The objective of this series is to record, for the present and future generations, the story of the struggles and achievements of the eminent sons and daughters of India who were instrumental in our national renaissance and attainment of independence. Except in a few cases, such authoritative biographies are not available.
The series is planned as handy volumes written by knowledgeable people, giving a brief account, in simple words, of the life, time and activities of these eminent leaders. The volumes do not intend either to be comprehensive studies or to replace the more elaborate biographies.
Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar was a devoted exponent of Indian culture. He was at once a dedicated, righteous nationalist and a man of free will. In founding the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, he also ensured that the slumbering masses of the country were enlightened. This book not only sums up life and times of the illustrious freedom fighter but also brings to the fore hither to unknown facets of his life.
Prof. Rakesh Sinha, the writer, is an academic at the Delhi University. He is also a well-known columnist and a political commentator.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been the matter of extensive and intense debate in India’s political life and the academia. It is an undeniable fact that a comprehensive understanding of the life and ideological disposition of the founder of any organization is essential in order to truly understand the social philosophy, political outlook and culture of that organisation. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the RSS and its founder Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar are synonymous with each other.
Concurrence or dissonance with any organization and its ideology is, of course, an intrinsic part of democratic polity, but ignorance of the founder of an organization whose influence has permeated every walk of life, only gives rise to ill-informed discourse that leads in debilitating misconceptions. The result is an incomplete and every faulty evaluation of ideological movements and the journey they have traversed, much to the detriment of national life. Dr. Hedgewar’s life sadly, is a victim of many such misconceptions, many of them done deliberately. His alleged aloofness from the freedom movement is one such misconception. The facts presented here are helpful in revealing how far removed from reality such misconceptions are.
The year 1921 is cataclysmic in the history of India’s freedom struggle for a host of reasons. It was in this year the Non-cooperation Movement had thrown a serious challenge to the British imperialism. The year witnessed colonial repression of Indian nationalists and Dr Hedgewar was one of them. The British government filed a case of ‘sedition’ against him at Nagpur for his aggressive role in the movement. And it was during the course of this trial that Dr. Hedgewar had condemned colonialism as an inhuman, immoral, unlawful and cruel from of rule and supported all forms of opposition to the British legal system, police, administration and imperial rule. His fearless and unyielding defence of anti-colonial stance infuriated the trial magistrate to the extent that he declared Dr. Hedgewar’s defence arguments as “even more seditious” than his earlier speeches. Indeed, it is because of his revolutionary activities that the colonial government had placed him in the list of “probable dangerous political criminals” a full seven years earlier! Six years before, (in 1909), Dr. Hedgewar had been accused of instigating people against the regime and hurling a bomb on a police outpost. Prior to that too, he was expelled from a school in Nagpur for boldly proclaiming “Vande Mataram” and resolutely refusing to apologize for doing so.
Dr. Hedgewar was also imprisoned for leading the Forest Satyagraha during another Gandhian mass agitation, i.e., Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930. He was imprisoned for nine months for his role in the Civil Disobedience Movement. His anti imperialist remained undiminished till his last breadth on June 21, 1940, at a time when many revolutionaries, prominent among whom were Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Trailokyanath Chakravarty, were beginning to be drawn to him. In fact, Bose happened to meet him just one day before his death, owing to his sense of duty, patriotism, organizational capability and revolutionary background. One can imagine Netaji’s agony on seeing Dr. Hedgewar on his deathbed.
There are innumerable instances of Dr. Hedgewar’s participation in the freedom movement, but his activities and thinking were not confined to the issue of the country’s freedom alone. The basic question of how and why the ancient Indian nation suffered defeat and slavery, and how this nation could again be organized and made a powerful one, bothered him continually. It was Hedgewar’s firm conviction that the work done for the benefit of the nation, its organization and renewal was indeed a ‘divine task’. And it is keeping this very purpose in mind that he established the RSS in 1925. He founded the Sangh in a remote, barren and forgotten part of Nagpur called Mohitewada; in a short span of time, it spread to all provinces of the country. More importantly, Dr. Hedgewar also strove to establish a symbiotic relationship between the organization, society, culture and the nation. Hedgewar’s total and selfless commitment to the cause of national regeneration can be gauged the fact that despite being the inspiration behind the establishment, spread and influence of the RSS, he was ever hesitant to step into the limelight. He thus became an example of how an individual ought to conduct himself in public life, eschewing self-interest and ambition.
Dr. Hedgewar had never hankered for self promotion, publicity or taking credit for any work he performed for people, society or nation. As a revolutionary he had been trained to work from background and he internalized this idealism as an integral part of his personality. As a Congress worker he performed many tasks including both as campaigns and otherwise and his attitude and temperament made him popular among his comrades as well as senior leaders. He kept himself away from publicity or demonstrating his status that even after a decade of the Sangh’s founding, the provincial government of the Central Provinces continued to believe that it was Dr B S Moonje, a Hindu Mahasabha leader and a close associate of Dr Hedgewar, was the founder of the RSS! He even discouraged the writing of his biography during his lifetime. Rejecting Dmodar Pant Bhat’s repeated entreaties in this regard, Dr. Hedgewar said: “I am wholeheartedly grateful to you for the affection and respect you have for the Sangh and me. Your desire is that my life-sketch should be published. But I do not consider myself to be so great, or that there are such important incident in my life that deserve to be brought to light. Also, there are no pictures of me or the programmes of the Sangh. Briefly, all I can say is that my life does not quite fit the criteria of biographies of individuals. I therefore, request you not to pursue this task.”
The first small booklet about Dr. Hedgewar could be published only after his death. This was a work by V.N. Shende in 1941. Later, his life-sketch was penned by Narayan Hari Palkar two decades later. There were many articles, remembrances and Dr. Hedgewar’s speeches which were published in the newspaper of the Central Provinces. However, as these had not been studied previously, amny instances and event of Dr. Hedgewar’s life and also his social and political outlook remained unravelled. In the political and academic worlds particularly, the one-sided discourse has cast its shadow on the evaluation of Dr. Hedgewar’s life. Questions have also been raised regarding his participation in the freedom struggle and his nationalist ideology.
As a student of political Science at Delhi University, I first did work on Dr. Hedgewar in the Form of my dissertation titled “Political Ideas of Dr K.B. Hedgewar” during 1988-89. From then I continued my research on the topic of the participation of the RSS in the India’s freedom struggle and Dr. Hedgewar’s life. Amid this, I was approached by the Publications Division of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, requesting me to write a biography of Dr. Hedgewar. In this book therefore, I have tried to piece together many known and hitherto unknown facets of Dr Hedgewar’s life, his political outlook and worldview, Possibly, this endeavour of mine might contain some lacunae. It is my view that the evaluation of those figures that have become part of history is not all that difficult. But those extraordinary individuals, who continue to influence generations even after they have themselves passed away, and also remain relevant in the present as well as future, can be adequately evaluated only by the history of the coming ages. Dr. Hedgewar, without doubt, falls in the latter category.
Dr Hedgewar’s life and mission were dedicated to cultural quest for the soul of India. He has emerged as the father of alternative ideological paradigms, symbols and inspirational substance of the country. The study, interpretation and impact of Dr Hedgewar’s life and mission, therefore, cannot have a full stop.
During the course of my research in national and state archives on the RSS and the freedom movement, I came across innumerable documents and literature on both Dr. Hedgewar and RSS. These have not been properly traced and used in the academic world. This is also a reflection of the state of affairs in the Indian academic world a movement and ideology that has so powerfully influenced the society, culture and politics was willfully ignored or neglected.
I acknowledge with gratitude the help I have received from the staff of the National Archives of India at Delhi, the state archives of different states, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (New Delhi), Tilak Memorial Museum (Pune), the Ratan Tata Library, the Sapru House Library, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the Director and Editorial Board of the Publications Division for their active cooperation. Besides, this work could not have been possible without the help of many thinkers and writes who guided me during completing the manuscript. It includes the veterans like late Dattopant Thengadi and K S Sudarshan.
The biography carries weight when it satisfies queries of its readers. Compliments, book reviews and critical notes all collectively help to carry out further research to theorise the vision and action of personalities who shape the destiny of society, nation and civilization. One such compliment which genuinely gave me satisfaction is by Dr Mohan Rao Bhagwat, presently the Sarsanghchalak of RSS, who said, “I give 9 marks out of 10”. I am confident that I shall continue to receive constructive suggestions from all esteemed readers, which will certainly enable me to improve the forthcoming editions of this book. The photographs used in this volume have not been published earlier.
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