When former President Pranab Mukherjee visits the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s headquarters in Nagpur on June 7, he should advise its leaders to extend their skills in rewriting history to Bunch of Thoughts, a foundational text of Hindutva written by MS Golwalkar. In his book, the RSS’ second chief deliberately distorts Mahatma Gandhi’s statements to accuse him, without using his name, and his followers of perpetrating the “greatest treason on our society”.

In a chapter titled Territorial Nationalism: Its Fruits in his book, Golwalkar viciously attacks Gandhi. After Indian revolutionaries failed to dislodge the British Empire through violent action, the RSS chief writes, the Congress leadership decided to build a united front of Hindus with India’s four religious minorities – Jews, Parsis, Muslims and Christians. India’s Jewish community was too small to matter and the Parsis had developed “intense love for our motherland”, Golwalkar argues, so their presence in the anti-British struggle was not a problem.

But it was a mistake to rope in Christians who disregarded the motherland through their attempts to proselytise Hindus, he said. It was egregiously so in the case of Muslims because antagonism to Hindus was “so deep-rooted that whatever we believed in, the Muslim was hostile to it. If we worship in the temple, he would desecrate it. If we carry on bhajans and car festivals, that would irritate him. If we worship cow, he would like to eat it. If we glorify woman as a symbol of sacred motherhood, he would like to molest her. He was tooth and nail opposed to our way of life in all aspects.”

This thinking constitutes the Sangh Parivar’s conventional wisdom, testifying to Golwalkar’s influence.

What the Congress leadership should have done instead, Golwalkwar writes, was to remind Muslims that Mughal rule was over, that their forefathers were Hindu, and that they should return to Hinduism as self-respecting men. But the Congress leaders opted for Hindu-Muslim unity and inaugurated the policy of “Muslim appeasement”, a charge the Sangh flings against all political formations even today.

For this, Golwalkar squarely blames Gandhi. Though he does not name Gandhi, Golwalkar leaves no doubt as who he is referring to when he says, “Once a notable Hindu personality of those days, in a largely attended public meetings (sic), declared: ‘There is no swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity and the simplest way in which this unity can be achieved is for all Hindus to become Muslims!’ He did not even realise that then it would not be Hindu-Muslim unity but only Muslim unity as there would be no Hindu left at all!”

As is well documented, the phrase “no swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity” was coined and popularised by Gandhi. BR Ambedkar writes in Pakistan or The Partition of India, first published in 1940, that “Gandhi is never tired of saying that there is no Swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity.” The Bombay Chronicle reported Gandhi telling a rally on April 13, 1925, that for him “there was no swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity, the charkha and the removal of untouchability”.

Gandhi as traitor

Gandhi adopted Hindu-Muslim unity as a key project after supporting the Khilafat movement, which the Indian Muslims had launched to demand the restoration of territories taken away from the Caliphate, based in Turkey, after World War I. As early as May 1919, Gandhi wrote in Navajivan, “I think that the key to the speediest achievement of swaraj lies in swadeshi, Hindu-Muslim unity and the spread of Hindi as the national language.”

Gandhi’s view that swaraj was linked to Hindu-Muslim unity remained unchanged over the years. In a speech at Wardha on December 20, 1926, Young India reported Gandhi saying, “I am, if possible, more convinced than ever that swaraj is impossible to be attained if there is no Hindu-Muslim unity.” In a speech at Chapra, Bihar, on January 16, 1927, he explained to his audience that unless Hindu-Muslim unity was attained, “they could not even dream of swaraj”.

In a reply to a letter by a man named SD Nadkarni, Gandhi wrote on June 30, 1927, “I entirely agree with him [Nadkarni] that if there is no swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity, much less is there swaraj without the removal of the shame of Hinduism, which untouchability certainly is.” Indeed, Nadkarni’s reference to “no swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity” in his letter to Gandhi is proof of how deep the idea had seeped into popular consciousness.

As for the second part of the sentence Golwalkar ascribes to Gandhi – “the simplest way in which this unity can be achieved is for all Hindus to become Muslims!” – it did not show up in hours of searching the digital archive of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. So I turned for help to Gopalkrishna Gandhi, academician, former governor and Gandhi’s grandson. “There is not the remotest possibility, let alone any evidence, of Gandhi ever saying what is suggested or imagined that he said,” he emailed back. “Energies need not be wasted on responding to alleged statements when the alleger does not even give a reference or state when and where the alleged remark was made.”

Let alone asking Hindus to convert to Islam, Gandhi believed Hindus and Muslims should follow their respective orthodox religions while working for Hindu-Muslim unity. In an article titled “Hindu-Muslim Unity” and published in Navajivan on February 29, 1920, the Mahatma writes, “Unity will come about only when the Hindu, while scrupulously following his own religion, regards the Muslim as his brother…Hence, whenever I hear that a Hindu and a Muslim drank from the same glass or ate from the same plate, I feel sorry because an orthodox Hindu is bound to be hurt even on hearing of these things.”

Gandhi adds, “I think it impossible for a Hindu and a Muslim to marry and yet follow his or her own religion properly.”

Gandhi writes his dream is that a “Vaishnava, with a mark on his forehead and a bead necklace, or an ash-smeared Hindu with a rudraksha necklace, ever so punctilious in his sandhya and ablutions, and a pious Muslims saying his namaz regularly can live as brothers.” As an example of such a relationship, Gandhi refers to his stay in Maulana Abdul Bari’s home. “He sent for a Brahmin cook for me and even had my milk warmed by him,” Gandhi notes appreciatively of his host. “He is a non-vegetarian but he did not let me catch even a glimpse of meat in his house.”

Indeed, Gandhi’s religiosity makes it impossible to conceive him wanting Hindus to convert to Islam for Hindu-Muslim unity.

Even if we were to assume Golwalkar did not have Gandhi in mind while writing of the Hindu leader who wanted Hindus to convert to Islam for Hindu-Muslim unity, the RSS guru tells readers that those “who declared ‘no swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity’ have...perpetrated the greatest treason on our society”. Such leaders certainly include Gandhi.

Why treason? Golwalkar says this is because Hindu-Muslim unity knocked out the “ancient and indomitable faith in ourselves and destroy[ed] our spirit of self-confidence and self-reliance, which is the very life-breath of a people!” He calls “no swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity” a suicidal slogan and a failed slogan because “Muslim appeasement” led to Partition and the British too left India.

‘Guru of hate’

In contrast to his style of not naming leaders yet describing them in a way that readers can figure out who they are, Golwalkar, surprisingly, always names Nehru. In Bunch of Thoughts, he declares, “Jawaharlal Nehru had given the Muslims a written assurance that on the advent of swaraj cow-slaughter would not be banned keeping in view their ‘religious sentiments’.”

To this, Gopalkrishna Gandhi said in his email that it was inconceivable Nehru would have made such a remark.

The RSS has always found a use for falsehood. Akshaya Mukul provides an example in his book, Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India. After Nehru became the prime minister of Independent India, a delegation of Hindu leaders called on him to demand a ban on cow slaughter. Nehru heard them patiently and then asked, “Why do you people run a campaign that I eat beef?” The delegates denied they had spread this information, but suggested that the best way for Nehru to silence his critics would be to ban cow slaughter.

It ill behoves an organisation that swears by nationalism to propagate falsehood. Mukherjee should, therefore, urge the RSS to remove from Bunch of Thoughts the many falsehoods and insinuations, and the language of hate. It was for this that the historian Ramachandra Guha described Golwalkar as the “guru of hate”.

This is the second part of a three-part series on the RSS. Read the first part here.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist who lives in Delhi.