In October 1947, soon after India became independent, Pakistani troops had reached the borders of Kashmir. All the efforts of political leaders had failed. Time was ticking. In these conditions Sardar Patel sent a message to the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), MS Golwalker, requesting him to use his influence to prevail upon the Maharaja to accede to India. ‘Guruji’, as he was fondly called, cancelled all engagements and rushed to Srinagar from Nagpur to resolve the delicate matter. A meeting between Guruji and Maharaja Hari Singh was arranged. This historic meeting on the issue of national honour ended successfully, after which the Maharaja sent the accession proposal to Delhi, and Guruji directed the RSS workers in Jammu and Kashmir to shed their blood to the last drop for the integrity of the nation.
Thanks to the important contribution of these unsung heroes, along with that of our army, we were able to save Kashmir from the clutches of Pakistan and protect and preserve our national honour.
Today, with over 5 million active members assembling in 40-50,000 shakhas each day across India and over 100 affiliate bodies, the RSS is certainly a force to reckon with. With such an extensive network they have successfully conducted mass movements for the greater good of societies. The RSS runs 27,000 Ekal Vidyalayas (schools) in remote tribal areas where more than 8 lakh socially deprived tribal students are enrolled. This is just one of their many initiatives.
The sacrifices rendered by RSS activists and their contribution in protecting India during Partition deserves special mention in India’s history. Whether it was charging the entire atmosphere by taking out processions during the independence struggle, or collecting information about Pakistan’s military activities and of the possible Kashmir invasion, or even the famous ‘Martyrs of Kotli’ incident where the heroism and gallantry of swayamsevaks proved they are even ready to lay down their lives to protect the honour of their Motherland.
During the Sino-Indian War in 1962, the contribution of the RSS was immense. Swayamsevaks from across the nation assembled in the northeast of India to help the army as well as the locals during those trying times. Their dedicated contribution was recognised by the whole nation when then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, as a special gesture, invited the RSS to take part in the Indian Republic Day parade of 1963. In fact, it is believed Nehru was against the RSS purely for political reasons. The RSS was banned on Nehru’s orders because he suspected Vallabhbhai Patel would form a political alliance with them and challenge the Congress.
During Partition, when Nehru was finding it extremely difficult to stop the bloodshed, it was the RSS that helped organise over 3,000 relief camps for the refugees from Pakistan. During the 1965 India-Pakistan war, at the request of then PM Lal Bahudar Shastri, RSS volunteers successfully maintained law and order in the country and are said to be the first to donate blood. When Pakistanis were trying to take over Jammu and Kashmir, it was the dedicated and sacrificing swayamsevaks who cleared the snow from the airstrips and repaired airfields so that the Indian air force could land their aircraft. Also, not many people know the RSS also actively participated in the liberation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli from Portuguese occupation. Noted journalist Kushwant Singh, who had otherwise been openly critical of the RSS, acknowledged the fact that the RSS was instrumental in helping Sikhs in large numbers when murderers went on rampage to kill them in Delhi in the gruesome 1984 anti-Sikh riots, where even government machinery failed.
Even today, whether it is natural disasters like the Tamil Nadu Tsunami, the Gujarat earthquake, the Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand floods, or manmade disasters like the Bhopal gas tragedy or the recent Assam riots, RSS swayamsevaks are the first to reach those in need of help.
In spite of their selfless service to the nation and immense contribution to nation-building, the RSS is among the most infamous outfits in the country today. It is panned as an intolerant, extremist group that is, sadly, even compared to militant organisations at times. Bashing the RSS has become fashion. Many feel this fear is being deliberately stoked among people for vested political interests by those who want to make the foundation of their political careers by practising the ‘divide and rule’ policy.
Following Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948 by a “former” member of the RSS, Nathuram Godse, many prominent RSS leaders were arrested and it was banned as an organisation. A commission of inquiry into the conspiracy of murder of Gandhi was set up and its report was published by India’s Ministry of Home Affairs in 1970. The ‘Justice Kapur commission’ noted that the RSS was not responsible for the murder of Mahatma Gandhi.
Basically, the RSS is a pro-Hindu organisation, and being pro-Hindu doesn’t mean it is anti-Muslim or anti-Christian. In fact the basic founding principle of the RSS is “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” – the vision of the whole world as one family. The guiding principles towards this vision are voluntary service to the nation for socio-economic welfare and development. Their ultimate goal is to inspire in every Indian the spirit of unity, self confidence and the feeling of national pride. They strive to make India most prosperous and a powerful world leader.
It is these strong ideals of the RSS that have gone into the making of great visionary leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the soon to become Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, whose popularity has created ripples not just in India, but across the world. Their policies of inclusive growth have become a benchmark for all and their good governance is talked about in very high regard. The strong character of a swayamsevak is built by inculcating the virtues of nationalism, selfless service and discipline, all three of which are equally important in the upliftment of society and walking the path of ‘sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own.
Priti Gandhi is co-convener, BJP Communication Cell, Maharashtra. She tweets at @MrsGandhi.