Opinion

RSS deceived Mahatma Gandhi in 1947. Will it do any better by Pranab Mukherjee?

MS Golwalkar assured Gandhi RSS was not involved in Partition killings, only to threaten to expel all Muslims and ‘silence’ the Mahatma if he stood in the way.

In September 1947, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief MS Golwalkar assured Mahatma Gandhi that his organisation was not involved in the communal violence that was accompanying Partition. He claimed the RSS only aimed to protect Hinduism, not to kill Muslims. After Golwalkar’s assurance on this score, Gandhi agreed to attend an RSS rally in Delhi soon after.

Yet, less than three months later, Golwalkar was singing a different tune. Addressing an RSS camp in Delhi on December 8, he said that the RSS would not allow a single Muslim to live in India. He also said Gandhi could not mislead the RSS any longer and warned that the organisation had the “means whereby such men can be immediately silenced”.

It is an episode former President Pranab Mukherjee may want to remember when he addresses a convocation of RSS workers in Nagpur on June 7. Historian Dilip Simeon, who has written about the RSS and communalism, noted that it is good to engage in debate with all quarters in political life. “Coexistence requires openness,” he said. “However, dialogue requires truthful speech and the acknowledgement of wrongdoing.”

Simeon offered a checklist of questions for Mukherjee to consider: “Has the RSS family spoken the truth about their hatred for Gandhi and their sympathy for his assassin. Has it reconsidered its relentless animosity towards India’s Muslims, Christians and communists?”

Indeed, doublespeak has always marked the RSS, with its leaders forcefully defending its Hindutva ideology but periodically appearing to disown it as well. Its engagement with Gandhi in 1947 was of a piece with this strategy.

In his book Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase, Gandhi’s secretary Pyarelal recounts that Golwalkar visited the Mahatma in Delhi on September 12, 1947. “It was common knowledge that the RSS…had been behind the bulk of killings in the city as also in various other parts of India,” Pyarelal writes. But Golwalkar and his associates denied this, claiming “their organisation was for protecting Hinduism – not for killing Muslims. It was not hostile to anyone. It stood for peace.” As Pyarelal notes sarcastically, “This was laying on a bit thick.”

Gandhi said if this was indeed the case, the RSS should issue a public statement refuting the allegations against it and clearly condemning the killing and harassment of Muslims. Golwalkar and his associates said Gandhi could do it on their behalf. “Gandhi answered that he would certainly do that but if what they were saying was sincerely meant, it was better that the public should have it from their own lips,” Pyarelal writes.

At this point, a person from “Gandhi’s party” praised the RSS for its work at the refugee camp in Wah, now in Pakistan’s Punjab. “‘But don’t forget,’ answered Gandhiji, ‘even so had Hitler’s Nazis and the Fascists under Mussolini’,” writes Pyarelal. Gandhi, he said, characterised the RSS as a “communal body with a totalitarian outlook”.

Yet, he decided to attend the RSS rally on September 16 because he “felt he must give everybody a chance to make good his bona fides”.

Mahatma Gandhi speaks with a delegation of RSS workers in 1944.
Mahatma Gandhi speaks with a delegation of RSS workers in 1944.

‘RSS is expert at masking itself’

At the rally, Golwalkar described Gandhi as a “great man that Hinduism has produced”. In his speech, Gandhi said he was indeed proud of being a Hindu, but his Hinduism was neither intolerant nor exclusivist. “If Hindus believed that in India there was no place for non-Hindus on equal and honourable terms and Muslims, if they wanted to live in India, must be content with an inferior status, or if the Muslims thought that in Pakistan Hindus could live only as a subject race on the sufferance of Muslims, it would mean an eclipse of Hinduism and an eclipse of Islam,” Pyarelal reports Gandhi telling the audience of RSS workers.

Can Mukherjee add to Gandhi’s address 71 years ago?

In his speech, Gandhi also spoke about his meeting with Golwalkar and his associates. Pyarelal reports Gandhi saying “he was glad…to have their [RSS leaders’] assurance that their policy was not of antagonism towards Islam”.

Can Bhagwat better the assurance Golwalkar gave to Gandhi?

Simeon belives the RSS’ motivations for inviting Mukherjee are similar to the reasons it invited Gandhi to attend its rally in 1947. “The RSS is expert at masking itself,” he said. “Sensing popular disaffection, it is now positioning itself for the future by smiling at Mukherjee. The Sangh conflates truthfulness with cleverness; politics with cunning; and genuine religion with nation-worship, which is a form of atheism. It denounces Naxalite violence while celebrating that of its associates.”

The RSS was indeed being clever and cunning in 1947: it sought to allay Gandhi’s doubts about its intentions even as Golwalkar harboured another plan. The plan was first disclosed by the historian Ramachandra Guha in an article in Outlook and, subsequently, the journalist Bharat Bhushan wrote about it on Catch News website. This writer has seen the records of the Delhi police’s Criminal Investigation Department on which the articles were based.

Pranab Mukherjee with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat at Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2015. Photo via Twitter
Pranab Mukherjee with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat at Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2015. Photo via Twitter

Gandhi can be silenced’

It was GB Wiggins, superintendent of police, CID, Lucknow, who tipped off the Delhi CID about an RSS meeting in the city. Wiggins’ alert, in turn, was based on a CID report from Mathura. He was informed that 50 RSS men had met at the home of one Antu Lal Vaish at Gobardhan, Mathura, on December 1, 1947. They were told that a “meeting of the delegates from all over India is to be held on or about 8 Dec 1947 and the future programme would be chalked out”.

Based on the information provided by a source identified as “Sewak”, CID inspector Kartar Singh filed a report confirming that on December 8, 1947, Golwalkar addressed 2,500 RSS volunteers at the organisation’s Rohtak Road camp. After a drill, he explained to the volunteers the principles of the RSS and told them to prepare for “guerrilla warfare on the lines of the tactics of Shivaji”.

Golwalkar said the Sangh would “not rest content until it had finished Pakistan”. “If anyone stood in our way we will have to finish them too, whether it is Nehru government or any other government,” he declared, according to the CID report. “The Sangh could not be won over. They should carry on their work.”

It was at Rohtak Road that Golwalkar also belied his avowal to Gandhi that the RSS was not antagonistic to Islam. Inspector Singh reported Golwalkar saying about Muslims, “No power on earth could keep them in Hindustan. They shall have to quit the country.”

Then came his attack on Gandhi. “Mahatma Gandhi wanted to keep the Muslims in India so that the Congress may profit by their votes at the time of election,” Golwalkar is quoted as saying the report. “But, by that time, not a single Muslim will be left in India. If they were made to stay here, the responsibility would be the Government’s, and the Hindu community would not be responsible.”

Golwalkar was clearly hinting at violence that was to spare no one, not even Gandhi. According to the report, he said “Mahatma Gandhi could not mislead [the RSS] any longer. We have the means whereby such men can be immediately silenced, but it is our tradition not to be inimical to Hindus. If we are compelled, we will have to resort to that course too.”

A little less than two months later, Gandhi was assassinated.

Given the RSS’ track record, Simeon’s note of caution is pertinent. “Genuine conversation is impossible in an atmosphere of deceit,” he said. “By all means, let us have a serious debate about Indian politics – on communalism of all hues including Muslim communalism; and about violence from every quarter, including Maoist violence. But for such a debate we need honest speech. Is the Sangh ready for it?”

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

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist who lives in Delhi.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.