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By Rajesh Sinha

RSS and BJP leaders, though not so much their lower level workers, have for long been claiming that Mahatma Gandhi had expressed his appreciation of the organisation when he visited their ‘shakha’ or camp.

This is perhaps an attempt at countering various kinds of criticisms and allegations levelled at the RSS by claiming to have a ‘character certificate’ from one of the greatest humans ever.

This year, on the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Gandhiji, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat lavished praise on the Father of the Nation and recalled his contribution to the nation and to humanity.

Bhagwat could not resist repeating an old claim made every now and then by RSS. He said Mahatma Gandhi had visited one of the group’s shakhas in the aftermath of India’s Partition and had interacted with volunteers.

The RSS chief made the remarks in an article on the website of the Hindutva outfit, which is the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, on the occasion of Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary.

“Gandhiji also visited a shakha near to his place of residence in Delhi during the tragic days of Partition,” Bhagwat wrote. “Its report was published in the Harijan, dated September 27, 1947. Gandhiji expressed his joy over the discipline of the Sangh swayamsevaks [volunteers] and complete absence of the divisive feelings of caste and creed in them.”

Bhagwat said that Gandhi had also visited a Sangh camp near Wardha in Maharashtra in 1936 and had later also met RSS founder KB Hedgewar at his ashram in Sabarmati, Gujarat. Bhagwat said that their conversation was now in public domain.

The account of Mahatma Gandhi’s visit to the RSS ‘shakha’ in his magazine ‘Harijan’ does not justify Bhagwat’s or RSS’ claims of Gandhiji being appreciative of RSS – except that it was a “well-organised, disciplined body”. In a previous visit years earlier, he had also “been very well impressed by their discipline, complete absence of untouchability and rigorous simplicity”.

On the visit in September, 1947, it seems Gandhiji was advising the RSS to pursue a line that would not divide Hindus and Muslims, reassure the latter that they are safe in India, while also mentioning that he had heard various complaints about the RSS but did not know about their authenticity.

Here is what the archived document says:

“Gandhi ji said that he had visited the Rasjtriya Swayamsevak Sangh camp years ago at Wardha, when the founder Shri Hedgewar was alive. The late Shri Jamnalal Bajaj had taken him to the camp and he (Gandhiji) has been very well impressed by their discipline, complete absence of untouchability and rigorous simplicity….”

“…He had seen their Guruji a few days ago. He had mentioned to him the various complaints about the Sangh that he had received in Calcutta and Delhi. The Guruji had assured him that though he could not vouchsafe for the correct behaviour of every member of the Sangh, the policy of the Sangh was purely service of the Hindus and Hinduism and that too not at the cost of anyone else. The Sangh did not believe in aggression. It did not believe in ahimsa. It taught the art of self-defence. It never taught retaliation.”

“…The Sangh was a well-organised, well-disciplined body. Its strength could be used in the interest of India or against it. He did not know whether there was any truth in the allegations made against the Sangh. It was for the Sangh to show by their uniform behaviour that the allegations were baseless….”

(From Harijan, September 28, 1947; Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol LXXXIX)

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