Nehru, Gandhi, and Sardar Patel sitting together
Jawaharlal Nehru, M.K. Gandhi, and Sardar Patel, 1946 | Commons
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On the midnight of 1 February 1948, the Nagpur police swooped down on M.S. Golwalkar and arrested him for conspiring to murder Mahatma Gandhi. While walking towards the police jeep, he told his supporters that the, ‘clouds of suspicion will soon be dispelled and we shall come out without a blemish.’

Six months later, on 6 August 1948, Golwalkar was released from prison, but with a caveat: to stay within the municipal limits of Nagpur and not engage in any kind of political activity, including addressing public meetings, writing articles or issuing statements. As there was no embargo on writing letters, Golwalkar used the opportunity and wrote to Prime Minister Nehru and Sardar Patel separately on 11 August 1948. In his letter to Nehru, he had raised a question about why he had been denied a “chance to clear my position and to convince you of my feelings and readiness to cooperate with the Government in these crucial times. Even now I hope our rapprochement is not afar.”

With no reply forthcoming for six weeks, Golwalkar wrote to them yet again on 24 September. In his missive, he had pleaded with both the prime minister and deputy prime minister that the ban on the RSS be lifted, and offered assistance in countering the threat of Communism in the country.

While specifically addressing Sardar Patel, the chief of RSS reminded him that, ‘I and all my co- workers have been striving from the very start to cooperate with you to bring the situation under control and make our Motherland invincible.’


Also read: Gandhi is a Mahatma, I am not, said Sardar Patel


Both the men replied back, and although Vallabhbhai Patel in his letter dated 11 September 1948 acknowledged the work done by the RSS in protecting the women and children who had arrived as refugees from across the border after Partition, he also sent out a strong message that the objectionable part arose when they, burning with revenge, began attacking Mussalmans. Organising the Hindus and helping them is one thing but going in for revenge for its sufferings on innocent and helpless men, women and children is quite another thing.

In the same letter, Patel had touched upon a sensitive issue and said that he was ‘convinced that the RSS men can carry on their patriotic endeavour only by joining the Congress and not by keeping separate (identity) or by opposing.’ Opening the doors for swayamsevaks barely a few days after Gandhi’s assassination and without prior discussion with members of the Congress, was not appreciated within certain sections of the party, including the prime minister. In a way, Patel’s letter to Golwalkar had brought into sharp focus the divergent views held by two Congress stalwarts with regard to the RSS.

A few days later, an officer in the Prime Minister’s Office or PMO, A.V. Pai, wrote to Golwalkar that the RSS, ‘was engaged in activities which were anti-national, prejudicial from the point of view of public good.’ Nehru also said that the objectives of the RSS were “completely opposed to the decisions of the Indian Parliament and the provisions of the proposed Constitution of India. The activities (of the RSS), according to our information, are anti-national and often subversive and violent.”

One wonders if it was the beauty of democracy and therefore the respect accorded to a stalwart of a leader like Patel, but in October 1948, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar was allowed to travel to Delhi to discuss the lifting of the ban. He first met Patel, after Nehru had declined to meet him as the prime minister had felt that it would not ‘serve any useful purpose.’ Unfortunately, Golwalkar’s meetings (he had had two by now) with Patel too came to naught and the RSS remained on the proscribed list. Patel also asked his office to issue instructions to Golwalkar to ‘make immediate arrangements to return to Nagpur,’ as restrictions on his travel which had been kept in abeyance, were now re-imposed.

The official order from the government of India stated that M.S. Golwalkar had committed to the RSS’ agreement, ‘entirely in the conception of a Secular State for India and that it accepts the National Flag of the country,’ which however did not suffice to end the ban because Golwalkar’s commitment was ‘inconsistent with the practice of his followers.’

Golwalkar was extremely disappointed with Sardar Patel’s response and in a letter dated 5 November 1948, he openly expressed his bitterness as follows:

I tried my utmost to see that between the Congress and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh…there be no bad blood, there be only everlasting mutual love, one supplementing and complementing the other, both meeting in a sacred confluence. I extended my hand of cooperation. With utmost regrets I have to say that you have chosen to ignore my best intentions. My heart’s desire to see the converging of both the streams has remained unfulfilled. 

However, his impassioned plea proved to be futile and after his subsequent requests to meet Patel were turned down, Golwalkar decided to defy the order, and stayed put in Delhi. There was a midnight knock on the door of a RSS functionary for the second time that year, the difference being that this time around, the posse of police had landed up at Delhi’s RSS chief and industrialist, Lala Hansraj Gupta’s bungalow on Barakhamba Road. Golwalkar was spared the ignominy of an arrest, but was put on the earliest flight to Nagpur. It was obvious that the door had been slammed shut on the RSS at Nehru’s insistence.


Also read: To counter RSS grassroots reach, Congress is reviving 96-year-old Seva Dal


Patel’s proposal of merging the RSS with the Congress was not only rejected by the prime minister, but also by the sarsanghchalak, who wanted the RSS to henceforth dedicate itself towards establishing Hindu hegemony in the country. He was also doubtful about Patel exerting his influence over the prime minister, and after virtually being hounded out of Delhi, Golwalkar had little option but to revive the spirit of his cadre.

He began by writing an open letter to the swayamsevaks contending that the ban was ‘an insult to the honour of the citizens of free Bharat,’ and suggested that shakhas be made operational despite the governmental order. In many ways, the letter was symbolic of Golwalkar’s assertiveness in independent India, and the stage was readied for a head-on confrontation with the government.

It was rather ironical that in December 1948, eleven months after Gandhi’s assassination, the RSS launched its first mass agitation using the Mahatma’s principles of non-violence and non-cooperation, demanding the lifting of the ban.

This excerpt from Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay’s The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right has been published with permission from Westland.

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