Culture

Answering Tomorrow’s Questions: Remembering Doctor Hedgewar

Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, or Doctorji as he was fondly referred  to, was the founding sarsanghachalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. 
Snapshot
  • No building, no infrastruture, just an open ground and the vision of one man Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar is what it took to build one of the strongest cadre based organisations that is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Dr Hari Seldon was a mathematician who lived in the future. Born in the 11,988th year of Galactic Era, Seldon grew up as a mathematician specialising in a branch of science called psychohistory. It is a statistical science that studies human behavior. He realised that the Galactic society in which he lived, was slowly crumbling down. So he established what came to be known as ‘Foundation’ at one end of the galaxy. This was created to steer Galactic humanity back into a vibrant civilisation through the ensuing centuries of barbarism after the inevitable fall of the Galactic society.

It aimed to reduce the chaotic barbarism to a mere thousand years. For this, Seldon said that a group of scholars would sit in isolation and gather all human knowledge silently. They would then publish a series of Encyclopedia Galactic. Thus was established the Encyclopedia Foundation, which was later famously known only as Foundation at the remote corner of the galaxy in an unnoticed small planet called Terminus.

Fifty years, after Seldon’s death, a vault opens during a planetary crisis in Terminus. And the hologram of Seldon explains the real work of 'the Encyclopedia Foundation'. They are actually 'the seeds of Renaissance and the future founders of the Second Galactic Empire.'

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Who could have thought that a bunch of isolated scholars working in a remote planet on encyclopedias would actually become harbingers of renaissance and builders of a new society on a galactic scale? And who could have thought a bunch of Kabadi playing youngsters would change the course of a history of a nation.

Dr Hari Seldon actually never lived. He is a fictional character created by Dr Isaac Asimov. But Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar really lived.

Dr Hedgewar was in a way, a real life Hari Seldon. Dr Hedgewar was in a way, a real life Hari Seldon.

He created the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS) in 1925. He wanted some boys in the neighborhood to come together every day for one hour in an uniform that one may today find laughable. These boys would do some physical exercises, sing some patriotic songs, play Kabadi and then disperse. There was no membership form. There was no attendance. There was no need for much of an infrastructure. These youths, the doctor predicted would become the powerhouses of the nation in various sectors.

It should have been as laughable then as it is unbelievable today. They came; they played and then they dispersed. But they networked; they branched out; they grew – these Kabadi playing boys in half pants. And like the science fiction ‘Foundation’, the Sangh faced crisis after crisis. There was no physical hologram of Dr Hedgewar opening in a vault in Nagpur. But there is a deeper vault within many Swayamsevaks - a resonance with the vision of the founder that has guided the Sangh through the crisis.

It seems amazing that Dr Hedgewar could have involuted into the body of the Sangh solutions for a crisis that would threaten the fabric of Hindu society decades after his death. But the fact is he had. Take the question of Jaathi(caste). What should be the Hindu approach. At the time Dr Hedgewar formulated the Sangh, most of the dominant national leaders including Tilak and Gandhi were supporters of caste system. Some of the greatest Hindu religious leaders including Sankaracharyas of that time supported untouchability and opposed Scheduled Communities entering Hindu temples.

Dr Hedgewar and Dr Ambedkar: Two good doctors of Hindu society. Dr Hedgewar and Dr Ambedkar: Two good doctors of Hindu society.

Dr Ambedkar opposed the system but he was then in minority. Savarkar rejected the Sastra (scripture)-based caste system as the disease of the mind. Between such stands, at the surface it seems, Dr Hedgewar never gave a clear stand on the problem. But RSS ideologue Ramesh Patange explains:

The precondition of unification of the Hindu society is to “decaste” the minds of the Hindus, and eliminate caste from their mental make-up. The Hindus total thinking in respect of caste needs reorientation. Dr Hedgewar initiated that process. The uniform of the Sangh Swayamsevaks, their band, drill in the Shakhas, were entirely modern devices, not traceable to the Indian tradition. It was Dr Hedgewar who introduced them in the Sangh. Dr Hedgewar never discussed or denounced religion in public. He never brought into the Sangh religious rituals based on inequality. Nor did he ever claim that the Sangh’s objective is to revive the religion based on Chaturvarnyashram. He never brought such ideology to the Sangh. I have also not found in his writings any reference to the Manusmriti. “We are all brothers. We have to build up an integrated and united society. We have to become strong”, he used to say, and he shaped the organisation of the Sangh accordingly. I had not realised the real meaning and essence of Dr. Hedgewar’s mantra of Hindu unification till I read Dr. Ambedkar’s biography.  
Ramesh Patange, ‘Manu, Sangh and I’, 1996

This is the genius of Dr Hedgewar. Further, he was able to see through the ages and beyond superficial words. In 1935, Dr Ambedkar had made his famous statement that he was born a Hindu but would not die as a Hindu. In 1939, Dr Hedgewar had called Dr Ambedkar to preside the Makar Sankranti function at the RSS camp. A knee jerk reaction would be to brand Dr Ambedkar as an anti-Hindu and a colonial stooge. But Dr Hedgewar was able to see the real reason and pain behind the words of Dr Ambedkar. Gangadhar Bagul, one of the swayamsevaks present in that training camp and a witness to the interaction between Dr Ambedkar and Dr Hedgewar had given a complete description of the event in his autobiography. Dr Ambedkar asked Hedgewar if there were any scheduled community members in the sangh camp. Dr Hedgewar replied that there were no touchables and untouchables in the camp but only Hindus. Dr Ambedkar, however, did go on to inquire the cadre in the camp and found that not only were there many Scheduled Community members but also there was an absolute sense of equality among them and no caste consciousness.

Dr Hedgewar was critical of the concept of avatar because according to him what Hindus needed was not hero worship but organisation. He was also against Hindus making themselves just another community in India. Dr Hedgewar was critical of the concept of avatar because according to him what Hindus needed was not hero worship but organisation. He was also against Hindus making themselves just another community in India.

Dr Hedgewar then shines as the one Hindu leader who could peer into the dark future and see clearly how the fault-lines would develop for the society with external forces trying to deepen them.

Another very interesting insight and direction Dr Hedgewar gave Hindutva movements is never to give into the siege and imitate mentality. Once looking at the name of a locality named ‘Hindu colony’, he remarked how Hindus can have colony for them in their own nation. It was an important insight. While Christians, Muslims and Parsis are communities in India , Hindus are the nation. They have to remember this. They cannot behave in a way similar to other communities. So each time a Hindutvaite, particularly of the neo-net variety, takes up the argument of ‘why not we imitate the Islamist fundamentalist in securing a ban on a book or movie as a power statement, one needs to remember that Hindus in India are not a community but the nation.

Former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam offering tributes to RSS founder Dr. Hedgewar; His Holiness Dalai Lama at Guruji Golwalkar Samadhi. Former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam offering tributes to RSS founder Dr. Hedgewar; His Holiness Dalai Lama at Guruji Golwalkar Samadhi.

Another interesting aspect of Dr Hedgewar’s futuristic vision is his ability to tap into the traditional network ability of the Hindu society. He made shakas the networking point for local Hindu cadre in a cost-effective manner. There was no building, no secrecy. All that was needed for the RSS to run a shaka is just an open ground available for one hour. This cost-effective networking strategy has made sangh the fastest rescuer of humans whenever there is a calamity anywhere in India. It does not matter whether RSS is ‘strong’ in an area. If there is an accident or a flood, sangh volunteers would be the first to reach the spot and start the rescue operations. For example in Kerala, when in 1988 more than 100 people lost their lives when Trivandrum bound Island Express plunged into a lake near Quilon, RSS cadre were the first to reach the place and rescue many trapped in the derailed bogeys reported Kerala’s leading newspaper. The same story has been repeated in Morvi dam disaster and Bhopal gas tragedy, Gujarat earthquake, Tsunami of 2004 and so on.

What is amusing is the fact that there is not a single academic study of how the RSS has emerged as the only nationwide organisation, reaching in rescue missions of all natural disasters without being capital intensive. The sangh network and methodology is actually a boon for creating similar cost-effective voluntary organisations in other post-colonial developing societies.

Today, there are sangh affiliates working in various fields, Vigyan Bharathi, Seva Bharathi, Vidya Bharathi and so on, not to mention Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad ABVP and the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh. India’s two non-Congress Prime Ministers, who ran and run their office completely are from the sangh. Some of the best administrative chief ministers of the states are from the RSS. Sangh volunteers help the army in the battle fronts. All these came from the vision of Dr Hedgewar who saw in those Kabadi playing young boys the power to regenerate India and make the nation realise its destiny.

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In fact, what Dr Hedgewar did is expression of an age old Indic vision. When Uddalaka showed his son Svetaketu, how the great Banyan tree was involuted in the small seeds, he also showed that the principle can be repeated at all levels : from the biological to the spiritual, to the socio-spiritual.

‘Tat Tvam Asi Swayamsevaka’ – ’That thou art, Swayamasevaka’ – says the Rishi Keshava Baliram Hedgewar; that deep within every Hindu lies the future glory of the great nation.

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