Gandhi and the RSS – By Ramachandra Guha
This column appears days before the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. That anniversary shall be observed at a time when a former pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is the country’s prime minister, and when the RSS exercises a hegemonic hold over our political and social life. On October 2, nice things will be said about Gandhi by the prime minister, and by other people affiliated with the RSS as well. It is therefore important to alert readers to the historical record, to set out the facts about the concrete relations between the RSS and Gandhi while the Mahatma was alive.
The first reference to the RSS in the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi occurs in Volume 87 of that series. The year was 1947; the month, April. At a prayer meeting in Delhi devoted to the importance of Hindu-Muslim unity, Gandhi noted that he had received a letter from the RSS denying that they had any hand in the recent protests against Gandhi’s practice of juxtaposing verses from the Quran with verses from the Gita in his meetings. Gandhi said he was glad to hear of this denial, adding: “No organization could protect life or religion if it did not work absolutely in the open.”
In September 1947 Gandhi met with a group of RSS workers in New Delhi. He told them that “in order to be truly useful, self-sacrifice had to be combined with purity of motive and true knowledge”. He had heard that the Sangh was not particularly well disposed towards Muslims. He himself believed that Hinduism was not an exclusive religion, and that Hindus “could have no quarrel with Islam”. The strength of the RSS, thought Gandhi, “could be used in the interests of India or against it”.…
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