The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha did not see eye to eye on several issues, including their approach to Mahatma Gandhi and his way of thinking, and their relationship went downhill over a period of time, an ideologue of the RSS has said.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s decision to fight a defamation case for his statement linking the RSS to the Mahatma’s assassination has triggered a rush in the saffron organisation for unearthing documents that can prove its tumultuous ties with his assassin Nathuram Godse and the Hindu Mahasabha.
A letter by Godse to Hindu Mahasabha leader Veer Savarkar, blaming the RSS for “wasting the energy of Hindu youth”, is one of the documentary proof the Sangh is relying on to distance itself from the charge of being involved in the murder.
“Godse and four others (members of Hindu Mahasabha) wrote to Savarkar in October 1932, complaining that the RSS was wasting the energy of the Hindu youth,” Rakesh Sinha, a professor at Delhi University, said.
Sinha, who is also an honorary director of RSS think tank India Policy Foundation, said the schism deepened as members such as Godse and Savarkar disapproved of the Sangh’s “socialist, austere way of life, which was drawing them closer to Gandhi” and for not supporting Mahasabha’s political activities.
“RSS’ decision to join the Civil Disobedience Movement started by Gandhi in 1930 made HMS furious. Dr KB Hedgewar, the founder of RSS, stepped down from the post of sarsanghchalak and led the Forest Satyagraha in Pusad. He, along with 300 RSS workers, was arrested and incarcerated for a year,” Sinha said.
He quotes from HMS leader Dr BS Moonje’s dairy, where he wrote that RSS workers were being “carried away by Gandhian movement.”
The RSS, the ideological fount of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, was banned four times, including in 1948 after Gandhi’s killing.
With the spotlight back on the RSS-HMS links, the Sangh cites several reasons – its refusal to back an agitation against the Nizam of Hyderabad or join the battalion raised by the British government ahead of the World War II, setting up a Hindu militia and Ram Sena – for cleaving its ties.
“Unfortunately Marxist historians treated pre-Independent Hindutva movement as a monolith and wrongly assumed a hegemonic position of the HMS,” Sinha said.
But historians rebuffed these claims.
Mridula Mukherjee, a former professor of modern Indian history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the RSS and the HMS were as close as “the RSS and the BJP now or the RSS and the Jan Sangh earlier”.
“The Janata Party split because it asked the Jan Sangh members to quit membership of the RSS. Instead of doing that, they formed the BJP; that is the degree of closeness,” Mukherjee said.
On the disagreement between the Sangh and HMS, she said a parallel could be drawn with the recent split in the RSS in Goa.
Even as the RSS vehemently denies that Godse was a Sangh member, his family has claimed otherwise.
Sinha, however, hints at a larger conspiracy saying before Godse carried out the assassination, attempts were made on Gandhi’s life earlier as well but there was no investigation or further arrests.
“Gandhiji was raising questions at this prarthana sabha (prayer meeting) that were discomforting for some, particularly Nehru’s (Jawaharlal Nehru) world view. The questions that need answers are who benefit the most from Gandhi’s assassination?” he said.