Many years ago, I picked up a 31-page pamphlet with the intriguing title, King Mahendra and the RSS. I cannot remember now where I found it — whether on the pavement in Daryaganj, or in Mumbai’s New and Secondhand Bookshop, or at the superb Prabhu Book Service in Gurgaon, or even in Bangalore’s own Select Bookshop. The last seems most likely, since the pamphlet was published by the Karnataka branch of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and was printed in February 1965 in Bangalore.
Anyhow, years after I discovered this pamphlet, it has acquired an unexpected topicality. For in the last week of May 2008, Nepal became a republic, and its 240-year-old monarchy entered the ash-heap of history. The last ruler of Nepal, once God in the Flesh, the Representative of Vishnu on Earth, now became plain old Mister Gyanendra.
The pamphlet I found was connected principally with Gyanendra’s father, King Mahendra, also known as God in the Flesh, the Representative of Vishnu… etc. It told the story of an aborted visit of the Nepali monarch to the neighbouring Republic of India. Apparently, “a couple of years” before the pamphlet was printed, that is to say in 1962 or 1963, the Sarsanghchalak of the RSS, M.S. Golwalkar, had visited the temple of Pashupatinath in Kathmandu. Before or after he paid tribute to the shrine, the RSS chief had called upon the King of Nepal.
Golwalkar recounted the details of his meeting with King Mahendra in Organiser, the house journal of the RSS. He first acquainted the Nepali monarch with the work of the Sangh. Then, speaking of “the unbreakable relations of Nepal and Bharat, owing to their unity of religion and culture,” he invited the king to preside over the annual Makar Sankranti celebrations held at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. Unfortunately, Mahendra was not free in January 1964. So Golwalkar invited him again the next year. This time the king agreed.
On Christmas eve, 1964, Golwalkar released a press statement confirming that the visit was on. Two weeks later, on January 8, 1965, the royal palace in Kathmandu said that the trip to Nagpur has been cancelled. This was deeply embarrassing for his hosts, since the visit had been widely publicised in RSS shakhas across the land. There were only a few days left for Sankranti. Where, now, would they find an equally distinguished chief guest?
Although he could not come, King Mahendra sent a message to be read out at the RSS meeting held in Nagpur on Makar Sankranti, January 14, 1965. Nepal, said the king, “has always acted as a sentinel of India. Both have almost the same culture and both are animated by the same ideal of life… This is a matter of glory for the entire Hindu world”.
The king continued: “It is our desire to build up Nepal as an ideal Hindu Kingdom in the eyes of the world from every point of view... Even in days when some Hindus were victims of an artificial atmosphere and were ashamed of calling themselves Hindus, Nepal securely maintained herself as a Hindu Kingdom. All Hindus should take special pride in this fact.”
The reading of the king’s message was followed by the speech of the Sarsanghchalak. This was even more effusive in its praise of the Hindu essence of the Himalayan State. Nepal, said Golwalkar, “is the only State that proudly proclaims itself a Hindu Nation. Nepal, treading the path of her own genius, has rejected Western and other types of democracy and has adopted the time-honoured panchayat system of Hindu Democracy... Surely, Nepal finds a pride of place in the hearts of Hindus all over the world”.
The RSS chief’s rejection of ‘Western’ style democracy is noteworthy. So, too, is his praise of the ‘Hindu’ system of democracy allegedly in force in Nepal. In the late 1950s, Nepal briefly had a proper democracy. Then, the king dismissed the lawfully elected government and threw the Prime Minister, the great patriot and democrat B.P. Koirala, into jail. He further imposed, manifestly against the will of the people, a political system where there were no parties and no elected national government, thus further consolidating his own (and undeniably autocratic) rule.
The king’s proposed visit to the RSS headquarters was promoted by a man called Tulsi Giri, who was then Chairman of Nepal’s (unelected) Council of Ministers and an active proponent of the partyless Panchayat scheme. The pamphlet quotes Giri as saying: “Our King is a Hindu King of a Hindu Kingdom. Why shouldn’t Hinduism be a basis of unity [between Nepal and India]?” Giri also claimed that “Nepal would never go red as she was a Hindu kingdom”. After the trip was cancelled, Giri told the Hindustan Times that “it would have been the fulfilment of one of my dreams if the King had been able to visit Nagpur for I wanted to project him as a world leader of Hindus. He was the only King of the only Hindu Kingdom in the world who could lead the Hindus of the world”.
Now, 43 years down the line, Nepal has in fact gone ‘red’ (a change of colour commendably achieved via the ballot box). Meanwhile, the monarchy has been abolished, and the former king made to vacate his palace. Perhaps, in the spirit of the contents of the pamphlet King Mahendra and the RSS, the now homeless, jobless, commoner carrying the name of Gyanendra can be invited to Nagpur to assume a honoured place among the men who presume to lead the Hindus of the world.
Ramachandra Guha is a historian and the author of India After Gandhi.