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Downloads to date: N/A | Words: 15000 | Submitted: 31-Oct-2009
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His reform agenda was far ahead of his times. His progressive outlook can
be gauged by one instance – he directed that after his death his body be cremated in an
electric crematorium, since it is a cleaner way of disposing a dead body. Till today no
other major Indian leader has been cremated in an electric crematorium. Savarkar was
not ready to accept a tradition just because it had been around for centuries. He was
willing to make changes that were needed to keep up with the times. Savarkar was
prevented by the British for a large portion of his active life from participating in
political activity. As a result, the field was left open at Hindu Mahasabha for fanatical,
short-sighted leaders who could think of no other agenda for the party except that of
virulent anti-Muslim sentiment.
Author – Anil Chawla Page No. 18
In 1925, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was started with the objective of
working towards formation of a Hindu Rashtra (nation). During initial years, RSS
worked closely with Hindu Mahasabha leaders. RSS was intended to be a semimilitary
setup, though it claimed to be a socio-cultural organization. Its primary
purpose was to act as defenders of the Hindu faith. It provided arms training to Hindus.
Muslims were not allowed to be a part of RSS. The structure of RSS was identical to
that of the Catholic Church. It recruited fulltime volunteers who were called
pracharaks or the ones spreading the message. Pracharaks were supposed to follow a
hard life and not get married. RSS was an organization devoted to action; hence all
intellectual activity was looked down upon. A young pracharak reading a newspaper
might surely have been admonished by his superiors and ridiculed by his colleagues
for indulging in budhi-vilas (luxurious indulgence of intellect).
RSS’s vision of Hindu India had its roots in ancient glory of India. Yet, it was modern
in outlook. It accepted Swami Dayanand and Swami Vivekanand. The issue of idol
worship (opposed by Dayanand and accepted by Vivekanand) was left to personal
choice of each individual. Caste system was not accepted. RSS cadres attending camps
were supposed to take meals together, irrespective of their caste. This was a
revolutionary step for a Hindu organization at that time. During initial years, RSS
received no support or recognition from shankracharyas, saints and other orthodox
elements of Hindu society.
Ideologically, RSS during initial years was a mix of the modern and the traditional. But
fine-tuning of ideology was never an issue at RSS. This was an organization that
appealed to the hearts and had little use for people who had a good head. Till
independence, RSS played a very limited role in Indian political arena. It was only
after independence that RSS grew in stature and impact – more about that later.
During the period of 1925-1947, Hindu Mahasabha and RSS co-operated with each
other. In 1937, Hindu Mahasabha became a political party. RSS cadres tacitly
supported the Mahasabha’s efforts in elections held in early 1937.
The role played by RSS in freedom movement is a matter of debate. But it cannot be
denied that Hindu Mahasabha leaders participated in freedom movement under the
banner of Congress. It appears that RSS, as an organization, in spite of its nationalist
leanings and strong links with Hindu Mahasabha, kept away from politics (or freedom
struggle) to steer clear of the wrath of the British Government. This clever strategy
helped RSS grow. As a result, at the time of independence it had developed strong
pockets of influence in many areas of the country.
Author – Anil Chawla Page No. 19
RSS grew by adopting a strategy, which ensured that British did not bother about it.
RSS has never been accused of receiving the patronage of British. The same cannot be
said of Dr. BR Ambedkar (1891 – 1956). His parents were untouchables. His father
was a retired army officer and headmaster in a military school. He began his public life
in 1924 when he started 'Bahiskrit Hitakarini Sabha', for the upliftment of the
untouchables. Ambedkar adopted a two-pronged strategy: (a) Eradication of illiteracy
and economic uplift of the downtrodden; (b) Non-violent struggle against visible
symbols of casteism, like denial of entry into temples and drawing water from public
wells and tanks.
Ambedkar won two major victories when High Court of Bombay gave a verdict in
favour of the untouchables and he made a successful non-violent march and entry into
a temple. He formed a political party 'Scheduled Castes Federation' in April 1942.
Ambedkar never participated in the freedom movement. In fact, there is sufficient
evidence to prove that he opposed it tooth and nail. He opposed Gandhi as well as
Congress. His ideas were purely caste-based and made all attempts to play up the caste
divide. Gandhi’s concern for untouchables was not divisive and lacked a tone of
bitterness. Ambedkar spoke with bitterness and wanted to malign, divide and demolish
Hinduism. British rulers and Christian missionaries loved him because he spoke
exactly in their terms.
Ambedkar, like Jinnah, chose a narrow label as his defining identity. Soon he was a
slave of the label. His political existence depended on his identity as a Scheduled Caste
(a euphemism for untouchable). He could never outgrow that identity. In a way, he
became as much a pawn in the divisive game of British imperialism as Jinnah had
become. It is rumoured that after the holocaust of partition Jinnah realized his mistake.
The same cannot be said of Ambedkar. He continued with his bitter, no-holds-barred
casteist politics even after independence.
One does not know the popular support that Ambedkar enjoyed in pre-independence
India. He owed every single position in his life to either academic performance or
British / royal patronage. He was born in Madhya Pradesh. He spent good portion of
his life in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Yet, he represented West Bengal in Constituent
Assembly – a nomination that was secured by some deft backstage maneuvering.
Author – Anil Chawla Page No. 20
8. The Ones Whom British Hated
If one side of pre-independence political spectrum was represented by Gandhi, Nehru,
Jinnah and Ambedkar, the other side had men and women who lost their lives fighting
the British. They were political untouchables before independence and continued to be
so even after independence. They were revolutionaries. The official history of India’s
freedom movement does not give them any credit for independence. Yet, the emotional
response that their names evoke far surpasses the official recognition accorded to them.
Their contribution to Indian political thought has at best been marginal. They represent
the extreme romantic stream of Indian politics. Their most important contribution has
been to the building up of the common emotional core that makes India survive as a
country. Bhagat Singh or Mangal Pandey belonged to the country as a whole and not to
any province or caste or religion.
Bhagat Singh
The revolutionary, who continues to inspire emotionally to this day, but who also
achieved a fair measure of success at ground was Subhash Chandra Bose (born January
1897). Bose had worked with Congress and had risen to be its President. However, his
views did not match those of Gandhi and he was forced to quit Congress. He founded a
new party by the name of Forward Bloc. In 1941, he escaped from house arrest and
went to Europe where he met Hitler. With the help of Germany and Japan, during
World War Two, he organized and led Indian National Army (INA), initially founded
and commanded by Captain Mohan Singh. He also set up a Provisional Government of
India, which was recognized by Germany, Italy and Japan. INA achieved significant
military success against British forces. Bose’s slogan “Delhi Chalo” (Let us march to
Delhi) enthused the whole country except, of course, Congress leaders. Bose received a
setback when Axis forces started losing to Allies. In August 1945, he is reported to
have boarded a military plane that presumably crashed. The controversy about his
death continues to this date.
Author – Anil Chawla Page No. 21
The controversy about Subhash Chandra Bose’s alleged death underlines the strong
emotions that he arouses to this date. It is said by some that Subhash Chandra Bose
was the inspiration for a mutiny in Indian Navy during 1946. INA consisted largely of
prisoners of war of Indian Army captured by Axis forces. INA’s success had given a
legendary status to Subhash Chandra Bose in armed forces of Government of India.
Britain had ruled India with the support of armed forces consisting almost entirely of
Indians. A successful mutiny in armed forces would have led to a disgraceful end of
British imperialism in India. Some scholars are of the opinion that growing national
consciousness in armed forces was a critical factor behind English decision to quit
The Great Divide (Of 1947)
A painting by Arpana Caur
Author – Anil Chawla Page No. 22
9. Independence and Partition
On 15 August 1947 India attained independence. But a day before that a new nation
named Pakistan was created. This was the first time in world-history that a country
based solely on religion was carved out of a nation that traced her history to prehistoric
times. The bloodshed that this drawing up of new borders involved was never
anticipated by the leaders who had agreed to the partitioning. If there is one thing that
will always be at the backdrop of any political thought process in India, it is the
holocaust at the time of partition. The holocaust affected everyone in the country at the
emotional plane if not materially.
A Landscape With Knives
A painting by Alpana Caur
It is a miracle that after partition India did not become a Hindu country, just as
Pakistan became an Islamic state. There were many reasons for this and every historian
is likely to choose the reason that best suits his ideological leanings. Some have
commented that India chose to be secular because Hindu psyche is secular. One cannot
deny this fact, but it appears that the reasons for choosing to remain secular were based
on realpolitik.

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