Guruji’s Lie

The RSS and MS Golwalkar’s undeniable links to Nazism
1 August 2021
Illustration by Sukruti Anah Staneley

IT HAS REMAINED a long-standing puzzle whether the controversial book We or Our Nationhood Defined was authored by MS Golwalkar or was just his translation of a Marathi book written by Ganesh Damodar Savarkar, the elder brother of the famous Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. This is no ordinary authorship dispute. Golwalkar, the second sarsanghchalak—chief—of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, who held the post between 1940 and 1973, remains one of the most influential figures in the Sangh’s history. We, published in 1939 under his name, played a key part in making him a prominent figure within the RSS and was considered the first systematic explication of the Sangh’s ideology. Taking inspiration from Adolf Hitler, it asserted that India belongs to Hindus and that the country’s minorities should be treated along the lines of the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews. The book inextricably tied the RSS to the fascist ideology of Nazi Germany.

On 15 May 1963, while addressing a crowd during a celebration of VD Savarkar’s eightieth birth anniversary—which the ideologue’s followers in Mumbai commemorated with a “militarisation week”—Golwalkar claimed that the book was in fact an abridged translation of Ganesh Savarkar’s Rashtramimansa va Hindustanchen Rashtraswarup. Ganesh Savarkar, also known as Babarao Savarkar, was one of the five founding members of the RSS. Rashtramimansa, whose title translates to “Theory of Nations and the Transformation of Hindustan,” was published under the pseudonym “Durgatanay” in 1934, five years before the publication of We.

Golwalkar’s disclosure was not considered newsworthy at the time, and this part of his speech did not appear in any newspaper, according to DR Goyal’s history of the Sangh. But after the Bharatiya Janata Party, the RSS’s political outfit, came to national power in the late 1990s, it was dusted off and held up as a shield against uncomfortable questions that began to be raised about the Sangh’s affinity with Nazism. Ever since, the BJP, the RSS and their supporters have tried to use the claim to distance themselves, and Golwalkar, from the ideology.

Golwalkar’s claim has never met any serious scrutiny. The primary reason is that Babarao’s Marathi book went out of circulation soon after its publication, was never reprinted and has long been forgotten. Babarao himself died in 1945, almost two decades before Golwalkar’s claim. As a result, no contemporary researcher or critic has attempted comparing the two texts.

I found a copy of the 1934 text in the Mumbai Marathi Grantha Sangrahalaya, one of the oldest libraries in the city, in October last year. On comparing We to Babarao’s work, one thing became amply clear: Golwalkar’s claim in his 1963 speech was a lie. The love for Nazi Germany expressed in We and the book’s recommendation for India to emulate the Nazis are nowhere to be found in Rashtramimansa.

In 1963, Golwalkar claimed his book We or Our Nationhood Defined, in which he showered praise on German Nazis and suggested a Nazi-style government in India, was not his own creation but a translation of Rashtramimansa by Ganesh Savarkar. This was a lie.

In the late 1930s and 1940s, many RSS members were enamoured with European fascists. Contemporary accounts suggest that, during this period, Golwalkar sought to turn the RSS into a Nazi-style militia, with the goal of eventually installing himself as führer. Golwalkar’s own writings, and biographical accounts dating to before 1963, also disprove the claim that We was merely a translation.

Golwalkar’s plan to be führer backfired after Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a member of the RSS, which led to a government crackdown on the organisation. As the Nazis and the RSS became increasingly reviled, Golwalkar sought an image makeover and tried to portray himself as a spiritual guru. It was in this context that he tried to distance himself from his creation in 1963. But, as many researchers and journalists have documented, We and its ideas remain an integral part of the RSS’s worldview, and of its hopes for India. 

GOLWALKAR DEFINITELY drew inspiration from Rashtramimansa and used it as one of his main sources—he acknowledges Babarao’s influence in the preface to We. “In compiling this work, I have received help from numerous quarters, too many to mention,” Golwalkar writes. “I thank them all heartily; but I cannot help separately naming one and expressing my gratefulness to him—Deshbhakta GD Savarkar. His work Rashtra Meemansa in Marathi has been one of my chief sources of inspiration and help. An English translation of this work is due to be shortly out and I take this opportunity of directing the reader to that book for a more exhaustive study of the subject.” Thus, while writing the book, Golwalkar had no confusion regarding its authorship. He knew of Babarao’s book and endorsed it, but made it clear that We was his own work, not a translation. Golwalkar never claimed in his book, or in any of his speeches and writings over the next two and a half decades, that his work was a translation of Rashtramimansa.

The three brothers—Vinayak, Narayan and Ganesh Savarkar (from left to right)—were all famous Hindutva leaders.

After I went through Rashtramimansa, I found that all the critical formulations mentioned in We belonged solely to Golwalkar—especially its project of promoting a Hindu culture along the lines of Nazi antisemitism and its prescription of total assimilation or ethnic cleansing to deal with the problem of minorities in India. These formulations find no place in Rashtramimansa, even though both Golwalkar and Babarao were ideologically on the same page.

“To keep up the purity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic Races—the Jews,” Golwalkar writes. “Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by.”

Having declared non-Hindus to be foreign races—and taking inspiration not just from the Nazi genocide of the Jews but also from how countries such as the United States, Britain and France dealt with minorities—Golwalkar writes:

From this standpoint, sanctioned by the experience of shrewd old nations, the foreign races in Hindusthan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment—not even citizen’s rights. There is, at least should be, no other course for them to adopt. We are an old nation; let us deal, as old nations ought to and do deal, with the foreign races, who have chosen to live in our country.

At another place in the book, Golwalkar extols the Nazis and Italian Fascists for having established a brand of racial superiority. “Look at Italy, the old Roman Race consciousness of conquering the whole territory round the Mediterranean Sea, so long dormant, has roused itself, and shaped the Racial-National aspirations accordingly,” he writes. “The ancient Race spirit, which prompted the Germanic tribes to over-run the whole of Europe has re-risen in modern Germany, with the result that the Nation perforce follows the aspirations predetermined by the traditions left by its depredatory ancestors. Even so with us: our Race spirit has once again roused itself as is evidenced by the race of spiritual giants we have produced, and who today stalk the world in serene majesty.”

Golwalkar is so enamoured with the Nazis that he even supports their claim over Austria and Czechoslovakia, which played a key role in triggering the Second World War:

Modern Germany strove, and has to a great extent achieved what she strove for, to once again bring under one sway the whole of the territory, hereditarily Possessed by the Germans but which, as a result of political disputes, had been portioned off as different countries under different states. Austria for example, was merely a province, on par with Prussia, Bavaria and other principalities, which made the Germanic Empire. Logically Austria should not be an independent kingdom, but be one with the rest of Germany. So also with those portions, inhabited by Germans, which had been included, after the [First World] War, in the new State of Czechoslovakia. German pride in their Fatherland for a definite home country … awoke and ran the risk of starting a fresh world-conflagration, in order to establish one, unparalleled, undisputed German Empire over all this “hereditary territory”.

Rashtramimansa is rooted in the theoretical premise set forth in VD Savarkar’s 1923 text Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? Like his brother, Babarao argues that India belongs to Hindus because of its racial, religious, cultural and geographical characteristics, and that Muslims, being a foreign race, have no claim over it. He also discusses the dominant role of religion in governance and the condition of minorities in select European territories, including England, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Russia, Poland, the Free City of Danzig, Estonia and Finland. Here is the book’s entire section on Germany:

Kings used to rule in Germany. In those days, a religious oath was in vogue. After becoming a democratic nation, it has retained the tradition of the religious oath, along with an oath in the name of the president. In this way, efforts have been made to ensure space for religion, even in miniscule ways, in the political system of Germany. The Reichstag has legally secured holidays on Sundays and specific festival days. These holidays are meant for relaxation and spiritual well-being.

European countries are primarily inhabited by Christians. Some Muslims and Jews also live in Europe, but the holidays have been decided on the basis of Christian belief system. One should note that “spiritual well-being” has been specifically mentioned as the reason for these holidays. This makes it clear that Christianity is the state-sponsored religion. … Minorities are allowed to use their language in their personal interactions in those parts of the country where they are concentrated. The German laws and the administration do not create any hindrance in exercising this right.

There is not a word in Rashtramimansa about the Nazi regime, nor about its treatment of the Jews. It is unlikely that Babarao knew anything about the Nazis when he wrote his book, which was published in 1934—only a year after Hitler came to power. Although the Nazis instituted a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses and promulgated discriminatory laws in civil services and educational institutions in 1933, a full-fledged attack on Jewish life and property began only after Hitler combined the offices of president and chancellor by declaring himself führer, on 19 August 1934. Hitler’s aggressive steps towards rebuilding the German military and expanding the Third Reich across Europe, which included the aggression towards Austria and Czechoslovakia that Golwalkar refers to, began in 1935, a year after Rashtramimansa was published.

The Wiesbaden synagogue was burned by Nazis in a series of anti-Jewish attacks throughout Germany and Austria on 10 November 1938 known as Kristallnacht pogroms. In 1938, a year before We was published, Nazi hostility towards the Jews reached a critical point. Frederick W. Elkan Collection / Wikimedia Commons

Babarao’s description of Austria and Czechoslovakia in Rashtramimansa is completely different from Golwalkar’s in We. About Austria, Babarao writes that German was recognised as the official language, and minorities could use their own languages only in personal interactions. “In the absence of a foreign religious sect or a foreign culture, there is no need for law to obstruct [minorities’] practices,” he writes.

In a similar manner, Babarao points out that Czechoslovakia was free from internal trouble because Czech was recognised as the official language and Roman Catholicism enjoyed the backing of the state. “Czechoslovakia is caught in the middle of Germany, Austria, Hungary and Poland,” Babarao writes. “These countries are inhabited primarily by Roman Catholic people, and this religion is recognised in Czechoslovakia as the state religion. Czech language is made mandatory for everyone here.” Unlike Golwalkar, Babarao seems unaware of Nazi claims over Austria and Czechoslovakia, and, therefore, wrote nothing about the issue.

Thus, the sections about Germany in We were clearly original formulations of its author, given that they were inspired by contemporary developments in the country. In 1938, a year before We was published, Nazi hostility towards the Jews reached a critical point with the Kristallnacht pogroms, in which Jewish homes, synagogues, hospitals and schools were ransacked across Germany. Hundreds of Jews were killed, and thousands arrested and sent to concentration camps. These pogroms set the stage for the murder of an unfathomable number of Jewish people in the years to follow.

A worker clearing broken glass in a Jewish shop following the anti-Jewish pogroms of Kristallnacht in Berlin. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

 GOLWALKAR’S BOOK and the RSS’s ethos were never at odds with each other. In fact, by increasing his credibility in the Sangh, the book catapulted Golwalkar to a major position in the RSS—as revealed by the timeline of events that followed the completion of the manuscript, in November 1938.

In February 1939, weeks before the book was published, the RSS organised a special meeting of its more prominent members in the village of Sindi, near Nagpur. This was a ten-day brainstorming session, called to review and improve the Sangh’s methodology and organisational structure. Golwalkar, though relatively new to the Sangh, attended the meeting as one of a select group of insiders—at the time, he was practically the right-hand man of the first sarsanghchalak, KB Hedgewar. The meeting led to the creation of the RSS’s official Sanskrit prayer, commands in Sanskrit for use in the RSS’s shakhas—branches—and an organisational structure and management system for its annual Sangh Shiksha Varg, also called the Officers’ Training Camp. “All the participants noticed Guruji’s highly analytical intellect, logical approach, sharp focus, strong ideological clarity,” Ranga Hari writes in The Incomparable Guru Golwalkar.

Ranga Hari’s book, like other RSS-sanctioned biographies of Golwalkar, suggests that it was during these meetings that Hedgewar first raised the idea of Golwalkar succeeding him as sarsanghchalak. Hari reproduces a recollection of the meeting by Appaji Joshi, the Sangh’s sarkaryavah—general secretary—at the time. As the second-in-command of the RSS, Joshi was himself a prospective candidate for the post. During an informal discussion, Hari writes, Hedgewar asked Joshi what he thought of nominating Golwalkar as the next sarsanghchalak. According to Hari, “Appaji Joshi responded immediately with one word, ‘Excellent.’” Hari adds that the incident “has been described in one of the articles in Appaji Joshi’s memoirs.”

A 1938 photo of Golwalkar. In the late 1930s and 1940s, enamoured with European fascists, Golwalkar sought to turn the RSS into a Nazi-style militia, with the goal of eventually installing himself as führer.

After Golwalkar’s book was published, in March 1939, it quickly became his calling card among the RSS cadre. “Most of the RSS swayamsevaks came to know him first as the author of a tract, We or Our Nationhood Defined, which they had seen as the first scientific presentation of the RSS theory of Hindu nationalism,” DR Goyal writes. In August 1939, five months after the book came out, Hedgewar appointed Golwalkar as the sarkaryavah of the RSS following a series of consultations with his senior colleagues. In accordance with Hedgewar’s request, just before his death on 21 June 1940, Golwalkar was made the new sarsanghchalak, bypassing several senior office-bearers—a clear indication of the Sangh’s endorsement to the views expressed in We.

The virulent idea that forms the core of the Sangh’s creed—that Hindus must be granted the exclusive right to define India’s national identity—was still in a nebulous form in the Savarkar brothers’ books. Golwalkar’s text, gleefully presenting the Nazi treatment of the Jews as a model to be applied to Indian Muslims, developed this principle in detail.

It is not that the RSS was earlier unaware of the contemporary dictatorships in Europe. The Italian scholar Marzia Casolari writes that, during the Second World War, “Hindu nationalism seemed to uneasily oscillate between a conciliatory attitude towards the British, and a sympathy for the dictators.” Its adherents saw the European dictatorships as examples of conservative revolution—a concept that was being discussed widely by the Marathi press. The aspects of fascism that appealed most to Hindu militants were its stress on the militarisation of society and the fixation on a strong leader controlling a highly centralised organisation. BS Moonje, a Hindu Mahasabha leader who was Hedgewar’s mentor and one of the founders of the RSS, met Benito Mussolini during a 1931 visit to Italy. Following Moonje’s return, the RSS drew substantially from Fascist pedagogical practices. Even so, Golwalkar’s book took this attraction to fascism to a new level.

For most of the 1940s, until it was banned in the aftermath of Gandhi’s assassination, the RSS openly propagated Golwalkar’s ideas. With his book as the guiding force, the new sarsanghchalak set out to convert the RSS into something akin to his own Nazi militia. He tried to model himself as a dictator—as a teacher, as the supreme organiser of the Sangh, as its chief tactician, demagogic saviour and sole leader. All this was reflected in the ideological classes held at the Officer’s Training Camps. An Intelligence Bureau report on a camp held at Poona in April and May 1942 recorded Golwalkar’s lectures in detail.

Golwalkar addressed RSS volunteers on seven occasions during the camp. “Hindus alone had so far proved loyal to the country; therefore they alone were eligible for enrolment to the Sangh,” he is reported as saying in one lecture. “Whoever, forgetting his traditions, joins hands with the enemies should be killed even if he were their own brother, because only he who follows and sticks to their principles would be regarded as their real brother. The mental apathy of the Hindus should be removed and a feeling of hatred towards the men of other religions, who were getting high-handed, should be created in them. The Sangh was doing this work.”

The IB report notes that, on 3 May 1942, Golwalkar “made an important speech in which he clearly revealed the communal and Fascist nature of the organisation. He said that the Sangh had been started not only for combating Muslim aggression but for completely extirpating that disease; it was therefore necessary to have proper men at the helm whose attention should be focused on the achievement of their goal.”

The RSS ideologue most outspoken in his support for the European dictatorships during the Poona camp was PG Sahasrabuddhe, who was known for promoting a pro-authoritarian state of mind among swayamsevaks in his lectures. On 4 May, the IB report says, Sahasrabuddhe “announced that the Sangh followed the principle of dictatorship. Denouncing democratic government as an unsatisfactory form of government, he quoted France as a typical bad example and, praising dictatorship, he pointed to Japan, Russia and Germany. He particularly praised the Fuehrer principle of Germany.” In a lecture on 21 May, the report adds, “he drew attention to the value of propaganda, quoting Russia and Germany as examples, and again extolled the virtues of the Leader principle, citing Mussolini’s success as a further example.” According to the IB, the RSS volunteers attending the camp were encouraged to read not only the biographies of Hedgewar, Savarkar and the Maratha king Shivaji, but also those of Hitler and Mussolini.

In February 1939, weeks before Golwalkar’s book We was published, the RSS organised a meeting of its prominent members in the village of Sindi, near Nagpur. Golwalkar, though relatively new to the Sangh, attended the meet as one of a select group of insiders.

Another IB report, prepared in 1943, says that the RSS “is aimed at bringing the Hindus of India under the control of a dictator (Guru ji) and solidify their organization for the ultimate purpose of capturing political power. A spirit of discipline, martial tendencies and developing healthy bodies by the Hindus is to be inculcated so that the Hindu nation may turn matchless in strength due to its overwhelming majority in India.”

Golwalkar wanted to cast himself during this period as the Hindu führer: a dictator fighting for the supremacy of Hindus by subjugating—and even “extirpating”—Muslims, just as Hitler was trying to establish the supposed supremacy of the German race by annihilating the Jews. In this context, We seems to have been the first step—an ideological blueprint—towards achieving a version of the Nazi model in India.

As Golwalkar’s thought became central to the RSS’s ideological training, the demand for We increased phenomenally. In his book Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies and Modern Myths, the sociologist Chetan Bhatt writes that the tract was republished four times during the 1940s.

According to an Intelligence Bureau report, the RSS volunteers attending a 1942 training camp were encouraged to read not only the biographies of Hedgewar, Savarkar and the Maratha king Shivaji, but also those of Hitler and Mussolini. Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone / Getty Images

THE ASSASINATION OF GANDHI, on 30 January 1948, dramatically changed the situation. The RSS was banned, its public credibility reached an all-time low and Golwalkar was arrested along with thousands of other Sangh members. A government communiqué justifying the ban stated that the RSS was involved in “undesirable and even dangerous activities.”

“It has been found that in several parts of the country individual members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunition,” the communiqué said. “They have been found circulating leaflets exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect firearms, to create disaffection against the Government and suborn the Police and Military.”

After he was released and the ban on the RSS was lifted, in 1949, Golwalkar remained deeply unsettled for some time. Since the government’s actions had challenged to the RSS’s very existence, he moved cautiously and became unusually conscious of his image. Golwalkar had to exercise especial restraint in light of the overwhelming presence and popularity of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who took an avowedly secular approach to governance and enjoyed wide acceptance across communities, including Hindus. As the world reacted in shock to the horrors of Nazism, Golwalkar sensed the dangerous implications of what he had written in We. Disowning the book was a natural corollary.

Golwalkar addresses a public meeting in Hubli in 1949. Through most of the 1940s, Golwalkar advocated treating India’s minorities in the way Nazi Germany dealt with the Jews.

Even though the political project laid out in his book remained important, he shelved the idea of projecting himself as a Hindu führer. Now, careful attempts were made to obscure the trail of his past life and to glorify himself as a saintly character, a Hindu guru.

Golwalkar set out to execute this transformation through a series of biographies by his loyalists, seemingly written under his supervision. The first two were written immediately after the government unbanned the RSS. Gangadhar Indurkar’s Guruji: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ke Sarsanghchalak Shri Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkarji ka Jeevan-Charitra, published in 1949, and Jagat S Bright’s India’s Man of Destiny, published in 1950, show how methodically the project was pursued. The same is true of two more biographies released in 1956, to mark his fiftieth birthday: NH Palkar’s Marathi title Maa. Sa. Golwalkar and BN Bhargava’s Shri Guruji: The Man & His Mission. All these biographers approached Golwalkar with a great degree of awe, and preferred to write about him allegorically, as an object of worship, rather than with a solid grounding in facts.

An account by Hemendra Nath Pandit, a former pracharak—or fulltime RSS worker—who was part of the Sangh’s national executive body until he left the organisation in 1950, reveals some aspects of Golwalkar’s image-makeover. “His admirers would tell you that he takes only one meal a day,” as Hindu saints are expected to do, Pandit writes. “It has been my experience, however, to see him sit by the side of some of us on at least two occasions at Nagpur and take two full meals at 12 noon and 9 P.M. besides tea and tiffin at the usual hours.”

Golwalkar’s plan to be führer backfired after Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a member of the RSS, which led to a government crackdown on the organisation. Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Pandit also mentions efforts “to make the young swayamsevaks believe that Golwalkar is the incarnation of Lord Krishna himself.” He narrates the story of a pracharak telling swayamsevaks in West Bengal that “Madhava of Mahabharat” had again appeared “to lead Hindus to victory.” Madhav, Golwalkar’s first name, is one of many names for the Hindu deity Krishna. “Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite ‘Ram Dhun’ has undergone a change in the RSS,” Pandit writes. “The line Ishwara Allah tere nam”—Ishwar and Allah refer to the same god—“is considered objectionable and the Sangh therefore has its own reading as Keshava Madhava tere nam.” Keshav, another name for Krishna, was also the first name of Hedgewar.

Golwalkar’s bid to be seen as a man of strong spiritual tendencies changed his attitude towards the press. Pandit talks of Golwalkar’s fondness, prior to his transformation exercise, for getting photographed and seeing his pictures circulated widely. But as he pursued a spiritual image, he took zealous care to appear averse to publicity. A report published in the Times of India on 9 April 1956, for instance, said that Golwalkar “threatened to leave a public meeting held to felicitate him on his 51st birthday, at the Ramlila grounds, if press photographers insisted on taking his picture.”

Golwalkar’s public transformation had little effect on the Sangh’s internal view of his work. Even in 1956, when his makeover project was at its peak, the RSS still considered We to be “an unassailable exposition of the doctrine of ‘nationhood’ and its specific application in regard to Hindusthan,” as Bhargava wrote in Shri Guruji.

Golwalkar’s act was consistent with the Sangh’s penchant for spreading disinformation for political ends—whether it was hiding the sordid events of its past or distorting history to create Islamophobia among Hindus. In the years after Gandhi’s assassination, the RSS used disinformation and propaganda on a much larger scale than it did in the past.

 

Since Golwalkar pursued a spiritual image, he took care to appear averse to publicity, often melodramatically refusing to be photographed.

BIOGRAPHICAL ACCOUNTS of Golwalkar and his own writings prior to May 1963, when he suddenly disowned We, do not in any way support the claim that he was not the book’s author. On the contrary, they provide more evidence that We was Golwalkar’s own creation and that Rashtramimansa was a separate work.

In 1944, a Hindi translation of Rashtramimansa appeared, with an introduction by Golwalkar. The introduction is exhaustive, running into 33 pages, and deals with the themes of Babarao’s text. “The political situation of our nation is going through a fundamental change, and several types of nation ideas have emerged because of differences on some basic questions of nationalism,” Golwalkar writes. “This small book is being published with a clear objective to forewarn Indians and to make them aware of the true perspective of the idea of a nation.”

Elsewhere in the introduction, he continues:

A misconception has been spread that in the entire world the word nation is defined by geographical boundaries alone and that it has no place for race, religion, culture, etc. Blinded by this misconception, the so-called people with modern ideas ridicule those principles which were postulated by our ancient scholars on the basis of their enormous and practical knowledge. … This book will be useful for opening the eyes of such people and putting them on the right track to understand the meaning of the real nation-work.

“With firmness in faith,” Golwalkar adds, “the author of this book, by showing the practical picture of Hindustan-Hindu Rashtra, has asked conscious Hindus to become capable, organised and potent, and to come forward to promote the future prospects of our ancient race and culture.”

Golwalkar also uses the introduction to put forth some of his own thoughts on how to deal with minorities—thoughts that he had postulated in We but which were not present in Babarao’s book. “Sometimes even those leaders whose love for the nation is beyond any doubt ask questions like ‘What would you do with non-Hindus?’ or ‘Would you force them to leave the country?’ or ‘What would be the provisions for minorities in India?’” he writes. “All these questions are, no doubt, sincere.” Referring to non-Hindus as foreigners, he issues a categorical warning to them: “The one thing that is expected from these foreigners is that they must not be dishonest to the nation and should stop creating obstructions for national development.”

In conclusion, Golwalkar writes, “The author wishes his small book to provide a scientific approach to look at our political and social life and, by encouraging the understanding of the true meaning of nationhood, arouse a love for Hindu Rashtra so that this nation could attain unity and proceed on the path of development with firmness and greatness. May this wish be fulfilled and Hindus regain their position as spiritual leaders of the world.”

Nowhere in the introduction does Golwalkar give even the faintest suggestion that his 1939 book was merely an abridged translation of Rashtramimansa. In fact, the introduction proves that, whatever We may have been, it was definitely not an English version of Babarao’s work.

This was also attested by JA Curran Jr, the US researcher credited with the first scholarly attempt to study the RSS. Based on his field research, conducted during 1949 and 1950—immediately after the ban on the Sangh was lifted—Curran prepared a detailed report for the New York-based Institute of Pacific Relations, titled “Militant Hinduism in Indian Politics: A Study of the R.S.S.” According to this document, despite the ban and massive public outrage against the RSS in the wake of the Gandhi’s assassination, the “genuine ideology of the Sangh” continued to be based on Golwalkar’s book. “We can be described as the RSS ‘Bible,’” Curran writes. “It is the basic primer in the indoctrination of Sangh volunteers.” Although the book had been written “in a national context different from the contemporary one,” he adds, “the principles contained in it are still considered entirely applicable by the Sangh membership.”

Curran too noted an extremely conciliatory tone in Golwalkar’s speeches since late 1949, but that did not deter him from concluding that no matter what Golwalkar said in his speeches, his book continued to form the foundation for “the plans and activities” of the contemporary Sangh.

RSS apologists have uncritically promoted Golwalkar’s claim, even though We contains the following details about its author: “M.S. Golwalkar, M. Sc., L.L.B. (Sometime Professor Benares Hindu University).”

Curran’s observations regarding Golwalkar’s book are particularly significant because he was the first “outsider” to be given full access to the organisation by the Sangh leadership. He acknowledges this in the preface of his paper:

The gratitude the author owes to R.S.S. members for their assistance in his research cannot be exaggerated. In every echelon of this organization, from Mr. Golwalkar, its leader, down to the newest recruits, the story was generally the same. Opportunities were constantly provided to ask numerous questions about plans and activities, as well as to observe the Sangh’s operation. The bulk of this study is based on a year and a half of frequent association with the R.S.S.

Neither of the two 1956 biographies by Golwalkar’s loyalists disputes his authorship of We. BN Bhargava writes, while talking about Golwalkar’s life around 1939,

During this period he made another inestimable contribution. In a neat little book he expounded very ably the philosophy of nationalism, to propagate which Dr. Hedgewar had founded the R.S.S. ‘WE’ or ‘Our Nationhood Defined’ is an unassailable exposition of the doctrine of ‘nationhood’ and its specific application in regard to Hinduism. Subsequent developments have established beyond all doubt the truth of his thesis. It is interesting to note that this book of more than a hundred pages was written within three days—and that too without interfering with any daily chores.

NH Palkar, too, is unambiguous in his assertions that Golwalkar was indeed the author of We and that this book carried the core of Sangh’s ideology. “Around this very time, ‘We or Our Nationhood Defined’, the book that he authored, was published,” he writes. “It was a written manifestation of Doctorji’s”—Hedgewar’s—“concept of pure nationalism.”

Through the latter part of his life, Golwalkar had to exercise especial restraint in light of the overwhelming presence and popularity of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who took an avowedly secular approach to governance and enjoyed wide acceptance across communities, including Hindus.

By Palkar’s account, Golwalkar presented a detailed analysis of concepts such as the nation, religion and culture in We, and exposed what he saw as the Congress’s policy of appeasing Muslims. Palkar justifies Golwalkar’s prescription of total assimilation or ethnic cleansing to deal with minorities in India. “He writes that there are only two options available for people of foreign race,” Palkar writes. “One, they accept the national culture of dominant race and get assimilated with it, and two, they should stay here on the permission of the state and leave the country as and when the permission is withdrawn.” Palkar adds that this “is the only proper way to look at the question of minorities. This is also the justified answer to this question. This alone can ensure stable and peaceful national life.”

Referring to MS Aney’s foreword to Golwalkar’s book, Palkar writes,

This analysis of the problem of minorities was backed also by Aneyji … Today we have tasted the bitter fruits of ‘state within state’ because of overlooking the logical solution to this problem which was suggested in those days. History has proven the analysis of Guruji right.

Aney, a Nagpur-based Congress leader, was a friend of Hedgewar. In his foreword to We, he expresses his sympathy for the idea of a Hindu nation. Despite Palkar’s claim that he endorsed Golwalkar’s analysis, Aney does not go to the extent of openly backing Golwalkar’s Nazi-influenced ideas of a so-called final solution for minorities. “I find that the author in dealing with the problems of the Mohmeddans’ place has not always borne in mind the distinction between the Hindu nationality and Hindu sovereign State,” he writes. “Hindu Nation as a sovereign State is entirely a different entity from the Hindu nation as a cultural nationality. No modern State has denied the resident minorities of different nationalities rights of citizenship of the State if they are once naturalised either automatically or under the operation of a Statute.”

Palkar, in his biography, talks about Golwalkar translating Rashtramimansa into English, but he categorically says that this project was totally distinct from We. “It would not be inappropriate to mention about another incident of that year,” he writes, describing 1938. “The famous revolutionary Shri Babarao Savarkar’s book Rashtramimansa was to be translated into English from Marathi.” The translation was to be overseen by Vishwanathrao Kelkar, a relative and close associate of Babarao.

According to Palkar, the senior RSS leader PB Dani suggested to Kelkar that Golwalkar be tasked with the translation. Kelkar, he writes, called Golwalkar “to his residence and asked him about his willingness to do the translation. Guruji gave his assent and took the book and the blank sheets of paper and returned home.” Palkar adds that Golwalkar completed the translation in just one day, but, for some unknown reasons, “the translation was never published and it kept lying at Kelkar’s residence.”

Golwalkar, too, mentions this in the preface to We, when he writes of the English translation of Rashtramimansa and asks readers to wait for the upcoming book “for exhaustive study of the subject”—but he does so without revealing that he himself was the translator. He did not know at the time that the English translation would never see the light of the day.

GOLWALKAR DID NOT repeat the lie he told in May 1963 in his subsequent speeches and writings. Perhaps, in view of the many discrepancies it carried, he did not want to over-emphasise the claim to avoid provoking an independent evaluation of its validity. After his death, in 1973, the Sangh made several efforts to deny the influence of Nazism on its own ideology. Some of its supporters maintained complete public silence on We, while others offered feeble arguments supporting Golwalkar’s claim that he did not write the book.

The first authorised biography of Golwalkar published after his death, Hari Vinayak Datye’s 1984 book Arti Alok Ki, remains silent on We and its authorship. It does not mention Golwalkar’s 1963 disclaimer either. That Datye could have been unaware of We or the controversy around it is impossible to believe. His association with Golwalkar went back to before the book’s publication. “The first time I got the opportunity to meet Guruji was in 1938,” Datye writes. “He was then in charge of the annual Officers’ Training Camp.” PG Sahasrabuddhe, another long-time colleague of Golwalkar, shared Datye’s caution while writing his own account of the departed leader. His biography, Shri Guruji: Ek Jeevan Yajna, appeared in 1987, and took a similar approach of not mentioning anything related to We.

The RSS seemed to gain in confidence once the Bharatiya Janata Party formed a ruling coalition to take charge of the central government in 1998. The Sangh finally began developing an official position on We.

In his critique of Golwalkar’s book, which also reproduces its full text, the political scientist Shamsul Islam notes an interesting episode that took place in parliament days after the BJP-led government was sworn in. During the confidence-motion debate on 28 March 1998, the former prime minister Chandra Shekhar brought up the fascist ideas contained in We. “He was perturbed by the fact that the BJP government was following the diktat of the RSS whose ideological guru had authored the above book,” Islam writes. LK Advani, the home minister in the new government, “intervened to say that the author of the book, Golwalkar, had distanced himself from the book and had declared to have no relation with it. Of course, he was unable to present any corroborative document.”

In its 31 May 1998 issue, the RSS mouthpiece Organiser carried an article by David Frawley, a US-based RSS apologist. “Those who call the RSS fascist emphasise one book to prove it, We or Our Nationhood Defined, by B.S. Savarkar [sic], the elder brother of the great Indian revolutionary Veer Savarkar,” it reads. “Golwalkar, who later became the leader of the RSS in 1940, translated the book in 1938.”

This was a blatant distortion of fact, for We contains the following details about its author: “M.S. Golwalkar, M. Sc., L.L.B. (Sometime Professor Benares Hindu University).” In the preface, Golwalkar acknowledges his authorship. He writes, “It is a matter of personal gratification to me that this maiden attempt of mine—an author unknown in this line—has been graced by a foreword by Loknayak M.S. Aney.”

In his 2006 booklet Shri Guruji and Indian Muslims, the RSS ideologue Rakesh Sinha takes a rather circuitous way to disassociate Golwalkar from We. He blames “Islamic scholars and secularist social scientists” for questioning Golwalkar’s 1963 claim and thereby creating confusion regarding the book’s authorship. “In spite of his open and liberal perspective on the question of nationalism and secularism, he has been treated most unfavourably by Islamic scholars and secularist social scientists,” Sinha writes. “Selective and out of context citation of his views is unparallel in Indian academic. They largely quoted a treatise We or Our Nationhood Defined which was published in 1939. A baffled and elusive domestic and international politics certainly influenced the contents of the book.”

Sinha argues that We “neither represents the views of the grown Guruji nor of the RSS. He himself acceded this when he revealed that the book carried not his own views but was an ‘abridged version of G.D. Savarkar’s work Rashtra Mimnsa [sic]’.” Thus Sinha, like Frawley, insists that Golwalkar must be believed because he said so. He says nothing about the discrepancies that riddle the RSS chief’s claim, nor produces any evidence that supports it.

“Within the Sangh, among swayamsevaks, there is no confusion about who has written the book,” the journalist Hartosh Singh Bal writes in his profile of Golwalkar, which appeared in the July 2017 issue of The Caravan. On Bal’s visit to Golwalkar’s family home at Ramtek, which now serves as a memorial as well as the Sangh’s district headquarters, a swayamsevak named Rahul Wankhede took him on a tour of the first floor of the building. “I’ve heard this is where We was written,” Wankhede told Bal. “Guruji wrote it over one night, in a single sitting.”

Dhirendra K Jha is a contributing writer at The Caravan.