The year was 1964.
The morning prayer of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was getting finalised. Its second all-India leader (Sar Sanghachalak) was presiding over the discussion.
The morning prayer of the RSS. called Ekatmata Stotra now, is a prayer that honours the natural, geological, historical, cultural and spiritual heritage of entire India.
Names of great spiritual savants, freedom fighters, scientists, artists etc., were getting discussed - whose names should be included and whose could be left out.
One name was creating a lot of stir among the participants. Mahatma Gandhi.
Should his name be included or not?
The arguments against Gandhiji centred around what was perceived as his Muslim appeasement policy, his Khilafat debacle, the way he handled the Partition problem and subsequently the plight of refugees pouring in from Pakistan. With all this, how could his be included?
Then, Umakant Keshav Apte (popularly known in Sangh circles as Babasaheb Apte) spoke. Was Gandhi above criticism? No. Had Gandhi committed mistakes, wrongs and even blunders? Yes. Was his life without controversies and problematic episodes? No.
Should his name be included? Yes.
Gandhiji was a Sanatani Hindu. His politics was anchored in his Sanatana Dharma. He was ready to sacrifice his life for keeping together the social fabric of Hindu society.
He made the single-greatest mass campaign to awaken Hindu conscience to the crime and sin of untouchability. He fought against conversions.
Apte calmly told the assembled Swayamsevaks that even what was perceived as his Muslim appeasement policy was derived more from his conviction in Sanatan Dharma than his political calculations.
Many senior Sangh leaders remember that as one instance when Babasaheb Apte was quite harsh with the critics of Mahatma Gandhi in the Sangh. He told them that even those acts considered as the Himalayan blunders of Gandhiji came from the highest expressions of his Hindutva.
Guruji Golwalkar completely agreed with Babasaheb Apte. Currently, Mahatma Gandhi's name is chanted everyday in the morning prayers of the Sangh.
In fact, if there has been one movement that has the highest number of cadre and leaders living as per the simple lifestyle suggested by Gandhiji, it is the RSS.
Gandhi was not just a political leader. He was a Hindu civilisational phenomenon. He made the Hindu society feel proud in being a Hindu. At the same time, he made the Hindu society take the responsibility for the shameful inhuman phenomenon called 'untouchability'.
With varied successes Gandhi carried on the campaign against untouchability. All the Hindu unity that we today take for granted is significantly because of the strenuous efforts that Gandhi took upon himself.
Dr. Tiruvengimalai Sesha Sundara Rajan (TSS Rajan 1880-1953) was known to many Savarkar-scholars. He and VVS Iyer were close colleagues of Veer Savarkar in London.
What many do not know is the fact that both Iyer and Rajan got transformed by Gandhiji to forsake armed struggle and adopt ahimsa as the mode of fighting.
Dr. Rajan became Gandhiji's lieutenant in his fight against untouchability. His account of Gandhiji's tour to Tamil Nadu as part of his campaign against untouchability and in support of temple entry should be read by every Hindu Sangathanist. Though right now this account is only in Tamil, it should be translated into every Indian language, including Hindi, to make people understand what social transformation Gandhi toiled to achieve in Hindu society.
For example, Gandhi came to Kurtalam, a famous waterfall whose waters have healing properties because of the herb-rich mountain through which the stream comes. There is also a beautiful famous and ancient Shiva temple here.
Many Gandhians suggested that given his weakened body (because of fasts and incessant travels), Gandhi should have a bath in the falls.
Gandhi agreed. But then he learnt that untouchables were not allowed to do so - because of the vicinity of the temple to the falls.
Gandhi, too, refused to take a dip.
This hurt and shamed the Gandhians and local leaders.
Today, all can take a bath in the falls.
Today, we take this for granted. The fact that the scheduled community Hindus and non-SC Hindus can take a dip in the falls and go to the temple together has created a strong Hindu fraternity on which Hindu Sangathan activities are built in this region .
This account also mentions a 'Gandhi Iyer' hotel in Salem. We do not know the real name of this Iyer. But in those days he brought a revolutionary change in his hotel. He opened it for all men, irrespective of castes and that included untouchables.
There was a common door through which all could come. In those days (and we are talking about within a hundred years) not only were the so-called untouchables not allowed inside the hotels but worse, we the 'untouchable' Hindus had to get food from outside and had to go to a separate billing counter.
Iyer abolished all that in his hotel. This threatened his business. Many stopped coming and many campaigned against going to his hotel. But Iyer did not change his stand.
Slowly people started returning. The Gandhian movement was making such an impact that almost all patriots started coming to his hotel and it started making a profit. Soon, the Salem corporation council passed a resolution that there should be no caste restrictions in hotels.
This is another example of how Gandhi effected fundamental social change in the Hindu conscience in abolishing untouchability.
It is unfortunate that even today we have forms of untouchability existing and there are even pontiffs justifying untouchability. We all know what harm they are doing to humanity and Hindu unity. And we can imagine what kind of inhuman conditions existed back then.
Kanyakumari district was earlier with Travancore. Mahatma Gandhi had had visited this region but said he would not enter the temples where the Scheduled Community Hindus were not allowed.
Conversions were rampant in the region too and SC Hindus wanted integration with the larger Hindu society for cultural and spiritual freedom.
Yet, the so-called upper castes were unmoved.
Other than the easier option of conversion, the Gandhian movement was the only space to fight to available to the SC Hindus.
Fortunately, C.P.Ramaswamy Iyer, the powerful Diwan of Tranavancore, realised the social reality and because of his efforts the Travancore king made a historical proclamation on 12 November 1936—of opening the gates of all Hindu temples to all Hindus irrespective of caste.
Mahatma Gandhi was elated and he made a special visit to the region to show his appreciation.
He visited Nagerkovil, the present centre of Kanyakumari district on 14 January 1937. He went with Harijan Seva Sangh volunteers to the famous Nagaraja temple. Then he visited important Hindu temples, including Suchindrum and Kanyakumari with Harijan Bhajan group leading the way in front of him singing devotional songs.
It is a telling fact that prominent leaders of this movement like Sri Sivan Pillai, Sri Thanulinga Nadar etc. later associated themselves in post-independent India with Hindu Sangathan movement spearheaded by Sangh organisations.
Untouchability was an inhuman curse and crime that was destroying even the remote possibility of Hindu Sangathan. Mahatma Gandhi, with his anti-untouchability movement, that was rooted in Sanatana Hindu spirituality, made the Hindus realise the inhuman nature of this self-abuse against our own brothers and sisters.
But for this gigantic effort of Gandhiji, the Hindu unity that we see today would have been delayed by another century and Hindu society would have been deeply and irreversibly split - justifiably so given the inhuman nature of untouchability.
So, in 1964, when Babasaheb Apte stood by Mahatma's name and Guruji Golwalkar agreed with him, it was an expression of eternal gratitude that Hindu Sangathan movement owed to Mahatma Gandhi.
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