This interview is in continuation of the “Conversation with Mr. Shridhar Damle on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) (Part-II)” which was published on NewsGram on 22 August 2020.
Kashish: Some people claim that RSS is an “Anti-Muslim” organization. How will you oppose this view?
Shridhar Damle: As I mentioned said earlier, RSS started in 1925, and before that Mahatma Gandhi did an experiment on the Hindu-Muslim Unity with the Khilafat Movement to gain freedom. After Kemal Pasha (Former President of Turkey) abolished the Khalifat in Turkey, there was a counter-reaction for riots against Hindus and promotion for the pan-Islamism in India. Among the Muslim political spectrum, academics identified two different schools of thought- One is the educated Muslim, which they describe as the “Aligarh school of thought”.
Sir Syed Ahmed started the Aligarh Muslim school with support from the British, and he mentioned that Hindu and the Muslim cannot work together (Ref: Sir Syed Ahmed on the present state of Indian politics consisting of speeches and letters. pioneer press. 1888. p. 29) but, he wanted to have a share in the British Administration with 50-50% while the Muslim population reached 25% in 1947. The Aligarh educated Muslims wanted to have the veto power where no government can pass the law to reform any Muslim legal or social system.
The second school of thought known as the “Fundamentalist or Conservative school” goes back to the 1300 Century.
If you read the book “Muslim Politics in India” by Hamid Dalwai who was a Muslim social reformer and who demanded a common civil code, equality, and the law against Talaq in 1963, you’ll see that in his book he has mentioned a historical document after the `100 years of Sultanat in Delhi and gave a detailed account about the Muslim religious leaders or Maulavis who are concerned with the establishment of Islam in India. Muhammad bib Kasim conquered Sindh in 715 AD, and almost 400 years (exact 1192) to established rule in Delhi to be a major power. And even after 100 years, still, the majority or more than 90% population were the Hindus. So Ulemas (Muslim religious Maulavis) wanted the application of Shariyat by either giving the choice- Be a Muslim or else die! The Sultanate didn’t want that kind of oppressive practice because Muslims were a microscopic minority in India. They needed Hindus’ help in the administration and earn revenue. So Muslim rulers delayed, and faced criticism from Ziauddin Barani’s Fatawa-i Jahandari, Circa 1358-9 A.D and the same thing happened with the Mughals also, till the Aurangzeb. So these are Short description of the two schools of thought among Muslim Nationalism.
So, when the British ruled India, most of the Muslims believed that the British captured India from the Muslims which was not true. The British captured India after defeating the Marathas and Sikhs. But, the second school of thought which has been known as the “Deoband School of Thought” believed that Muslims had the right to rule India, So that led to the riots in India from 1871 till today. So, all these things happened at that time, and, if you study the riots, you will find that the prime facet of the riot is that it is a sudden and surprise attack. If you’ll observe them closely, then you’ll see that most riots happened on the issues of slaughtering the cows or the Hindu procession. So as a counterpart, you can see in the history of the 18th century or 19th century the uprisal of caste Hindu reactions. The general belief that you can say, as a paramilitary organised group RSS rose to defend the Hindus, but if you observe the riots, the interesting part is that a large role in the riots from the side of the Hindus was always played by caste groups- whether Jats, Patels, Marathas, Reddys, Yadavs; etc.
RSS till 1947 was mostly an urban organization in Maharashtra, MP, UP, and Punjab. When riots outbroke, the pro-Hindu nationalist newspaper highlighted these riots, then RSS got the label as “Anti-Muslim”. Historical facts that RSS members in Punjab and Kashmir, used arms, as other Hindus did in UP, Bihar, Bombay presidency, etc. During the time of Partition, Hindu nationalists adopted a militant point of view, as a Tit-To-Tat view regarding that progress.
Kashish: So, how can we defend this “Anti-Muslim” view regarding RSS at this point?
Shridhar Damle: Pre-Partition Indian riots had historical baggage. RSS along with Hindu Maha Sabha and Congress considered India in the form of “Bharat Mata”, so they couldn’t tolerate the idea of Partition. Now, I have got in front of me, RSS views regarding the Muslims, and I am quoting this from the authentic biography of Dr. Hedgewar by N.S Palker which was written in 1960 and which was translated into Hindi by Deendayal Upadhyay.
Dr. Hedgewar in 1935 said that: “Along with Muslims; Christians, Parsis, and Jews are also a part of India, so why there’s only a call for the Hindu-Muslim Unity?”. What Hedgewar here emphasized here is that there are different religions, different sects, or castes, and sub-castes, but the Nation is one!
In 1935, Dr. Hedgewar mentioned that Mahatma Gandhi advocated Hindu-Muslim unity, and referred Gandhiji’s quote that “An average Muslim is a rowdy and an average Hindu is a coward”. So, Gandhiji tried to appease the Muslims for Hindu-Muslim unity.
When Dr. Hedgewar quotes from Mahabharat, he said- “Unity can happen at the equal state or equal level”. There’s no unity between the strong and the weak people! So he advocated organizing Hindus to implement the legal right of self-defense with disciplined collective action.
In his editorial at “Swatantra,” Dr. Hedgewar mentioned one of the points of view, which said that according to the British, if they leave India, there will be a state of violence between the Hindus and the Muslims. This is a wrong concept! The matter of fact is that the British skillfully exploited the quarrel between the two. And, those who believe in the Hindustan, as a motherland, include the good Muslims also.
Dr. Hedgewar’s follower Yadav Rao Joshi, who used to stay with Dr. Hedgewar for 7 Years, wrote an article, and in it, it was mentioned that “we cannot keep any person aside because he is a Muslim”. And then he mentioned that Maulana Liyaqat Hussain and Samiullah Khan who became Mayor of Nagpur were two close friends of Dr. Hedgewar. All of these things happened in Dr. Hedgewar’s lifetime. But, during the partition time, the historical fact was that the Hindu-Muslim relationship carried historical baggage from thousands of years, and, Riots and Partition added more weightage to it. To wipe up such feelings from that decade. Now, from 1960, if you look at the RSS view for the Muslims, then it is to be mentioned that Golwalkar Guruji had good relations with the Muslims in the Nagpur area. Journalist Golwalkar Guruji told Iranian journalist Jilani that political leaders and religious leaders are a hindrance to Hindu-Muslim cordial relationship.
Another thing I noticed while doing the research is that the RSS has 36 Parivar organizations. Except for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), all the 35 organizations are named as “Bharatiya” and not “Hindu”. And, they open the door for all the people from all the religions or the class or regions, and Women are also included.
During the formation of Jan Sangh, it was suggested that it should be named “Hindu Jana Sangh” but Golwalkar Guruji supported Dr. Shyama Prasad’s view to name it “Jan Sangh” because it should be open all and not only for the Hindus.
From the political viewpoint, in the 1952 elections, Jan Sangh presented a Muslim candidate from Ajmer. In 1957 also, they presented a Muslim candidate for a corporation area and in Delhi, 5 Muslim Jan Sangh Candidates won the Delhi Municipal Elections. In 1959, a lady Muslim corporate became the Deputy Mayor of Delhi. I want to go back, and inform you that in 1952, the Vice President of the Jan Sangh in Kashmir was a Muslim. There are many such instances like these. I think there are 75 schools in the Kashmir Valley, operated by the Muslims and supported by the RSS people.
In the 1950s, Deendayal Upadhyay advocated that all of the Indians are Hindu and then he coined the term called “Mohammadi Hindu” and “Jesus Hindu”. To this nobody paid attention because at that time, Jan Sangh was not a prominent party and Deendayal was not a prominent leader.
Another interesting thing we noticed is that, along with the Ram Janmbhoomi Movement, RSS leaders like Sudarshan and Balasaheb Deoras started dialogues with the Muslims and Christians. And the dialogue continued after the demolition in Ayodhya and in 2002 Muslim Rashtriya Manch was established. The Muslim Rashtriya Mach after 2002 was guided by Indresh Kumar and Sudarshan took interest in it till he died. The Muslim Rashtriya Manch has more than a million Muslim members.
So, From the 1980s, The RSS considered those who adressed India as “Bharat Mata” (Motherland) and those who respect the Indian culture, are proud of Indian literature, history, Saints and prominent heroes, prominent personalities like Shivaji Maharaj or Guru Gobind Singh are Hindus.
In the RSS’s “Bharat Bhakti Stotra”, they have included the names of saint Kabir and poet Rahman and Dadbhai Nowroji, who are prominent Indians. The RSS leadership since the beginning has no intention to work as an “Anti-Muslim” organization.
Kashish: Some People also view RSS as an organization that promotes Negative “Hindutva”. What will you say about this?
Shridhar Damle: It was Swami Vivekananda who used the word “Hindu Nation”. First time the word “Hindutva” as Hinduness was coined by Chandranath Basu (Bengali Literaturer). But, there was a difference of opinion regarding who is a Hindu. According to my research, there are 32 different definitions about who is a “Hindu”. For the first time, Veer VD Savarkar, articulately coined “Hindutva” for Hindu nationalism. He presented Hindutva as the cultural and historical foundation of Hindu Nationalism. But, Veer VD Savarkar, argued that though religion is apart Hindutva, it is not an ideological foundation.
In 1953, in the RSS pracharak Study Camp at Sindri, Golwalkar Guruji defined Hindutva as a “Universal Philosophy” while Savarkar had identified Hindutva as a Nationalist ideology!
We described Golwalkar Hindutva in our first book as “Positive Hindutva” based upon Vedanti’s philosophy of “the world is one family (Vasudev Kutumbakam). Whatever way you want to worship is your personal choice, but, you should also have respect for the other person’s freedom of worship. All religions are equal and all religions lead to salvation.
This is what I know about the RSS “Hindutva”! RSS’s basic was to organize the Hindu society.
Kashish: So, now, by and large, what do you think would be the aim of RSS to serve India?
Shridhar Damle: Again, what I would like to mention here is that RSS considers the definition of a “Good Shakha” as that Shakha, which can bring hope to the society, hope for the woman, and hope for the poor people. They are working on these following 5 Goals:
1. “Samrasata”- Feeling of Equality with the mindset of oneness; RSS wants to establish equality of all the people irrespective of religion, community, class, etc.
During my interview with Balasaheb Deoras in 1983, I asked him, “How does the RSS look at itself in the 21st Century? Caste-less society or caste-coordinate society?”
He told me, that RSS’s goal is “caste-less society” but, the caste system has its prominence from thousands of years, so he didn’t know how many centuries it will take to wipe out. Till then, the RSS accepts to have a “Caste-Coordinate” society with no feeling of a higher or lower form of discrimination. And, we wrote in our book “RSS A View to Inside” that it is the biggest challenge to the RSS about caste, linguistic or provincial identity of the Hindu community. We did mention that certain movements like the Ram Janmbhoomi Movement overcame these feelings, but after some time they have again emerged strongly.
2. “Sewa”- This ensures service to needy people by ensuring coaching centers/schools for backward children empowerment centers for women, help in a crisis, etc.
3. “Dharma Jagaran”- It brings religious leaders, caste leaders, and community leaders on a common platform to celebrate festivals and birthdays of prominent personalities and Hindu society celebration.
4. The fourth thing is that the RSS wanted Gaushala, they wanted Gaushala because it is economically profitable as well it will bring respect to the Hindu community’s feeling of treating cow as mother. The Gobar Gas (Cow Dung Gas) can be used for electricity, cooking fuel. The cow-dung can also be used as Mosquito-killer and fertilizer for organic farming. Gaushala would be a home for barren cow and old bulls. Gaushala would replace the old cow and bulls of poor farmers with young cows and bulls with the help of people’s donations, and thus, it will help in preventing illegal smuggling of cows and bulls to the slaughterhouse. RSS wants a national ban on cow slaughter to implement the Directive principle of the Indian constitution.
5. The fifth and most important for RSS is the preservation of the family system. According to the RSS view, the family is the most important foundation of society. RSS feels that urbanization forces a single-family system where husband and wife both go to work and come in the evening. Children also have so many classes, so when they come home the whole family gets busy with their mobile phones, arguing, or watching television. So, for this, RSS has a project called “Kutumb Prabodhan” which means that once a week the family has to come together for dinner where there will be no TV, no talk about the movies, no talk on Politics, no argument; just cordial and pleasant talk with love and affection. It is a very difficult task!
So, these are the 5 segments of the RSS’s agenda for a shakha. To implement it, each swayamsevak should work with the motto that “Charity begins at home”. So, start these activities with your servant, driver, laundryman, store persons, etc, in short, any person’s swayamsevak encounter. Start treating them as the members of your family with love, support their children in education, help them in need. Be a part of social service in the neighborhood slum area, daycare center, coaching class, be a mentor, establish a relationship as own family members.
RSS said that it didn’t want uniformity, but it wanted “Unity in Diversity”, and this will forever be the goal of RSS.
RSS wants rural development with available resources, provide water, electricity, roads, schools, health clinic, job skill training to prevent migration toward cities.
The dearest wish of RSS is providing a common well and common cemetery to all Environment-friendly villagers and a decentralized economy along with all India professional organizations as a check and balance to power politics of the political parties.
RSS feels that Bharat is a land of 5 lakh villages. The Villages should develop according to the need for time (use of modern technology for improving income), with an environmentalist attitude toward water and trees, the need of people for job skill training, social harmony, and women empowerment, unless Bharat cannot be a developed country. Along with the fulfillment of urban expectations, more emphasis should be on providing water, electricity, roads, education, and health care facilities. In spite of RSS almost 80,000 shakhas branches that included daily, weekly and monthly meetings, RSS able to reach out to 3,50,000 villages.
Long term goal is to reach out to 5,00,000 villages and the short term goals operate 1,00,000 (one lakh) branches at the end of 2022. Due to the corona threat, the goal may move toward RSS centenary year 2025. Meanwhile, RSS has selected 500 districts for model development on the pattern of the Chitrakut project of Bharat Ratna Nanaji Deshmukh’s Deen Dayal Upadhyay Research Institute. To achieve such an ambitious goal, RSS needs more shakhas and trained pracharaks.
This was the final part of the interview series with Mr. Shridhar Damle. You can read the other two parts here:
-By Kashish Rai (Twitter: @KaafyyFilmyy)