New Delhi: The birth anniversary of the founder of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar falls on the first day of the Hindu New Year, which is also known as ‘Varsha Pratipada’.
This year it falls on 25 March.
The RSS doesn’t count birth dates of its founder by the Gregorian calendar and goes by the Hindu calendar, and, therefore, there could be a different date in the Gregorian calendar for Hedgewar’s anniversary who was born in 1889 and passed away in 1940.
Meanwhile, based on the information available at the RSS archives, here are ten interesting facts that bust several myths about Hedgewar.
Dr Hedgewar lost his parents at the age of 13
Many critics of the RSS have linked its initial years with domination of Maharashtra Brahmins. But, the RSS founder’s family originally hailed from Kandkurti village in Telangana region.
Near the village is the sacred confluence of Godavari, Vanjra and Haridra rivers. This confluence finds mention in several Indian sacred texts.
The place also witnessed a confluence of three robust Indian languages — Kannada, Telugu and Marathi. At one time, the place was a hub of scholars. But to look out for better opportunities, many Brahmin families left Telangana region.
Many of them settled down in Nagpur as the Bhonsle Rulers were known to be patrons of Vedic learning. Among them was Narhari Shastri, whose great grandson was Baliram Pant Hedgewar.
Baliram along with his wife Revatibai had in all six children — three sons, Mahadev, Seetaram and Keshav (who later became Dr K.B. Hedgewar), and three daughters, Saroo, Rajoo and Rangoo.
Keshav was the fifth child. At the age of 13, Keshav lost both his parents to plague and faced severe economic hardships while studying in school. He, literally, had to raise himself up.
Was active in Congress
Around 1919, Hedgewar became very active in the Indian National Congress. He attended the Amritsar Session of Congress in 1919.
He was an active member of ‘Rashtriya Mandal’, a group formed by the followers of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in Nagpur Congress. He worked actively to promote a Hindi weekly ‘Sankalpa’.
To inspire the youth through the lives of national heroes of India, he founded the ‘Rashtriya Utsav Mandal’.
Looked after setting up corps of 1,500 volunteers
In January 1920, Dr L.V. Paranjpe started the Bharat Swayamsevak Mandal. Hedgewar was an active member of the mandal and worked closely with Dr Paranjpe.
In July 1920, efforts began to set up a corps of around 1,000-1,500 volunteers for the Congress session. Hedgewar was at the forefront of organising this corps. However, even as these efforts were going on by enthusiastic supporters of Lokmanya Tilak, tragedy struct.
Tilak passed away on the night 31 July 1920. After Tilak’s demise, Dr Moonje and Hedgewar went to Pondicherry (now Puducherry). Both of them met philosphper-poet Aurobindo Ghose and urged him to come and preside over the Congress session, but he refused.
The Congress session took place in December 1920. It was attended by over 3,000 members of the Reception Committee, nearly 15,000 delegates and thousands of common people. Dr Paranjpe and Hedgewar were in charge of lodging and food for the delegates.
Jailed for ‘sedition’
In May 1921, Hedgewar was arrested on charges of ‘sedition’ for his “objectionable” speeches at Katol and Bharatwada in Maharashtra region and imprisoned by a British judge for one year.
He was released in July 1922 from Ajani jail and the same evening, a public reception was organised in which then senior Congress leaders Motilal Nehru (father of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru), and Hakim Ajmal Khan also addressed the gathering.
When he decided to set up an outfit for Hindus
Hedgewar was appointed a joint secretary of the Provincial Congress in 1922. He was also part of the Hindusthani Seva Dal, a Congress wing of volunteers.
The Seva Dal was set up by Dr N.S. Hardikar of Hubli whom Hedgewar had known from his student days. The communal riots that broke out in 1923 in the wake of the Khilafat Movement proved to be a tipping point.
Hedgewar felt the Congress leadership failed to address the concern of Hindus and so it was the time to set up an organisation to unite Hindus.
Sent to Kolkata to train for revolutionary work
Hedgewar was sent to study in the National Medical College in Calcutta (now Kolkata) by the Nagpur Group of Revolutionaries in the middle of 1910.
He received financial help from Dajisaheb Buti, a member of the Nagpur group of revolutionaries. He was sent to Calcutta primarily to receive training for revolutionary work under the supervision of Pulinbihari Das, a top leader of the revolutionary group Anusheelan Samiti.
Supplied arms as member of a revolutionary group
As a member of the Anusheelan Samiti, one of the prime tasks of Hedgewar was to ensure distribution of underground literature and arms to other parts of the country.
His friends acted as couriers and whenever he himself went to Nagpur, he would take revolvers for revolutionaries there. His code name among the revolutionaries was ‘Koken.’
After completing his five-year medicine course, Hedgewar returned to Nagpur in early 1916. He got a lucrative job offer in Bangkok after clearing the final examination but he refused to take it up.
Instead, he set up a revolutionary group called ‘Kranti Dal’ with the help of Bhauji Karve, a nationalist from Nagpur.
One of his biggest influencers
One of the major influences on Hedgewar in his formative years was of Dr S.K. Malik, MS, MD from Edinburgh and principal of the National Medical College.
Dr Malik had stayed and practised medicine abroad for several years and yet his lifestyle didn’t bear any cultural influence of the West. He preferred to speak in his mother tongue everywhere and used English only while teaching in the college.
Hedgewar often used to quote Dr Malik’s example whenever someone flaunted use of English against the use of Indian languages.
His friends in Kolkata
Though Hedgewar had developed close affinity with all the important nationalists of Bengal, the two leaders who were closest to him were Shamsundar Chakravarti and Moulvi Liaquat Hussain.
Chakravarti had returned to Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1910 after a period of solitary confinement in Burma (now Myanmar). He regularly wrote fierce anti-British articles for ‘Prativasi’, ‘Sandhya’, ‘Vande Mataram’ and many other periodicals.
He was so poor that he would often have only a single ‘dhoti’ and would walk on the streets of Calcutta barefoot.
Hedgewar and his friends supported him financially, and made all the arrangements for his daughter’s wedding. At his daughter’s wedding, Hedgewar personally supervised all the arrangements.
Hussain was a devout follower of Lokmanya Tilak, and had taken the vow of swadeshi. He also ran a swadeshi provision store called ‘Kuber Vastu Bhandar’.
When Hussain was severely ill, Hedgewar personally nursed him and was constantly by his bedside for two months.
How RSS got its name
Though the RSS was founded on the day of ‘Vijaydashami’ in 1925 but the name of the organisation was decided much later.
On 17 April 1926, Hedgewar called for a meeting attended by 26 swayamsevaks. A detailed discussion followed to decide the name of the organisation.
Three names were finalised after several rounds of elimination — Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Jaripataka Mandal and Bhedratoddharak Mandal.
There were more deliberations on these three names and finally the name, ‘Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’, was chosen.
The writer is CEO of Indraprastha Vishwa Samvad Kendra, an RSS affiliate, and author of two books on the RSS.