Left Behind

How the socialists enabled the Hindu Rashtra

Jayaprakash Narayan, JB Kripalani, Morarji Desai and Atal Bihari Vajpayee attend a meeting in the parliament building, on 24 March 1977. Express Archives
01 March, 2024


AT A PUBLIC MEETING IN DELHI, on 2 February 1948, the general secretary of the Socialist Party of India, Jayaprakash Narayan, reacted to the recent assassination of Mohandas Gandhi. Narayan demanded a ban on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha, believed to be behind the plot to kill Gandhi. “The people should give no quarter to communalists in the society,” he said, calling the RSS and the Mahasabha “forces of evil,” even as he cautioned against violent reprisals. “If any organisation thinks that it can set up a government based on communalism and capitalism, it is mistaken. All governments set up on these lines will have to surrender to the popular demand for democracy and freedom.”

In a joint statement with his SPI colleagues Rammanohar Lohia and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, issued the following day, Narayan argued that the assassination had triggered a crisis of both the state and Indian culture. “The assassin is not one person, not even a team of persons,” the socialist leaders said, “but a big and wide conspiracy of a foul idea and of organisations that embody it.” They asked the state to “crush” all communal organisations—and the people to “deny them every kind of support or sympathy”—as a first step towards resolving the crisis. “Too long have evil men been permitted to preach civil strife.”

Addressing the annual convention of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh—the electoral wing of the RSS—on 5 March 1975, Narayan sang a very different tune. He gave the BJS a ringing endorsement. “If you are a fascist,” he told the delegates, “then I, too, am a fascist.”