This is today, the 132nd birth anniversary of Dr. Keshavrao Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) on Navvarsh-Pratipada, the first day of the Hindu new calendar year.
This day has acquired many names over the last thousands of years of cultural tradition of Bharat and is thus called in different ways in a number of languages with one common purpose, the beginning of the new year, i.e Guddi-Parva, Vasant-Navratra, Navreh, Ugadi, Vasanta, Navratra-prarambh and Chaitra-Shukla pratipada. It is also known as Yugabd Varsh-pratipada.
It was on this day that the young Keshav was born in the family of Baliram Hedgewar in 1889 in Nagpur, the then part of the Central provinces of British India.
Right from his childhood, Keshav used to think differently and with a sense of discrimination regarding his nation, society, history, yoke of slavery, British rule, independence, revolutionary acts and achievement of freedom. It started from his school days when he raised slogans of Vande-Mataram and inspired other students also to do the same on the occasion of the visit of a British School Inspector in his school. It was followed by his protest on the day of the golden jubilee ceremony of Queen Victoria by throwing away the sweets given by the school authorities to all the students.
This way of his life-style once led him to his suspension from the school. Later after passing his matriculation in Nagpur, he went to Yavatmal, Pune and finally, to Kolkatta in 1910 for further studies in the National Medical College for his medical course. He was sent to Kolkata by Dr. B. S. Moonje (a member of the Congress, who later became the President of the Hindu Mahasabha).
During his college days, he came into contact with the Anusheelan Samiti, a revolutionary group of freedom fighters in Bengal. His association with this group took him to a new level of activism, understanding and training of participation in the freedom movement of the country. After his graduation as a Doctor, Keshav instead of going for the medical practice, joined the social cause and started developing his proximity with the socio-political movement of Nagpur and the Central provinces.
He came into contact with the Hindu Mahasabha, Arya Samaj and Congress and took active part in their activities. His focus and vision was on how the country would get freedom from the yoke of Britishers. He focused on the welfare of the Hindu society in order to link it with the freedom struggle and consequently the independence as an eventual triumph.
To his good luck, Congress declared to hold its Annual All India Congress Committee meet at Nagpur which later was recognised as Nagpur Adhiveshan in the annals of history. It assumed a great significance in the freedom movement since non-cooperation call was given by the Congress leadership in this Adhiveshan in 1920.
Dr. Hedgewar as a frontline youth activist of Congress worked day and night to make the Nagpur Adhiveshan a resounding success. He came into close contact with the top leadership of the Congress and tried to understand intimately the ideological contours of Congress and the freedom struggle. Somehow, he wasn’t convinced with the shabby secular and passive attitude of the Congress, the leadership of which had by then completely taken over its control from Lal-Bal-Pal, the trio leadership of Congress, who were considered as the great nationalists by the members of Congress and the freedom movement followers.
Dr. Hedgewar was arrested on charges of “sedition” for his “objectionable” speeches in Maharashtra in May 1921. During the hearing of the case on June 14, 1921, he pleaded his own case and read out a written statement on August 5, 1921. After hearing it, Justice Smelly, a British judge, said, “His defense is even more seditious than his original speech”. In August 19 judgment, the judge ordered Hedgewar to give an undertaking in writing that he would not deliver seditious speeches for one year, and furnish a bail bond of Rs. 3,000.
Dr. Hedgewar’s response was blunt, “My conscience tells me that I am completely innocent. A policy of repression would only add fuel to the fire already raging because of the government’s vicious policies. I am convinced that the day is not far off for the foreign regime to reap the fruits of its sinful actions. I have faith in the justice of the omnipresent God. I, therefore, refuse to comply with the order for bail”.
As soon as he finished his reply, the judge sentenced him to one-year rigorous imprisonment. Dr. Hedgewar went outside the court, and delivered a speech before a big audience, “As you are aware, I have defended myself in this case of sedition against me. However, these days, there is an impression going round that arguing in one’s defense is an act of treachery to the national movement. But I feel it is highly unwise to merely get crushed like a bug when a case is foisted upon us. It is our duty to expose to the whole world the wickedness of the foreign rulers. That would indeed be an act of patriotism. And not to defend ourselves, on the other hand, would be a suicidal policy”.
He further said, “You may, if you so choose refuse to defend yourself; but for God’s sake don’t consider those who disagree with you as being less patriotic. If in the course of our patriotic duty, we are called upon to enter the prison or be transported to the Andamans, or even face the gallows, we shall have to willingly do so. But let us not be under the illusion that jail-going is all in all, that it is the only path for achieving freedom. There are, in fact, so many fields of national service awaiting us outside the prison. I would be back amongst you after one year. Till then, of course, I will not be in touch with the national development, but I am confident that by then the movement for ‘Complete Independence’ will have gained added momentum. Now, it is no more possible to keep down Hindusthan under the heels of foreign domination. I offer my gratitude to you all and bid you good-bye.”
On August 19, 1921, he was moved to the Ajani jail and was released only in July 1922.
Dr. Hedgewar, immediately after the successful completion of the Nagpur Adhivashan, and his jail release made it a point to have a threadbare debate and discussion with the emerging leadership of Congress led by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawahar Lal Nehru.
The most disturbing moment for Dr. Hedgewar came when he didn’t go with the idea of Khilafat movement and association of the non-cooperation movement with the Khilafat movement. He called it a sell-out and an attempt by the communal forces to make the secular forces (primarily Hindus) within the Congress a hostage to the whims and fancies of the Muslim communal thought and practice. He cautioned Congress leaders that such a political arrangement would encourage Muslim separatism in Bharat and would ultimately lead the nation to a two-polar political process in the country based on religious leanings.
His ideas didn’t find favour in the Congress circles and he was led to believe that the Congress wasn’t ready to accommodate his views on the issue. His direct association with the Congress from 1920 to 1923 led Dr. Hedgewar to certain important conclusions. He straightway went into the fundamental question of the slavery part of the history of Bharat and concluded that the British yoke of slavery was preceded by the foreign Muslim invaders’ subjugation of various parts of Bharat over the last one thousand years.
While analysing the struggle of Bharat throughout the last one thousand years against the foreign invaders, looters, rulers, proselytizers, barbarians, colonialists and exploiters, Dr. K.B. Hedgewar came to a profound conclusion that the actual long pending issue in Bharat pertained to the weaknesses of the Hindu society living from Karakoram to Kanyakumari over the last one thousand years.
He maintained that these inherent weaknesses could be overcome only when the Hindu society is oriented to the national cause with deep dedication towards the nation and the cultural ethos of the nation. In order to achieve the set targets, he said that it was initially paramount to unite the Hindu society with a common vision and purpose irrespective of caste, colour, region, language and creed.
Towards this end, he began to think in terms of launching a geo-politico-cultural movement based on the involvement of the whole society in a big way. Thus, came the idea of establishment of RSS, the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh. He assumed his responsibility of the organisation in the capacity of the Sarsanghachalak of RSS.
He, before launching the RSS, tried to persuade important people in the Congress to think in terms of his ideology and make a rational view of the socio-political situation in the country. But he failed to convince the already convinced Congressmen and women. However, he made a public declaration to the effect that he (Dr. Hedgewar) would launch a new movement to dislodge the thinking process of Congress in future that would replace the Congress completely in a period of 100 years thenceforth.
It was on the day of Vijayadashmi-Dusshehra that Dr. K.B. Hedgewar thus inaugurated the first ‘Shakha’ of RSS in Reshambag playground in Nagpur with a few small boys along with him in 1925, and what happened thereafter is history.
When the Congress adopted a resolution proclaiming “Purna Swaraj” (complete independence) as its goal at the Lahore Adhivashan on the banks of Ravi, Dr. Hedgewar wrote to the shakhas,
“This year, the Congress has passed a resolution declaring Complete Independence as its goal. The Congress Working Committee has called upon the entire nation to celebrate the 26th January 1930 as Independence Day.
We, of the Sangh, are naturally immensely happy that the All-India Congress has endorsed our goal of complete independence. It is our duty to co-operate with any organization working towards that goal. It is therefore suggested that all the Swayamsevaks of each Shakha meet at 6 p.m. on Sunday, 26th January 1930, at the respective Sanghasthans.
After offering salutation to the National Flag, i.e. the Bhagawa Dhwaj, the concept of Independence and the reason why this ideal alone should be kept before every one should be explained. The function should conclude with an expression of congratulations to the Congress for having accepted the ideal of complete Independence.”
As a natural consequence of this circular, all RSS shakhas observed Independence day. Hedgewar was again imprisoned for leading a satyagraha movement at Yavatmal, Maharashtra. He was awarded six months’ rigorous imprisonment and three months’ simple imprisonment (July 1930 to February 1931) for leading the movement in that particular area.
The biggest find of Dr. Hedgewar was Prof. M.S. Golwalkar, popularly known as Guruji in RSS. Guru Golwalkar stepped into the shoes of Dr. Hedgewar as the second Chief of the RSS from 1940 to 1973. Dr. Hedgewar passed on the baton of the organisation to his the best swayamsevak, and proved his judgement correct. RSS reached every nook and corner of Bharat during Guru Golwalkar’s tenure of 33 long years as the chief of organisation. The RSS of present, as the world’s largest voluntary movement/ organisation is the outcome of the seeds sown by Dr. Hedgewar and Guru Golwalkar.
RSS, which started its journey in 1925, is five years short of a century. With its vast membership throughout the globe, there is hardly any area of public activity, including politics, where RSS hasn’t made its deep permanent imprints over the last 95 years. It will be completing one hundred years of its existence on the day of Vijayadashmi-Dusshehra in 2025.
RSS has its dedicated affiliates in the fields of activities pertaining to students, labour, Vanvasis, education, social & humanitarian work, medical, environment, advocates and jurisprudence, religion and tradition, culture & civilization, publishing and research on history and archeology, Pravasi-Bhartiya and people of Indian origin in the world, Himalayan expeditions and yatras, strategic, diplomatic and public policy study, research and development and above all in the field of politics and public affairs.
The credit verily goes to Dr. Keshavrao Baliram Hedgewar, Doctor Ji, for the existence and classical spread of RSS, not only as an organisation but also as an ideological movement, catalyst of change and reform, hope for hopeless and soul for soul-less in order to create a new national order to guide the nation to pride, peace, progress and prosperity.
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