalak, B.R. Deoras, wrote approvingly of how “Dr Hedgewar saved him and others from the path of Bhagat Singh and his comrades”. With the death of Dr Hedgewar in 1940, the RSS lost all interest in freedom. Its new leader, M.S. Golwalkar, drew inspiration from Adolf Hitler’s ideology of race purity. Paradoxically, Golwalkar also admired the Jews for “maintaining their religion, culture and language”.
Golwalkar’s focus was on religion, racial purity and exclusion. Freedom was to be left to lesser mortals like Gandhiji and his Congress. He wanted the RSS to be involved only in “routine work”. In the words of Golwalkar: “There is another reason for the need of always remaining involved in routine work. There is some unrest in the mind due to the situation developing in the country from time to time. There was such unrest in 1942.” This was the time when the Muslim League was asserting itself. Golwalkar wanted the fight against the Muslim League to be above that with the British. Golwalkar’s point was crystal clear. Dharam (religion) came before Dharma (duty).
The BJP leadership is now very keen to project the RSS as a component of the freedom struggle. The BJP finds it embarrassing that the RSS -- to which the top leadership as well as the overwhelming majority of the cadre of the BJP belong -- was not a part of the freedom movement. They can’t get away from the historical fact that the freedom struggle led by Gandhiji was the anvil upon which our nationhood has been forged. The RSS lacks the courage and honesty to categorically state that it did not participate in the freedom struggle because its ideology prevented it from doing so.
There is the well-known concocted story of how the RSS tried to lionise Atal Behari Vajpayee’s role in the 1942 movement. This ended up in a huge fiasco when it was discovered that Vajpayee had actually made a confessional statement disassociating himself from the event at his hometown Bateshwar. In this confession, he wrote: “Ten or twelve persons were in the Forest Office. I was at a distance of 100 yards. I did not render any assistance in demolishing the government building. Thereafter, we went to our respective homes.” Clearly, this was leading nowhere.
Hence, the RSS is trying to attach themselves to the legacy of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, to get a leg into the nationalist movement. They forget that it was Sardar Patel who had banned the RSS after learning that its workers were distributing sweets to celebrate Gandhiji’s assassination.
Both Lal Krishna Advani and Narendra Modi have tried to create an apparent fissure between Nehru and Patel. They seem to be confused between dissent and dissidence. Dissent is a genuine difference of opinion, and there were many between Nehru and Patel, as should be between two independent-minded individuals. Dissidence is a result of competing ambitions. This is just part of their effort to latch onto the Congress story.
Now the RSS is trying to also make Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose its own. In this modern version of the RSS’ history, it tries to give itself an indirect lineage deriving from Sardar Patel and Subhas Chandra Bose.