Mahatma Gandhi met RSS founder KB Hedgewar in 1934 and expressed his admiration for the RSS, says a biography of the Sangh founder readied by the Publications Division of the information and broadcasting ministry.
Gandhi apparently asked Hedgewar how he made Hindus from different castes work together, and Hedgewar replied: "It is by arousing nationalism in their consciousness and their pride in being Hindus…"
The book gushingly likens the purported encounter between the two to Mahabharat's dialogue between Yaksha and Yudhishthira, the eldest Pandava.
The biography - penned by academic Rakesh Sinha who runs the RSS-inclined think tank India Development Foundation - seeks to mainstream the Sangh within the freedom movement, contrary to much scholarship that says the RSS stayed away from the anti-colonial struggle.
The book claims the Sangh was anti-colonial, inclined in favour of Congress attempts at freedom, interested in Hindu consolidation rather than being "anti-Muslim", and ill at ease with the Hindu Mahasabha.
The claim: While the Hindu Mahasabha would hobnob with colonial officials, "Dr. Hedgewar wished to deal with imperialism in one language: that of struggle, whether non-violent or violent".
Sinha explains the absence of a reference to much information cited in the book: "The Builders of Modern India Series of Publications Division doesn't use footnotes. In fact, I introduced footnotes in some places. But I have sourced each fact from archival files, newspapers or writings of leaders."
The book is a revised version of Hedgewar's Hindi biography penned by Sinha at the time of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
"The physical, mental and ideological training provided... at the Shakhas had only one purpose - freedom of the country," the book says.
Political scientist PK Datta, co-author of "Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags", a well-known academic work on the RSS, disagrees: "The RSS was not at all anti-colonial. Their aim was to organise Hindus rather than get rid of the British. They were not for a joint Hindu-Muslim alliance against colonialism."
Contrary to arguments that the RSS aimed to counter Muslims, Sinha says Hedgewar "was not unduly agitated by the Muslim problem".
Muslims and the Hindu Mahasabha sought to negotiate with the British to counter the Muslim League politically, Hedgewar - Sinha contends - believed the answer lay in organising Hindu society and ridding it of its weaknesses.