Rain on the Sangh’s Parade

The myth that Nehru invited the RSS to the 1963 Republic Day event

Jawaharlal Nehru on 10 April 1954 in Delhi. Addressing a meeting of the parliamentary party, on 27 January 1963, Nehru had said, “Some Congressmen came to me a day before and said that RSS people are collecting men with uniforms from Ghaziabad and Meerut and other places, we do not have so many uniforms. I said, ‘Look, I cannot stop the RSS from coming in, it is wrong to prevent anything.’” Bettmann / Getty Images
17 January, 2023

The much-hyped claim that India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, invited the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to take part in the Republic Day parade of 1963 is nothing but an outright attempt to insert a lie in Indian history. Archival records refute this assertion. Instead, they suggest a completely different scenario: some members of the RSS, in their full uniform, entered that year’s Republic Day event, which was more of a citizens’ march than a military parade due to the national emergency caused by the Sino-Indian War of 1962.

This claim has routinely cropped up in the last few years and generated intense speculation. “Recognising the role that the RSS played in national emergencies, Pandit Nehru invited them for Republic Day parade in 1963,” Ratan Sharda, a member of the RSS media team, wrote in his 2018 book, RSS 360. “A 3000 strong RSS contingent in uniform participated in the parade with just three days’ notice.” When the former president Pranab Mukherjee visited the Sangh’s Nagpur headquarters, in June 2018, the RSS and its sympathisers used this claim to silence critics. Even in September 2022, when the governor of Kerala, Arif Mohammad Khan, was criticised for visiting an RSS leader’s residence at Thrissur to meet the Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat, he invoked this very argument.

Nothing of this sort ever happened, archival records show. “More than 100,000 people joined the citizens’ march and raised slogans renewing their resolve to safeguard India’s honour and integrity against Chinese treachery and aggression,” the Hindustan Times reported in its 28 January 1963 edition. “The Armed Forces parade was on a small scale this year, reminding the people that the bulk of the forces were at the front guarding against further Chinese encroachments. Even the citizens’ march was shorn of pomp and pageantry because of the national emergency and the need for austerity and economy.” Nehru and his cabinet colleagues led a contingent of members of parliament in the march, the Times of India reported.

Organising a citizens’ march was Nehru’s idea, since the ministry of defence, the nodal ministry that organised the parades, was contemplating dropping the event altogether. On 10 December 1962, Nehru wrote a detailed note to the defence minister, YB Chavan, in which he opposed the idea to drop the Republic Day celebrations and proposed the idea of a citizens’ march.