New Delhi: With over 70,000 daily shakhas (training camps), around 4,000 full-time pracharaks (cadre) and three dozen organisations working in every sphere of society, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has emerged as the largest voluntary movement in the world.
And one of those who played a crucial role in its rise is Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, the RSS’s second sarsanghchalak (chief) whose 114th birth anniversary falls today (Wednesday). Golwalkar had succeeded the organisation’s founding chief Keshav Baliram Hedgewar.
It was under Golwalkar’s leadership that the RSS attained a truly pan-Indian character by expanding rapidly from 1940 to 1973 even as the organisation and the country went through some tumultuous times.
There was Partition in 1947, the ban on the organisation following Mahatma Gandhi’s death in 1948, the debacle of the 1962 war, and the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971.
Golwalkar ensured that not only did the RSS get over the ban but also emerged as an organisation with greater ideological clarity and stronger organisational structure.
According to the RSS archives, Golwalkar travelled the entire country over 65 times to set up RSS-inspired organisations in every field, ranging from tribal welfare to student politics.
The rise to RSS chief
Born on 19 February 1906 at Ramtek in Maharashtra, Golwalkar took over as RSS chief in 1940 and held the post until his death in 1973.
He was always known as Guruji, a sobriquet he earned during his time at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in 1930. The students there fondly addressed him as Guruji and it stuck.
It was while teaching at BHU that Golwalkar first encountered the RSS. It was through Bhaiyaji Dani, who had arrived for further studies at Varanasi in 1928 and had started a shakha there.
The association between the two ran deep. When Golwalkar took over as RSS chief in 1940, Dani served as the sarkaryawaha (general secretary) for some years.
Once he became associated with the RSS, Golwalkar began taking its swayamsevaks (volunteers) to meet Madan Mohan Malaviya, the BHU founder.
In 1934, he was appointed karyawaha (secretary in-charge) of the Sangh’s main shakha at Tulsibaug near Pune. He was also sent to Mumbai by Hedgewar to spread the organisation’s work there.
In 1935, Golwalkar was appointed as the sarvadhikari (overall chief) of the RSS training camp at Akola in Maharashtra.
At a function to celebrate Raksha Bandhan in 1939, Hedgewar announced Golwalkar’s appointment as the Sangh’s general secretary.
He held the post for only 10 months, during which time, the RSS outreach expanded to Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and cities such as Delhi, Karachi, Patna, Kolkata and Lucknow among others.
A few days after the death of Hedgewar in June 1940, five of the senior-most RSS leaders met at Akola, among them Appaji Joshi, Babasaheb Ghatate and Kashinathrao Limaye, reviewed the situation and unanimously agreed that Golwalkar should take over.
The rapid outreach
In June 1940, the Sangh began its journey under the ideological and organisational stewardship of Golwalkar.
Before he took over, RSS volunteers launched shakhas wherever they went as students and there were only a handful of pracharaks. And although the Sangh had spread to some provinces outside Maharashtra, several parts of the country remained untouched.
The new RSS chief began the system of having full-time pracharaks sent to various parts of the country to exclusively expand the organisation’s work.
“We need pracharaks… We need pracharaks. This is the demand arising from all directions. We must fulfill this demand,” he appealed to young swayamsevaks in 1941 and 1942.
The impact of the clarion call was phenomenal.
Forty eight pracharaks joined from Lahore alone in 1942. Of these, 10 were MA degree-holders, two were doctors, 14 shastris while the others were BA and above matric. Similarly, 52 pracharaks joined from Amritsar, of whom four were doctors.
The then British colonial administration appears to have been aware of the expansion.
“The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is moving ahead rapidly towards building a highly significant all-India organisation… A new dimension to their growth is their efforts to gain entry in the villages. M.S. Golwalkar laid a lot of stress on this aspect in the winter camp of Wardha,” reads a CID report dated 30 December 1943.
“We can see the recent well spread out tour of the present chief of the Sangh, M.S. Golwalkar as an example of such efforts. In the last month of April, he was in Ahmedabad; in May, he was in Amravati and Pune. In June, he was at Nashik and Benaras. He toured Chanda in August, Pune in September, Madras and Central Provinces in October and Rawalpindi in November,” it added.
In the run-up to Partition, the RSS further increased its outreach efforts.
Golwalkar, Babasaheb Apte and Balasaheb Deoras extensively toured the country.
Golwalkar was in Sialkot and Montgomery after touring Multan in 1946-47. He entered Sindh from Punjab. The province of Sindh had around 80 shakhas at the time. Among the pracharaks there was Lal Krishna Advani, the former BJP president.
During Partition, the RSS saved millions of Hindus who were stuck in Pakistan. “If Punjab is the sword arm of India, RSS is the sword arm of Punjab,” The English Tribune wrote.
Ban on RSS
The RSS also faced one of its worst crisis under Golwalkar.
On 30 January 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi.
Golwalkar, who was in Chennai, passed instructions to all shakhas on the same day: “To express our grief due to the sad demise of respected Mahatmaji, shakhas will observe a condolence period for 13 days and all daily programmes will be put on hold.”
He left for Nagpur by air on 31 January.
But he was arrested on 2 February and the RSS was banned on 4 February through a central government notification. Nearly 20,000 swayamsevaks were arrested across the country.
On 6 August, Golwalkar was released from jail but with several conditions, including his movements being restricted to the municipal limits of Nagpur. He was arrested again on 12 November, 1948, at Barakhamba Road in Delhi under the Bengal State Criminal Procedure Act of 1818.
While in jail, Golwalkar called for a satyagraha that was carried out for 45 days, from 9 December 1948 to 22 January 1949. Over 77,000 swayamsevaks courted arrest and were sent to prison.
The ban on the RSS was lifted on the midnight of 11 July 1949; Golwalkar was released from prison on 13 July 1949.
The post ban years
Nearly a year later, the Golwalkar-led RSS took up major relief and rehabilitation effort in West Bengal to address the issue of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan.
At Golwalkar’s behest, the Vastuhara Sahaayata Samiti (Displaced People’s Relief Committee) was constituted under the chairmanship of Ranadev Chaudhary on 8 February 1950.
In 1952, Golwalkar urged his swayamsevaks to move into the field of education. He held detailed discussions with professor Rajendra Singh (who later became the fourth sarsanghchalak), Nanaji Deshmukh, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay and Bhaurao Deoras on the issue.
As a result, the first Saraswati Shishu Mandir came into existence under the leadership of Nanaji Deshmukh at Gorakhpur. Golwalkar laid the foundation stone for the building. Today, the movement has over 20,000 schools in the country that educate over 3.5 million students.
In the same year, the RSS also launched a cow protection movement. The Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (its highest decision-making body) passed a resolution in Nagpur in September 1952 calling for a ban on cow slaughter across the country.
RSS volunteers collected signatures from 94,459 villages and towns, amassing 1,79,89,332 signatures in all. On 8 December 1952, Golwalkar met President Rajendra Prasad and handed over the signatures.
One of the key impacts of the cow protection campaign was that it galvanised the RSS at an organisational level and increased its reach significantly.
The RSS was now getting increasingly involved in relief and rehabilitation efforts wherever a disaster or calamity struck in the country. It resulted in the setting up of the Seva Vibhag (a wing for social services).
In 1952, when India witnessed its first general elections, Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee had resigned from Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet in protest against his policies.
Mookerjee had been thinking of setting up a political party and had met Golwalkar, Balasaheb Deoras and Bhaurao Deoras in early 1951 at the home of Nagpur sanghchalak Babasaheb Ghatate.
Mookerjee then launched the Bharatiya Jan Sangh and the RSS loaned him some of its pracharaks while to help build the party while making it clear that it would not be involved directly in any political activity.
So, pracharaks like Deendayal Upadhyay, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nanaji Deshmukh became associated with the Bharatiya Jan Sangh.
One of the stalwarts and leading ideologues of the RSS, Dattopant Thengadi, founded the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) on 23 July 1955. Thengadi had learnt the ropes of the labour movement in the Congress-backed INTUC. Today, the BMS is the largest labour organisation or trade union in the country.
The later years
In 1960, Golwalkar warned the government about possible foreign aggression and in 1962, China attacked India. The RSS came out in full force and helped the government fight this aggression.
The then Prime Minister Nehru had to recognise the value of the RSS’ efforts despite being an ardent opponent of the organisation. He invited an RSS contingent to participate in the Republic Day Parade in 1963. Around 3,000 RSS swayamsevaks participated in that march.
In 1965, when Pakistan attacked India, the then PM Lal Bahadur Shastri, invited Golwalkar to an all-party consultative committee meeting in Delhi even though the RSS was a non-political entity.
The RSS extended complete support to the government.
It was also around this time that the RSS decided to set up the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). The VHP was set up in 1966 at a convention held in Prayagraj (Uttar Pradesh) during the Kumbha.
Golwalkar addressed the founding convention of the VHP, which spearheaded the Ram Temple movement from 1980s onwards.
In May 1970, Golwalkar was diagnosed with cancer.
On 1 July 1970, he underwent three-hour surgery. While in hospital, he began visiting a nearby RSS shakha and also attended the annual meeting of the RSS’ Central Executive Committee in Mumbai from 10 to 12 July.
The final years
The RSS’ central executive met at Nagpur between 8 and 10 July 1971 and passed a resolution on the situation in Bangladesh, calling upon the government to assure Hindus of Pakistan that it would ensure their safety and security.
On 3 December 1971 Pakistan attacked India.
Golwalkar, who was in Nagpur, issued an appeal to his countrymen.
“The unity inspired by genuine love for the motherland alone can lead us to victory. Pakistan is openly at war with us,” his statement read. “Our government and the Army are quite capable of meeting the challenge but it is essential to keep the morale of the people high and maintain highest levels of production in fields and factories. Besides, our jawans on the front must feel that the entire nation is behind them.”
After India’s victory, he sent a letter to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 22 December.
“In the creation of the strength of national unity infused with national pride, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is and will always be with you,” the letter read. “I have confidence that as the representative of the country you will take all these factors into consideration while determining our domestic and foreign policies. May the prestige of Bharat grow like this under your leadership.”
By 2 April 1973, Golwalkar’s health began to deteriorate, at which point he wrote three letters, one of which named Balasaheb Deoras as his successor. Another letter directed that there should be no memorial for him while the third quoted a prayer by the saint Tukaram.
On 5 June 1973, Golwalkar passed away.
(The writer is CEO of Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra and author of two books on the RSS).