How MS Golwalkar and Vallabhbhai Patel ensured the RSS’s survival after Gandhi’s assassination

30 January 2019
Though Patel had been instrumental in banning the RSS after Gandhi’s death, his supporters later sought to allow RSS members to join the Congress.
INDIAN EXPRESS ARCHIVE
Though Patel had been instrumental in banning the RSS after Gandhi’s death, his supporters later sought to allow RSS members to join the Congress.
INDIAN EXPRESS ARCHIVE

On 30 January 1948, Gandhi was shot dead in Delhi by Nathuram Godse.

On 3 February, four days after the assassination, Golwalkar was arrested. A day later, the RSS was banned. The government communiqué justifying the ban stated that it was imposed because “undesirable and even dangerous activities have been carried on by members of the Sangh.” The details were sinister. “It has been found that in several parts of the country individual members of the RSS have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity, and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunition,” the notice stated. “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 the military.”

The government’s actions represented a challenge to the very existence of the RSS. But MS Golwalkar, the sarsanghchalak, maneuvered the organisation through this crisis over the next year, allowing it to eventually return to prominence. To do this, he used a combination of mobilisation—both covert and overt—public statements and arguments, and political lobbying. The deputy prime minister, Vallabhbhai Patel, seems to have played a key role in ensuring the organisation’s survival.

To begin with, a day after the ban, Golwalkar issued what sounded like a carefully phrased, almost diplomatic statement. “It has always been the policy of the RSS to be law-abiding and carry on its activities within the bounds of law,” he said. “Therefore, since the Government has declared the RSS an unlawful body it is thought advisable to disband the RSS till the ban is there, at the same time denying all the charges leveled against the organisation.”

In a book on the early years of the RSS, the writers Walter Andersen and Sridhar D Damle, wrote, “Despite this instruction and subsequent ban, a large number of swayamsevaks continued to meet together.” The book noted that while “RSS officers from all levels of the organization were arrested,” younger members “constructed and maintained the clandestine apparatus” of the organisation.

Hartosh Singh Bal is the political editor at The Caravan.

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