Dialogue  October-December, 2010, Volume 12 No. 2

Gandhiji, Hedgewar and the R.S.S. 

Devendra Swarup

Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (R.S.S.), founded in 1925 at Nagpur, happens to be the projection of the vision and personality of its founder Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940). Therefore, in order to understand and document the relationship between the R.S.S. and Mahatma Gandhi; it becomes imperative to trace Hedgewar’s attitude towards Gandhiji. In fact, his interaction with Gandhiji began much before the birth of the RSS. Hedgewar, born in a poor Brahmin family of Nagpur, was a born patriot and freedom fighter. During his education at National Medical College, Calcutta (1910-1916), he was an active member of Anusheelan Party, committed to armed struggle for freedom of the motherland. On his return to Nagpur in 1916, instead of starting medical practice to ward off the poverty of his family, he devoted all his time and energy to underground revolutionary movement on one hand and on the other, in order to create public awakening to open public activity, through local organisations such as Rashtriya Mandal and Nagpur National Union etc. In tune with the dominant trend in the Congress leadership of Nagpur, Hedgewar also adored Lokmanya Tilak and shared his vision of Poorna Swaraj.

Since his return to India in 1915, Gandhiji’s popularity was soaring high and he was moving fast to the centre-stage of Indian politics. The end of the World War in 1918 with the victory of the Allied Powers led by Great Britain and defeat of the Axis Powers led by Germany, of which Turkey also happened to be a member, led to the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Its Sultan was adored by the Muslim world as its Khalifa (religious and tempord head). Incensed by the dishonouring of their Khalifa and inspired by Pan-Islamism, the Indian Muslims, renouncing the path of loyalty to the British Crown, become virulently anti-British, formed a Khalifat Committee under the leadership of the two Ali Brothers – Maulana Shaukat Ali and Maulana Mohammad Ali and resolved to launch a movement against the British Government. Thousands of Muslims migrated to the Islamic state of Afghanistan, On the other hand, the British Government introduced a very repressive Rowlett Act in order to crush India’s freedom struggle, which was mostly led by Hindus. The Congress, since its birth in 1885, had been desperately trying to draw the Muslims to its fold and to join the freedom movement but without any tangible success. Gandhiji saw an opportunity in the rising anti-British sentiment among the Muslims to achieve the much desired goal of Hindu-Muslim unity and, therefore, decided to adopt the Khalifat issue as part of the coming national movement against the repressive Rowlett Act, which resulted in the tragedy of Jalianwala Bagh in April 1919. Perhaps for the first time at the call of Gandhiji whole of India registered its protest over the Jalianwala Bagh massacre and prepared itself for an all India non-violent Non-cooperation movement against the British Government. Although many senior leaders like Tilak, Malaviya, B.C. Pal, Annie Besant, V.S. Srinivas Shastri and even some westernised Muslim leaders like Mohammad Ali Jinnah had serious reservations about mixing of the parochial religious issue of Khalifat with the secular national movement but they did not voice their differences publically. Nagpur Congressmen, including Dr. Hedgewar, also shared this view. But Tilak’s death on 1st August 1920 left them leaderless. Falling in line with other senior leaders, they kept their reservations to themselves and decided to extend their cooperation to Gandhi’s bold experiment in the direction of Hindu-Muslim unity.

As an active member of the C.P. Provincial Congress Committee, Dr. Hedgewar attended the Congress Session at Amritsar (1919) and the special session held at Calcutta in September 1920, presided by the veteran leader – Lala lajpat Rai, of the renowned  Lal-Bal-Pal trio. The regular Congress session was to be held at Nagpur in December 1920. As joint secretary of the Nagpur city Congress Committee and also a member of the Reception Committee, Hedgewar made all-out efforts for its success. On October 10, 1920 in a meeting of the Receptions Committee, Hedgewar was nominated to the Non-Cooperation Group set up by the PCC. Under Paranjpe as President and Dr. Hedgewar as secretary a volunteer corps of 1200 volunteer with a common uniform under the name of  Bharat Swyamsewak Mandal was created to look after the lodging and fooding of more than 30,000 delegates expected to participate in this large historical session. As a member of the Subjects Committee, Hedgewar made an unsuccessful effort, to get the Congress goal redefined from Dominion status to complete independence.  

The Nagpur session fully endorsed Gandhi’s programme of Non-Cooperation Movement in conjunction with the Khilafat Committee against the British rule. The movement was launched with the slogan “Swaraj within a year.” Hedgewar went on a tour in the Province and addressed large number of public meetings. Alarmed by his fiery speeches, the District Magistrate, Cyrill Brown Irwin imposed ban on his public speeches for a month. But the Doctor continued his mass awakening campaign. On 31 May, 1921 he was charged of seditionary speeches at Katol and Bharatwada. The defence which Hedgewar presented before the court was considered to be more seditious than his earlier speeches. Consequently an August 19 he was sentenced for one year with rigorous imprisonment, was lodged in Ajani jail and was released on July 12, 1922. During those days, Hedgewar used to wear Khaddar clothes with white Gandhi cap on his head. In reaction to the Chaura-Chauri violence (4 February 1922). Gandhiji suspended the Non-cooperation Movement. Gandhiji was arrested on March 10, 1922 sentenced to six year imprisonment and was lodged in the Yervada Jail.

Khilafat Movement had unleashed unprecedented religious zeal and fanaticism among the Muslim masses. Its first outburst, popularly known as Moplah Rebellion, took place in the Malabar area of Kerala and, Blood thirsty Muslim hordes pounced upon their helpless unaware Hindu neighbours, hundreds were killed, thousands were forcibly convered to Islam and many more thousand were forced to flee to save their lives. Swallowing this bitter pill, the Congress leadership continued its alliance with the Khalifat committee and carried on the movement with full vigour. But events were moving fast in Europe and Turkey. In November 1922, the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara abolished the Ottoman Sultanate, deposed the Sultan and divested the Khilafat of its temporal powers. In October 1923, Turkey was declared a Republic with Mustafa Kamal  Pasha  as its President. Soon after in early 1924, the Khilafat itself was altogether abolished by the Turkish leader Mustafa Kamal Pasha himself. So, the Khilafatists bereft of their cause had no heart in the Non-cooperation Movement as such and started withdrawing. But their withdrawal left a trail of bloody communal riots all over the country. During 1923-24 anti-Hindu riots broke out at Multan (September 1922), Amritsar (April 1923), Agra and Saharanpur (August 1923), Nagpur (1923 and 1924). etc. 

The spate and ferocity of these riots shocked the Hindu leaders like Swami Shraddhanand and Lala Lajpat Rai, who had supported alliance with the Khilafat Committee and had courted imprisonment.  Gandhiji after his release on February 4, 1924 pondered deeply over the causes of those riots and wrote a lengthy article in Young India an May 29, 1924, under the title “Hindu-Muslim Tension: its causes and cure”. In this longish article Gandhiji admitted:

“There is no doubt in my mind that in the majority of riots Hindu come out second best, My own experience but confirms the opinion that the Mussalman as a rule is a bully, and the Hindu as a rule is a coward. I have noticed this in railway trains, on public roads, and in the quarrels which I had the privilege of settling. Need the Hindu blame the Mussalman for his cowardice? Where there are cowards, there will always be bullies.” (CWMG, Vol. 24 (N Delhi, 1967) p. 142).

Referring to the rioting at Saharanpur, (U.P.) Gandhi wrote:

“They say that in Saharanpur the Mussalmans, looted houses, broke open safes and, in one case, a Hindu woman’s modesty was outraged: whose fault was this? Mussalmans can offer no defence for the execrable conduct, it is true. But I as a Hindu am more ashamed of the Hindu cowardice than I am angry at the Musslaman bullying. Why did not the owners of the houses looted die in the attempt to defend their possessions? Where were the relatives of the outraged sister at the time of the outrage? Have they no account to render of themselves? My non-violence does not admit of running a way from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected. Between violence and cowardly flight. I can only prefer violence to cowardice.” (CWMG Vol. 24 p.142-143)

Obviously, Gandhiji was exhorting the Hindus to shed their cowardice and face rioters in a manly manner. In response to Gandhiji’s article, the philosopher patriot Dr. Bhagwan Das of Varanasi in his letter dated 5th June 1924 asked Gandhiji to explain the cause of such a difference in the nature of Hindus and Muslims, especially in view of the fact that most of the Muslims, being converts from Hinduism, belonged to the same racial stock as the Hindus, Gandhi replied in Young India (19 June 1924),

“Though the majority of the Mussalmans of India and the Hindus belong to the same ‘stock’ the religious environment has made them different. … Though, in my opinion, non-violence has a predominant place in the Koran, the thirteen hundred years of imperialistic expansion has made the Mussalmans fighter as a body. They are therefore aggressive. Bullying is the natural excrescence of an aggressive spirit. The Hindu has an age-old civilisation. He is essentially non-violent.” (CWMG, Vol. 24 p. 270-1)

Here Gandhiji is alluding to the temperamental differences between Hindus and Muslims born out of their religious and civilizational differences. The ferocity of Kohat riots on 9-10 September 1924 shook Gandhiji to his very core. In these riots 155 Hindus were killed many more injured, and rest of them fled for safety to Rawalpindi. Shattered Gandhiji resorted to 21 days fast as penance, at the Delhi residence of Muhammad Ali. On the very first day of the fast on 17th September, Mahadev Desai, his close confidant and secretary, asked him ‘for what error of him he was resorting to this hard penance’. Gandhi replied.

“My error? Why, I may be charged with having committed a breach of faith with the Hindus. I asked them to befriend Muslims, I asked them to lay their lives and their property at the disposal of the Mussalmans for the protection of their holy places. Even today I am asking them to practice Ahimsa, to settle quarrels by dying but not by killing. And what do I find to be the result? How many temples have been desecrated? How many sisters come to me with complaints … Hindu woman are in mortal terror of the Mussalman goondas. …. How can I bear the way in which his (a letter writer’s) little children were molested?” (Mahadeva Desai’s Diary Vol.  IV, Varanasi, 1969 p. 195)

In these words Gandhiji was merely echoing the anguish and pain of many Hindu hearts which was conveyed to him and which he had summed up in the beginning of his above-mentioned long article of 29th May 1924 in these words, “you asked the Hindus to make common cause with the Mussalmans on the khilafat question. Your being identified with it gave it an importance it would never have otherwise received. It unified and awakened the Mussalmans. It gave prestige to the Maulvis which they never had before. And now that the khilafat question is over, the awakened Mussalmans have proclaimed a kind of Jihad against us Hindus.” (CWMG, Vol. 24, p. 136)

This Hindu agony had penetrated the very soul of Gandhiji; it was sitting heavy on his heart and was tormenting him emotionally. His 21 days long fast begun on 17th September was the bursting forth of his guilt consciousness vis-à-vis Hindus. Kohat riots exposed the wide gulf that existed in his and Ali brother’s approach to the Hindu Muslim question. On February 4, 1925 Gandhi with Shaukat Ali reached Rawalpindi to enquire on behalf of the Congress into the causes of the Kohat disturbances. There he discovered a wide gulf of approach to Hindu-Muslim unity between himself and Shaukat Ali. They could not agree to submit a joint inquiry report. During interrogation with the displaced Kohat Hindus, Gandhi discovered that the Kohat riot had taken place due to ongoing conversion of Hindus to Islam, while Shaukat Ali had no qualms over conversions. In his opinion, the riots were provoked by a Hindu poem derogatory to Islam. Shaukat Ali’s commitment to conversions disturbed Gandhiji very much. Gandhiji shared his mental agony with Mahadeva Desai and also with his Sabarmati Ashram inmates, whom he addressed in the early morning of 10 February 1925. Describing his state of mind after his discovery about Shaukat Ali’s attitude, Gandhiji said, “I am now in the position of a man who is shocked to find a snake under his quilt and gives to thorough shaking and sweeps the whole room clean. … it passes my endurance, when people are made Muslims by bribery or coercion, as was the case here. My only object is to wake you up, to alert you today in the early hours of the morning. And that I do, because it is possible that you may have to face a similar situation some day. If a child, a boy or girl is kidnapped from the Ashram, you should not interpret my principle of non-violence crudely and be silent observers.” He further told them,” If all the thirty crores of Hindus turned Muslims after a full knowledge of Muslim scriptures or their own intellectual convictions, I would nor feel the loss so much. I would then be content to be the only Hindu on earth.” (Mahadev Desai Diary, Vol. IV, pp 263-5).

We have deliberately chosen to describe in details this very important chapter in Gandhiji’s life. After the failure his very bold experiment in the Hindu-Muslim Unity, Gandhiji had arrived at the following conclusions:

         a.  Every Muslims is a bully while every Hindu is a coward. It flows out of their different religious and civilizational backgrounds.

         b.   This bulliness of the Muslim is born out of his religion and thirteen hundred years long imperialist expansion.

         c   Hindus must shed their own cowardice. Violence is preferable to cowardice.

         d.   Conversion by force or coercion should by resisted, if need be by violence.

Gandhi carried a guilt conscience for his pushing the Hindus to give unconditional one sided support to the khilafat movement of the Muslims.

Failure of the Khilafat Movement followed by a spate of country wide Muslim riots shocked all the senior Hindu leaders like Madan Mohan Malviya, Lala Lajpat Rai, Swami Shradhaanand etc. First session of the All India Hindu Mahasabha was held at Varanasi under the Presidentship Malaviyaji an 19 and 20 August 1923. Next session was held at Belgaum where Congress session presided by Gandhiji was also being held simultaneously. HMS session was presided by over Lala Lajpatrai and was attended by Gandhiji, CR Das, Motilal Nehru, Malaviyaji and many other Congress leaders. There Malaviyaji’s clear message was, “But for the weakness and fear enveloping the Hindus, many Hindu-Muslim clashes could have been avoided. These clashes have driven the country to its present critical situation. It is therefore imperative to eradicate the weakness of the Hindus which has been very largely responsible for the Muslim violence”. Lala Lajpat Rai was equally disturbed and deeply pondered over the problem of Hindu-Muslim unity. Towards the end of 1924, he published a series of thirteen articles entitled “The Hindu Muslim Problem” in the Tribune of Lahore. It was in this series that Lalaji had forewarned that if the separate electorates were continued and the Muslim politics pursued the same direction, there was every possibility of two separate Muslim States emerging in the East and the West of India. It was the first warning about the partition of the counry.

The founding of the RSS in 1925 by Dr. Hedgewar has to be seen in this background. Hedgewar himself was witness to two Muslim riots at Nagpur one in 1923 and the other during 1924. In the 1923 riots the Hindus got a beating, but in 1924 riots, because of the sense of unity and organisation created by Hedgewar and his friends, the tables were turned against the Muslims. His mind was full of questions. Why 1 lakh 30 thousand Hindus are so afraid of only 20 thousand Muslims in Nagpur. Why the Muslims are so aggressive and confident? Why did they struggle for Khilafat and not for Swaraj? Why all the Congress efforts since 1885 to bring them in its fold have failed? Why are the Hindus in general so keen for Swaraj? Where is the source of their inborn patriotism? How to remove their cowardice and arouse in them a sense of valour and dynamism? Hedgewar concluded that a time bound programme of organising the Hindus on the basis of selfless patriotism and nationalism could be the only answer to the present day ills. Doctor, going beyond the prevalent method of public meetings, resolutions and lectures, invented a new technique of organisation. It consisted of daily assembly at a fixed place at a fixed time and participation in collective physical, intellectual and emotional exercises. Doctor used to say that Sangh was not the kind of activity which could be spread by publicity through newspapers and public meetings. Sangh was a living and vibrant body and only the ‘living’ Swyamsevak could spread it. The mission of the Sangh was to be one of recharging our people with the true sprit of national character and cohesion. It was to suit this supreme vision that the “Shakha” technique was evolved by Dr. Hedgewar. After deap deliberations, Hedgewar started his process of organisation on the Vijayadashmi Day of 1925 but formally named it as Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh six month later in April 1926. It may be noted that be rejected the suggestion of naming it Hindu Swyamsevak Sangh. In a way, RSS was born out of the deep concern felt by all the national leaders including Gandhiji, Malaviyaji, Lala Lajpat Rai and Swami Shardhanand. It was to free the Hindu society of its cowardice, social disharmony and inequality and to infuse with a spirit of selfless patriotism and nationalism.

Even after starting the RSS and having withdrawn from his multifarious activities with an urge to devote all his time and energies to spread the network of RSS Shakhas all over the country, Hedgewar did not discontinue his membership of the Congress. He attended the Calcutta Session in 1928. Dominion status v/s Poorna Swaraj was the main issue of debate in that session. Hedgewar, true to his commitment to the goal of complete Independence, found himself in the camp of Subhash Chandra Bose, who had moved an amendment in favour of complete Independence. Though the amendment was defeated by a narrow margin, yet Subhash’s youthful personality in uniform, as head of the volunteer corps, left deep impression on Hedgewar. On Gandhiji’s advice Calcutta Congress ended on the note that if the Dominion Status was not granted within a year, Congress would declare Complete Independence as its goal, Accordingly the next Congress session held at Lahore under the presidentship of Jawaharlal Nehru declared Complete Independence as it goal and decided to celebrate Complete Independence Day on 26th January 1930. Hedgewar welcomed this declaration and instructed all the RSS branches to observe Complete Independence Day on 26th January 1930.

In pursuance of the decision taken in the Lahore Session, Gandhiji launched the Civil Disobedience Movement with his famous Dandi March on 12 March 1930. By now Hedgewar had formally ceased to be a member of the Congress organisation. But as a freedom fighter he decided to participate in the Civil Disobedience Movement. He nominated Dr. L.V. Paranjpe as Sarsanghchalaka in his place and left Nagpur on 12th July 1930 with a batch of more than 20 senior workers including Appagi Joshi and Dadarao Paramarth. Being for away from the seacoast, in the Central Provinces the movement was popularly called Jungle satyagraha. Doctor and his batch offered Satyagraha at Yeotmal by breaking the Jungle-Law. In a short speech delivered on this occasion Hedgewar said,” So far as I am concerned, I would undertake any means in order to achieve Independence. I would, if need be, take to polishing the boots of the English, or take out his boot and crush his head with the same. I have no prejudice against any of the methods. I have only one supreme goal before me – the driving out of the English from India.” He was awarded six months rigorous imprisonment and three months simple imprisonment. He and his companions were shifted to Akola Jail. He was released on 16th February 1931.

Gandhiji had already been released on 26th January 1931 and soon after he entered into negotiations with the Viceroy Lord Irwin at Delhi, culminating in the famous Gandhi-Irwin Pact signed on 5th March 1931. Surprisingly, in this Pact Gandhiji, contrary to the resolutions passed by the Lahore session, accepted in toto the concluding statement made by the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald on January 19, 1931 at the end of the first Round Table Conference. Gandhiji committed the Congress to particulate in the second Round Table Conference (RTC). In a way, he had moved away from the goal of Complete Independence. This must have come as a shock to Dr. Hedgewar whose determination to attain Complete Independence by any means was unwavering. Without going into the details of how Gandhiji’s mission to the RTC failed completely, it may be recorded here that Gandhiji returned from England empty handed, was immediately lodged in Jail. Gandhiji had to undertake a fast unto death against the devilish British design of splitting the Hindu society by extending separate electorates to the so-called Depressed Classes in the Communal Award announced by the British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald on August 17, 1932. The fast ended with the Poona Pact of September 16, 1932 which injected the virus of Reservations in Indian polity. In Poona Pact, the British imperialists had scored a diplomatic victory over Gandhiji on the issue of the Depressed Classes and the problem of untouchability. Gandhiji was fully conscious of the importance of this problem, but he believed that it was a social problem internal to the Hindu society and its lasting solution lay in the change of hearts and attitudes of the socalled caste Hindus. Since his arrival in India in 1915 he had started working in this direction. But the British imperialist wanted to extend their policy of divide and Rule to this problem also by making it a political and constitutional issue. Since the nineteenth century they had been desperately trying to find the dividing line of untouchability within the graded caste structure of the Hindu society. The RTC was a ploy to prepare the constitutional ground for it. They were successful in pitting Dr. Ambedkar’s demand of separate electorate for the undefined Depressed Classes against Gandhiji’s efforts of social harmony and change.

After the Poona Pact Gandhiji decided to launch a social reform movement for the eradication of untouchabiity. He floated the word Harijan as a substitute to the prevalent term Depressed Classes’ and the neutral term ‘Scheduled Castes’  proposed by some British officials. Gandhi changed the names of his periodicals Young India and Navgivan to Harijan and Harijana Sevak; created a new organisation called Harijan Sevak Sangh. All through this period he was in Jail. From there he issued more than nine statements against untouchability, got a bill moved in the Central Legislative Assembly for the temple entry of the Harijans, entered into public debate with the Sanatanists on untouchability, intervened in the Guruvayur movement, announced to go on 21 days fast for the Harijan cause, commenced his fast in jail on 8th May 1933, and was released by the Government on the same day.

Gandhiji’s increasing involvement in the Harijan cause was not welcomed by a large section of Congressmen led by Jawaharlal Nehru. They looked at it as a religious issue which could not be adopted by the Congress as a political party. A personal letter of Gandhi dated May 2, 1933 addressed to Jawaharlal Nehru explains Gandhiji’s source of inspiration and commitment to the Harijan cause. Gandhi writes:

“As I was struggling against the coming fast, you were before me as it were in flesh and blood. But it was no use. How I wish I could feel that you had understood the absolute necessity of it. The Harijan movement is too big for mere intellectual effort. There is nothing so bad in all the world. And yet I cannot leave religion and therefore Hinduism.

“My life would be a burden to me, if Hinduism failed me. I love Islam, Christianity and many other faiths through Hinduism. Take it away and nothing remains for me. But then I cannot tolerate it with untouchability – the high-and-low belief. Fortunately. Hinduism contains a sovereign remedy for the evil. I have applied the remedy. … But I won’t convince you by argument, if you did not see the truth intuitively. I know that even if I do not carry your approval with me, I shall retain your precious love during all those days of ordeal. …”

(Nehru: Bunch of Old Letters, second edition 1960, p. 113)


In September 1933 Gandhiji shifted his Ashram from Sabarmati to Wardha. On September 24; Harijan Day was celebrated all over the century and a public pledge was taken for the eradication of untouchability. On November 7, 1933, he started his all India Harijan Tour, the first stop being Nagpur, where he declared: “Removal of untouchability is my religion.” The British Government was very much scared of this tour. The Home Department of the Government of India sent a circular to all the provincial governments to send detailed reports on the impact of Gandhi’s tour, identifying and mentioning the elements supporting or opposing Gandhi on this issue. By 1933 the RSS Shakha-network had spread all over the Marathi speaking Vidarbha as well as in Hindi speaking Chhattisgarh regions of C.P. Berar Province. Alarmed by this rapid progress of the RSS, E. Gorden, the Chief Administrator of the Central Provinces issued a government circular on 15th December 1932 prohibiting government servants from joining the Sangh. Soon after, the government pressurized the local-government institutions also to pass similar orders. Dr. Hedgewar with the help of his wide contacts with leaders of all parties and ideology was able to mobilise public pressure to the extent that the provincial government was forced to withdraw its prohibitory orders.

It was not uncommon  for Congress workers to heartily join the Sangh activities in those days. Appaji Joshi of Wardha was the secretary of the Provincial Congress Committee. An old associate of Dr. Hedgewar since 1917. He was acting as the Sangh Chalak of Wardha district. Under his leadership Sangh work had made big strides in Wardha district. It seems it generated a sense of rivalry and heart burning in the minds of some Congressmen. That alone could explain why Seth Jamnalal Bajaj, who was looking after Gandhiji’s welfare at Wardha and was considered to be his close confident, chose to send in January 1934 a questionnaire to Dr. Hedgewar and Dr. B.S. Moonje separately. The questions related to prevention of untouchability, Khadi, the Congress programme, relationship between the Mahasabha and the Sangh. Instead of sending a written reply, Hedgewar invited Jamnalal for a one-to-one talk. Sethji came to Nagpur on the morning of 31st January 1934, met Dr. Hedgewar and Dr. Moonje separately Hedgewar dealt with all the questions clearly and cogently; made it clear that “the Sangh is aloof from politics. It has no rivalry with any other institution, nor it is opposed to Khadi and it totally disapproves of the practice of untouchability.”

There is no evidence, if Jamnalal’s above initiative was known to Gandhiji, who was on his continuous Harijan tour in South India covering Andhra, Mysore, Kerala and Tamilnadu regions. He returned to Wardha on June 10, 1934 and on June 14 left for the next leg of his Harijan tour starting from Bombay Province and after having covered north India ended on August 7, 1934.

By 1934, the RSS had expanded its Shakha network beyond C.P. Berar into the Bombay Province as well. A Shakha had been started in the B.H.U. and Benaras city as well. Hedgewar had visited Karachi city also. With the formation of the Communist Party of India in 1925, and specially after Nehru’s visit to Soviet Russia in 1927, the return of Jai Prakash Narayan from the USA in November 1929 and of Ram Manohar Lohia from Germany in 1933, Marxian Socialism had become a fashion with a section of the Indian urban youth. On July 1, 1934 a Congress Socialist Party was formed within the Indian National Congress. Jawaharlal Nehru emerged as a rallying point for both the Communists and Socialists perhaps, under the influence of the Marxists. In June 1934, the Congress passed a resolution prohibiting its members from associating with the R.S.S. Gandhiji was feeling uneasy over these developments. The All India Harijan tour gave him the realization that the Congress organisation was drifting away from the ideals and programmes which were so dear to him and which he had been trying since 1920 the Congress Party to follow sincerely. Gradually he was preparing himself to severe his formal membership of the Congress Party. In his statement of September 17, 1934 explaining the reasons of his disenchantment with the Congress, Gandhiji wrote in clear words. “It has appeared to me that there is a growing and vital difference of outlook between many Congressmen and myself.”

Enumerating those differences the statement said:

“I put the spinning wheel and Khadi in the forefront. Hand-spinning by the Congress intelligentia has all but disappeared … only a few Congressmen have a living faith in the India-wide potency of the wheel. …

“I have welcomed the formation of the socialist group. … With all this, I have fundamental differences with them on the programme published in their authorized pamphlets. … It they gain ascendancy in the Congress, as they well may, I cannot remain in the Congress.

“Even on untouchability, my method of approach is perhaps, different from that of many if not of most Congressmen. For me, this is a deeply religious and moral issue. Many consider that it was a profound error for me to have disturbed the course of the civil resistance struggle by taking the question in the manner and at the time, I did. I feel that I would have been untrue to myself if I had taken any other course.

“Last of all, take non-violence. After fourteen years of trial, it still remains a policy with the majority of Congressmen, whereas it is a fundamental creed with me. … .”

Under pressure from senior Congressmen Gandhiji waited till the Bombay session of Congress in October, 1934 was over and announced his resignation from the primary membership of Indian National Congress on 29th October 1924. Soonafter on November 11, he started the process of founding the Village Industries Association, whose formation was formally announced on December 15, 1934. Freed of direct organisational bonds with the Congress, Gandhiji was now devoting his full attention to his own constructive activities in general and Harijan issue in particular.

In this backdrop the R.S.S. Winter Camp of Wardha district was held in the last weak of December 1934. Nearabout 1500 Swyamsevaks were camping on an open ground belonging to Jamnalal Bajaj and located just opposite the two storeyed house where Gandhiji was staying. Gandhiji watched with curiosity the manual labour which hundreds young men put in a very disciplined manner for more than a week in clearing the ground and setting up the large tent township. Gandhiji expressed a desire to visit the camp. Mahadev Desai got in touch with Appaji Joshi, who immediately went and invited Gandhiji. Next day on 25th December 1934 Gandhiji’s arrived at the Sangh camp punctually at 6.00 am.

All the swyamsevakes offered their pranam to him. Gandhiji visited the kitchen discussed the menu, its cost, and the community fooding method. He was astonished to know that swyamsevakes met the expenses of their own uniform, fooding and the camping arrangements. He went to the sick ward and the tents, where the Swyamsevaks used to sleep on the floor. Harijan issue being uppermost in his mind, he interrogated the Swyamsevakes to know their caste composition. Their response was uniform: “There are no differences like Brahman, Maratha, Asprishyas etc. in the Sangh. We are, in fact, not even aware of each other’s caste among us. For us, it is enough that we are Hindus and Swyamsevaks.” Gandhiji was very happy to know that they all sleep together, eat together and play together. Gandhiji told Appaji, “It appears almost impossible to ward off the evil of untouchability and high and low belief from our society. How could the Sangh achieve this miracle.” Next day, Dr. Hedgewar arrived at the camp, was very glad to know of Gandhiji’s visit. And after the valedictory function was over, he, accompanied by Appaji and Bhopatkar, went to pay respects to Gandhiji in his ashram. He had a long conversation with Gandhiji about his own experiences as a Congress worker and why did he feel the necessity of starting the R.S.S. independently.

Gandhiji’s visit to the R.S.S. camp left such a lasting impression on his mind that on 16th September 1947, just a few months before his unfortunate tragic death, Gandhiji while addressing a rally of the R.S.S. workers held in the Bhangi colony, Delhi, where he was staying those days, remembered that camp vividly. This speech was widely reported in the media. The Hindu, the English daily published from Madras, reported Gandhijis speech in these words,

“Bapu recalled how many years ago when the founder of the Sangh Hedgewar was alive Seth Jamnalal Bajaj had taken me to see a camp held by the organisation in Wardha. I was impressed  by the discipline, complete absence of untouchability and rigorous simplicity which I saw there.” He added. “The Sangh has since grown. I am convinced that any organisation which is inspired by the ideal of service and self-sacrifice is bound to grow in strength. But, in order to be truly useful, self sacrifice has to be combined with purity of motive and true knowledge. Sacrifice without these two aspects has been known to prove ruinous to society”. (The Hindu, September 17, 1947; in Mahatma Gandhi: The last 200 days. Ed V Ramaswamy, Kasturi & Sons Ltd, Chennai; 2003; p. 158) Also in (D.G. Tendulkar, Mahatma. Vol. VIII pp. 120-121)

       Hedgewar died on 21st June 1940 leaving an all-India network of the R.S.S. organisation. M.S. Golwalkar, popularly known as Guruji, took over as the next Sarsanghchalak. He had many meeting with Gandhiji during the stormy daiys of the partition.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati