New Delhi: ‘Guruji’. For members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the larger Sangh Parivar, this word refers to just one person — M.S. Golwalkar.
The second sarsanghchalak (chief) of the RSS after K.B. Hedgewar, Golwalkar remained the ideological guru of the Right-wing organisation for 33 years, from 1940 until his death in 1973. He took the RSS to great institutional strength after independence.
He wrote a book in 1966 on nationalism and the idea of a nation, called Bunch of Thoughts. Historian Ramachandra Guha once equated the value of Bunch of Thoughts for believers in the political ideology of Hindutva to that of the Bible for Christians, or the Quran for Muslims.
On his 46th death anniversary, ThePrint looks back at Golwalkar’s life, his idea of India, and how relevant his ideas are today.
From Golwalkar to ‘Guruji’
Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar was born on 19 February 1906 at Ramtek near Nagpur to a Brahmin family. He was the only surviving son out of nine children.
In 1927, Golwalkar earned an M.Sc. from the Banaras Hindu University. He was greatly influenced by Madan Mohan Malaviya, the nationalist leader and founder of the university. Later, he taught zoology at BHU, which is when he earned the moniker ‘Guruji’.
The founder of the RSS, Keshav Baliram Hedgewar or ‘Doctorji’ as he was fondly called, came to know about Golwalkar through a student from BHU. He met Hedgewar in 1932 and appointed him sanghchalak at BHU.
A year later, Golwalkar returned to Nagpur to secure a law degree. In a search for spirituality, he left for Sargachi in Bengal in 1936, and spent two years in the service of Swami Akhandananda of Ramakrishna Math.
Upon his return, Hedgewar convinced him to dedicate his life to the Sangh. In 1940, when the RSS chief passed away, Golwalkar took over as sarsanghchalak at the age of 34.
Gandhi, Golwalkar and the ban on RSS
In the long history of the RSS, the most controversial chapter was its run-ins with Mahatma Gandhi, and later, his assassination.
The RSS has constantly faced criticism over non-participation in the Indian freedom struggle. In 1942, Golwalkar is said to have forbade RSS volunteers from taking part in the Gandhi-led Quit India Movement. He said that fighting against the British was not a part of RSS’s mission.
“We should remember that in our pledge we have talked of freedom of the country through defending religion and culture, there is no mention of departure of British from here,” he is reported to have said.
However, the RSS has maintained over the years that it played its part during the struggle.
In September 1947, as India was going through Partition, Gandhi met Golwalkar and told him he had been hearing about the RSS’s hands being covered in the blood of the riots. However, Golwalkar assured him this wasn’t the case, and that the RSS didn’t stand for the killing of Muslims; it only wanted to protect Hindustan. Later, in a letter to Sardar Patel, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said Gandhi told him he didn’t find Golwalkar convincing, a piece in The Indian Express said.
Months later, Gandhi, the father of the nation, was assassinated on 30 January 1948 by Nathuram Godse, a radical Hindu nationalist who is said to have been an RSS member. The RSS maintains that he had quit before committing the assassination.
In the aftermath of the event, Golwalkar and RSS members were arrested in February 1948. The RSS was also banned by home minister Patel.
Golwalkar decided to challenge the ban on RSS with a satyagraha, launched on 9 December 1948 in Delhi. The ban was finally revoked only in July 1949 after the RSS pledged allegiance to the Indian Constitution.
His idea of India
Bunch of Thoughts, which has become Golwalkar’s most cited work, is a collection of talks and lectures by him around RSS shakhas in India.
Golwalkar wrote about the glories of the motherland, or punyabhoomi, and its chief religion, Hinduism. The RSS chief wrote of Hindu society as the only one that could fulfil the grand mission of salvation of mankind. He also wrote about the caste system, defending it by saying that it kept Hindus organised and united through centuries.
Further, Golwalkar wrote about nationalism and what his idea of a nation was. He wrote that hostile elements within the country pose a far greater menace to national security than aggressors from outside. He saw three major internal threats to India: Muslims, Christians and Communists.
Talking about Muslims and Christians, he wrote that while they were born in the land, they were not true to its salt, and also didn’t feel a duty to serve ‘her’.
Further, his aversion to Muslims was such that he wrote that whatever the Hindu believed in, the Muslim wholly despised it, wrote Guha.
“If we (Hindus) worship in the temple, he (the Muslim) would desecrate it. If we carry on bhajans and car festivals (rath yatras), that would irritate him. If we worship cow, he would like to eat it. If we glorify woman as a symbol of sacred motherhood, he would like to molest her,” Guha quoted Golwakar in an article for The Hindu.
“He was tooth and nail opposed to our way of life in all aspects-religious, cultural, social, etc. He had imbibed that hostility to the very core.”
Golwalkar also rejected the concept of democracy because it gave too much freedom to the individual, and condemned Communism as a menace. He wrote that the “framers of our present Constitution also were not firmly rooted in the conviction of our single homogeneous nationhood”.
Guha wrote: “No one who reads Bunch of Thoughts can reach a conclusion other than the one that its author was a reactionary bigot, whose ideas and prejudices have no place in a modern, liberal democracy.”
‘Hindu Rashtra misconstrued’
However, the Sangh Parivar has argued that Golwalkar’s concept of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ has been misconstrued and vilified.
“Golwalkar believed that the values which the government adopted at the time of independence were from Russia in the form of Socialism, and Britain through the 1935 Government of India Act. And he believed that India should adopt its own culture and values. Hindu Rashtra had a broader meaning, which could be used to refer to faith as well as Indian society,” said Alok Kumar, international working president, Vishva Hindu Parishad.
“He believed that Bharat or India’s way of life, its culture and dharma were that of a Hindu Rashtra. The Hindu Rashtra encompassed enlightened nationalism and acceptance and tolerance of diversity.”
As his health started deteriorating, Golwalkar made one last tour across the country in 1972-73. It came just after India’s victory over Pakistan in the Bangladesh Liberation War, for which Golwalkar congratulated then-PM Indira Gandhi.
In March 1973, he returned to Nagpur for the last time. He died three months later on 5 June.
But by then, Golwalkar had already established the RSS as a socio-cultural organisation with political ambitions. Today, its offshoot, the Bharatiya Janata Party, stands as India’s pre-eminent national party.