India celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement on 8 August. It was this movement that had put India on an irrevocable path to independence from British rule, accompanied by Mahatma Gandhi’s rallying cry of karo ya maro (Do or Die).
It was this movement that established JP or Jayaprakash Narayan as a freedom fighter in the consciousness of an entire country. The movement shook the very foundations of the British Raj. It led to the imprisonment of lakhs of Indians, who left their homes behind and made sacrifices for the country. Despite the atrocities inflicted by the British, the spirit to die for the country couldn’t be suppressed.
‘Quit India’ Movement and Nationalism
The movement was, in a way, the climax of Gandhi’s efforts, ever since his return to India, to organise his countrymen into a united force. It was the apotheosis of the sacrifice and courage of crores of Indians. The Quit India Movement, under Gandhi’s direction, became a milestone in not just the long fight for Independence but also in the search for a national identity.
It was a spectacular display of nationalism, though not the kind of nationalism that is bandied about in TV studios and newspapers these days. The latter is defined by narrow-mindedness, hate, and bigotry towards oppressed minorities.
Gandhi’s nationalism was one of unity; his vision included simultaneous development of all castes, creeds, and communities. His nationalism was directly opposed to the nationalism in vogue today – in fact, it was the antithesis.
RSS Didn’t Participate in Struggle for Independence
Today’s generation might not be aware that it was the RSS, related organisations and leaders of their ilk that had refused to participate in the freedom struggle, branding it “superficial nationalism.” It is indeed surprising that today, the very organisation that bashes up individuals in the name of nationalism and declares anyone ‘anti-national’, chose to dissociate themselves from the struggle for Independence. There is an attempt to hide this dark truth of history.
On 24 March 1936, MS Golwalkar, the second chief of RSS, in a letter to RSS spokesperson Krishna Rao Wadekar said: “The Sangh should stay away from movements born out of fleeting moments of enthusiasm and emotion.”
For him, the freedom struggle was an opportunity to seek ‘momentary pleasure’. Golwalkar didn’t stop here. He further wrote: “The programme was born out of momentary enthusiasm and outburst of mercurial emotions and described all such attempts to overthrow the British rulers as Shallow Nationalism.” He implored Wadekar to instead focus his energies on establishing a branch of the RSS in Dhule-Jalgaon area of Maharashtra.
Golwalkar, however, did acknowledge some apprehension within the ranks on this subject. There were indeed some RSS workers who wanted to participate in the Quit India Movement. But Golwalkar issued a blanket ban on the participation by any RSS member in the fight for Independence.
In 1942, many RSS members were grappling with an inner turmoil. Still, the work of the Sangh continued unabatedly. The Sangh had sworn not to participate in the movement. Despite this, the workers had to deal with an inner conflict of sorts
– MS Golwalkar, RSS’s second sarsanghchalak
The Sangh even argued that the Independence movement was having an adverse effect on the country and Indian society.
Definitely, there are bound to be bad results of struggle. The boys became unruly after the 1920-21 movement. It is not an attempt to throw mud at the leaders, but these are products after the struggle. The matter is that we could not properly control these results. After 1942, people often started thinking that there was no need to think of the law
– MS Golwalkar, RSS’s second sarsanghchalak
Belittling the Sacrifices of Other Heroes
The Sangh’s logic here is beyond comprehension. Why were they so devoid of the feeling of patriotism? Were they, like Savarkar, facing pressure from the British? Or were they so jealous of Gandhi that they couldn’t bear to support a movement started by him? Many people were opposed to Gandhi’s principle of non-violence or ahimsa.
Great revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekhar Azad vehemently opposed Gandhi’s methods. This difference of opinion, however, did not result in them opting out of the struggle. They did not aid the British.
They took to revolutionary path of violent resistance and sacrificed themselves with a smile on their faces. The Sangh too could have forged its own path, separate from that of Gandhi. It could have participated in the struggle for Independence in its own way, but it didn’t.
Today’s generation will be even more surprised to learn that the RSS never gave due respect to the sacrifice made by our freedom fighters. In Golwalkar’s eyes, the sacrifices made by Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekhar were symbols of failure. He argued:
Our object of worship have always been such successful lives (Sri Ram). It is obvious that those who were failures in life must have had some serious drawbacks in them. How can one, who is defeated, give light and lead others to success
MS Golwalkar, RSS’s second sarsanghchalak
There is no doubt that such men who embrace martyrdom are great heroes… At the same time, such persons are not held up as ideals in our society. We have not looked upon their martyrdom as the highest point of greatness to which men should aspire. For, after all, they failed in achieving their ideals and failure implies some fatal flaw in them
MS Golwalkar, RSS’s second sarsanghchalak
Will anyone today dare to say that Bhagat Singh, Azad and thousands of others who died for their country were failures, not fit to be role models?
Aiding the British Rulers
It is no coincidence that no major leader from the RSS, save Hedgewar, ever went to jail during the Independence movement. Hedgewar was a Congress member when he was first imprisoned and some years later, he went to jail for participating in Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement. As a Sangh member, however, he was clear that the official policy was not to support the struggle.
Other right-wing organisation and parties, entities that believed in a Hindu nation, similarly stayed away from the movement:
Savarkar, the chief figure of inspiration for the RSS, even promised the British government that he would never indulge in politics against them after being released from the cellular jail. He stayed true to his promise. He joined hands with the Muslim League in 1942 and helped the British in crushing the Quit India Movement.
Then there was Syama Prasad Mukherjee, who helped establish the Jana Sangh, now known as the BJP. This is the same Dr Mukherjee that the BJP and the RSS worship as a martyr to the Kashmir cause. Mukherjee was a member of the Hindu Mahasabha during Savarkar’s time as its director. Hindu Mahasabha formed government in Bengal in 1942 in alliance with the Muslim League, with Fazlul Haq as the Chief Minister and Mukherjee as the Deputy CM. As the Independence struggle gained momentum everywhere, the tyranny of this government increased.
The same Dr Mukherjee who is presented as the ideal patriot by the RSS, the BJP and other Hindutva forces today, once wrote a truly astonishing letter to an English Governor; a letter that calls into question these parties’ very definition of nationalism.
In the letter dated 26 July 1942, Mukherjee writes:
The question is how to combat in Bengal. The administration of the province should be carried on in such a manner that in spite of the best efforts of the Congress, this movement will fail to take root in the province… Indians have to trust British, not for the Britain, not for any advantage that the British might gain, but for the maintenance of the defence and freedom of the province itself
How Can BJP Celebrate the ‘Quit India’ Anniversary?
If such a statement had been made today, not only would Dr Mukherjee be branded anti-national, there would be a court case filed against him in no time. He would probably also have to serve some jail term. Mukherjee is, instead, considered a hero today. What would have been heroic is if he had resigned from the Fazlul Haq government to participate in the freedom struggle and bring down the British. But that did not happen. He instead worked in cahoots with Jinnah and with the freedom fighters bearing the brunt of lathis. How can such a person possibly be an inspirational figure to today’s generation?
The Sangh, so quick to denounce students like Kanhaiya Kumar as traitors and bay for blood, should also issue statements on the likes of Mukherjee. Party workers create havoc in a college like Ramjas, sparing neither professors nor students. They accuse JNU of turning into a terrorist den. They should turn the focus of this scrutiny on themselves, take a good look at their own history, and then ask if they deserve to celebrate 75 years of Independence.
Once they do this, they should ask for forgiveness on bent knees for supporting the British and maligning our freedom fighters. I know, however, that this will never happen because it requires Lord Ram’s kindheartedness and sensitivity, which is something the Sangh never had.
(The writer is an author and spokesperson of AAP. He can be reached at @ashutosh83B. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This article was originally published on QuintHindi.)