In a blatant distortion of facts to claim an association with the national flag, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat presented a falsified version of a circular issued by RSS founder Dr KB Hedgewar on 21 January 1930. The circular, instead of supporting Bhagwat’s assertion on the RSS’s fealty to the tricolour, shows that the RSS went out of its way to distance itself from the tricolour and embrace its own bhagwa dhwaj, or saffron flag.
Delivering the first of his three-part lecture on the RSS’s perspective on the “Future of India” at Vigyan Bhavan on 17 September, Bhagwat said in his nationally televised speech, “When Congress passed the resolution for Purna Swaraj [complete independence], Doctor saheb [Hedgewar] issued a circular asking all [RSS] shakhas to march past with the tricolour.”
Bhagwat was referring to the Indian National Congress’s resolution of 19 December 1929, which asked Indian nationalists to fight for complete self-rule, independent of the British Empire. This was followed by Jawaharlal Nehru hoisting the tricolour on 31 December 1929 at Lahore. The Congress also urged Indians to celebrate 26 January 1930 as the “Independence Day.”
Responding to the development, Hedgewar issued a circular on 21 January 1930, asking all RSS shakhas to welcome the Purna Swaraj resolution of the Congress by holding meetings of their respective swayamsevaks on 26 January that year and showing respect to the bhagwa dhwaj as the national flag, instead of the tricolour.
“This year Congress has resolved to make ‘independence’ as its objective, and its ‘Working Committee’ has announced that Sunday 21-1-30 will be celebrated as ‘Independence Day’ throughout Hindustan. […] Therefore, all the shakhas of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh should organize meetings of their swayamsevaks at their respective Sangh places at six in the evening on Sunday 21-1-30 and worship the national flag that is the saffron flag.”
The circular, which was originally written in Marathi, was reproduced in Hindi as part of the collection of Hedgewar’s selected letters published by NH Palkar. The collection, titled “Dr. Hedgewar: Patraroop Vyaktidarshan”—Rendezvous Through Letters—was published in 1989 with an introduction by Palkar, a loyal RSS cadre who is also known for writing the first hagiographic account of Hedgewar. The account was published in 1964, shortly after Hedgewar’s death, and has an introduction by Hedgewar’s successor, the RSS chief ideologue MS Golwalkar, who terms Palkar “a dedicated RSS worker from his childhood.”
Bhagwat’s distortion of the 1930 circular of the RSS is part of an effort to use the Vigyan Bhavan event to explain the Sangh’s position on key ideological issues for which it has faced flak from its ideological adversaries.
The RSS’s stand on the national flag has always remained a matter of controversy. In January 2017, the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attacked the RSS for not hoisting the national flag at its headquarters for over five decades after Independence. “For 52 years after the Independence, the RSS did not have a tricolour at their headquarters in Nagpur. They used to salute the saffron flag, not the national flag,” he claimed.
His allegation was not without basis. On several occasions in the past, the RSS has expressed its dislike for the tricolour and held that saffron should be the colour of the national flag, as it is the colour associated with Hinduism.
An editorial published in the 14 August 1947 edition of the RSS mouthpiece Organiser said: “The people who have come to power by the kick of fate may give in our hands the Tricolour but it [shall] never be respected and owned by Hindus. The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.”
Similarly, in his book, Bunch of Thoughts, Golwalkar wrote: “Our leaders have set up a new flag for the country. Why did they do so? It is just a case of drifting and imitating … Ours is an ancient and great nation with a glorious past. Then, had we no flag of our own? Had we no national emblem at all these thousands of years? Undoubtedly we had. Then why this utter void, this utter vacuum in our minds?”
In his speech, Bhagwat sought to make a distinction between the tricolour and the bhagwa dhwaj, saying the latter is worshipped by swayamsevaks as their “guru” to which they offer “guru dakshina” every year. Simultaneously, while asserting that the RSS has always respected the national flag, he casually planted the lie and distorted Hedgewar’s 1930 circular.