New Delhi: As we celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known popularly as Mahatma Gandhi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is all set to claim his legacy.
The RSS believes it is the true heir to Gandhi’s legacy’, a belief that stems from the fact that he was a staunch Hindu and that his thoughts on Hinduism, cow protection and economy, among others are those that are close to the Sangh’s heart.
The RSS has consistently been highlighting the fact that Mahatma Gandhi was one of its great admirers. In 1934, Gandhi visited an RSS training camp at Wardha in Maharashtra and was impressed by the fact that young men and boys from all castes were staying together and eating under the same roof, without being bothered by the caste of fellow swayamsevaks.
A month after Independence, on 16 September, 1947, while addressing RSS workers during one of his speeches in Delhi, Gandhi recalled, “I visited the RSS camp years ago, when the founder, Shri (K.B.) Hedgewar was alive. I was very much impressed by your discipline, the complete absence of untouchability and the rigorous simplicity.
“Since then, the Sangh has grown. I am convinced that any organisation that is inspired by the high ideal of service and self-sacrifice is bound to grow in strength.”
Incidentally, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, father of the Indian Constitution that enshrined the principles propounded by Mahatma Gandhi, had also visited Sangh Shiksha Varga (RSS training camp) in Pune in 1939. When Dr Ambedkar asked the RSS founder, Dr K.B. Hedgewar, whether there were any untouchables in the camp, the RSS founder replied that there were neither touchables nor untouchables, but only Hindus. “I am surprised to find swayamsevaks moving about in absolute equality and brotherhood without even caring to know the caste of the others,” Ambedkar said.
‘Gandhi and Upadhyaya held similar views’
Noted author and Dr Walter Anderson, who currently heads the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and who has authored several acclaimed works on the RSS, wrote an interesting essay in a compendium on ‘Integral Humanism” (published by Deendayal Research Institute), comparing Gandhi with the senior RSS pracharak and ideologue Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya.
Upadhyaya was one of the founders of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the erstwhile avatar of the Bharatiya Janata Party. “Intergal Humanism” is the official ideology of the ruling BJP.
In the essay titled Gandhi and Deendayal: Two Seers published in 1992, Anderson draws a comparison between Gandhi and Upadhyaya and finds many things common.
“Gandhi and Upadhyaya were primarily organisers and only secondarily interested in philosophic speculation… both men were charismatic figures,” Anderson wrote. “Gandhi transformed the Indian National Congress… His charismatic appeal as ‘Mahatma’ transformed the Congress into the effective action of the arm of independence movement… Upadhyaya also possessed the character of the saintly… He had a similar effect on the cadre of Jana Sangh.”
Both Gandhi and Upadhyaya kept away from direct participation in power and were sharp but grounded intellectuals. Their theoretical frameworks emerged from their ground-level experiences.
“Indeed neither (Gandhi and Upadhyaya) were intellectuals in the conventional sense of the term, that is erudite and sophisticated men with academic qualifications and long lists of books to their credit,” Anderson wrote.
Endless list of comparisons
The comparison doesn’t end here. Gandhi was an ardent supporter of ‘Swaraj’ and ‘Swadeshi’. Upadhyaya laid emphasis on the same philosophies when he talked about ‘Integral Humanism’. In fact, the rejection of the Western models of development was at the basis of both Gandhi and Upadhyaya’s thought process.
“Finally both were suspicious of political power and its corrupting effect on public figures. Neither held a political office and neither aspired to do so,” Anderson wrote.
Anderson added that Gandhi told his closest colleagues, a few months India attained independence, that “by abjuring power and by devoting ourselves to pure and selfless service of voters, we can guide and influence them”.
“It would give us far more real power than we shall have by going into government…Today politics has become corrupt. Anybody who goes into it is contaminated. Let us keep out of it altogether. Our influence will grow thereby (D.G. Tendulkar, Mahatma, Volume 8, Pages 278-280),” Gandhi
Andersen further adds, “ His advice of course was rejected by most of his Congress colleagues. Ironically Upadhyaya, the leader of a political party, would probably have subscribed to his view of politics.”
Upadhyaya wrote, “Today politics has ceased to be a means. It has become an end in itself. We have today people who are engaged in power politics rather than aim at political power with a view to achieving certain social and national objectives (Political Diary, Page-115)…”
Both Gandhi and Upadhyaya had reached the same conclusion that it is the quality of men and women in society that would ultimately determine the nature of the state. And the RSS feels that as the task of preparing such men and women has been carried out relentlessly for the last 93 years by only one organisation in the country — the RSS.
So it is clear that the true heir to the legacy of Mahatma is organisations such as the RSS and ideologues, and organisers and selfless patriots like Deendayal Upadhyaya.
This report has been updated to correct the year of Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to the RSS training camp at Wardha.
(The writer is CEO of Indraprastha Vihswa Samvad Kendra and author of two books on the RSS. The views expressed are personal).