How the RSS Became Involved In Running the Bhonsala Military School

27 April, 2017

In Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva, Dhirendra K Jha, a senior journalist, reports on eight groups that are affiliated, in one form or another, with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). These include the Sanatan Sanstha, a radical group that was suspected of being linked to the murders of the rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare; the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a youth organisation with a history of violence and arson, whose founder, Yogi Adityanath, was recently appointed chief minister of Uttar Pradesh; and the Rashtriya Sikh Sangat, the Sikh arm of the RSS. “Whenever these other bodies create a controversy, the RSS and the BJP promptly label them ‘fringe organizations.’ The fact, however, is that they are active parts of the Sangh Parivar, working as buffer organizations,” Jha writes in the introduction to the book. “The brazen acts required to create polarization in our society are often carried out by these very establishments.”

The following is an excerpt from a section in the book that is based on the Bhonsala Military School (BMS). The school, which provides military education to young Hindus, was founded by BS Moonje, a prominent Hindu leader in Maharashtra during the pre-Independence era. Moonje headed the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, a Hindu nationalist political organisation, between 1927 and 1937, and was also a political guru to KB Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS. In 1934, Moonje established the Central Hindu Military Education Society (CHMES), under whose banner the BMS was founded, in 1937, in Nashik. The school, which continues to run till present day, has been linked to various attacks by Hindu extremists in the recent past. The Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad, for instance, found during its investigation of the 2008 Malegaon blasts that several of the accused had been trained at BMS. Witnesses and co-accused told the ATS that they had participated in meetings with senior RSS leaders and their affiliates to plan the bombings, and that these had taken place on BMS premises. In the extract, Jha recounts how, after Moonje’s death, the RSS came to be involved in the running of the school.

The founder of the Bhonsala Military School considered it not just a centre for providing military training to young Hindu boys but also an establishment to preserve and promote Sanatan Dharma. He named the school grounds at Nashik “Ramabhoomi” (the land of Rama) and its cadets “Rama-dandee” (the bearer of the staff of Rama).

According to GB Subbarao, a close aide of Moonje, the founder named the school premises after a shloka in the Ramayana. He wrote in 1972:

After the defeat of Vali in the Kishkindha Kanda, there is conversation between Vali and Ramachandra, wherein Vali charges Rama with a series of accusations, after answering which the latter tells Vali that ‘This land Bharat is mine—it is Rama Bhumi. You have no place here. So you should quit.’ It is this verse, Moonje told me, that inspired him to choose the name of ‘Rama Bhoomi’ for his school grounds. It is significant not only for the Rama Dandi trainees whose object in life must be to establish Rama Rajya here eventually, but also for all the aliens who are to quit from here, as the Britishers had done in 1947.

Neither Moonje nor Subbarao identify these “aliens” much like the “internal enemy” left unspecified by Hindu communalists. Moonje’s school was, therefore, entirely devoted to Hindus and implicitly against non-Hindus. The school thrived and in a short span of time it made a mark among Hindus, especially those belonging to the upper castes. Moonje started living inside the campus and got around—in the style of a Kshatriya—on a horse. He was unflagging when it came to raising funds for it. On 30 August 1938, he wrote to Maharaja Alijah Bahadur Scindia of Gwalior:

The Bhonsala Military School is expanding in its activities; so is also people’s demand for accommodation in the School. We must meet these immediate and urgent needs; otherwise the school may suffer in the reputation that it has built up in such a short time, but it is all a question of money. The only source of obtaining money so far open to me is begging and I am doing it to the best of my ability and energy. But begging after all is a precarious source of income. I am, therefore, now seriously thinking of giving practical shape to my idea of starting a Lottery for the purpose. If it is properly and efficiently organized, it may be a source of income even to a lac of rupees annually. The object of the lottery will be to provide financial support to the Bhonsala Military School in its expansion into a college first and then into an All India University of Military Training.

The school ran smoothly for almost a decade. Given Moonje’s devotion, there was no interruption in the flow of students or funds. But it almost ceased to exist after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse on 30 January 1948 resulted in an enormous wave of resentment against the Hindu Mahasabha. In Maharashtra and the Central Provinces, brutal attacks on prominent Mahasabha leaders by angry mobs became common. Brahmins in these states became the target of popular anger because of their over-representation in the Mahasabha and the RSS. Moonje couldn’t do much to insulate his school. He couldn’t even move out of the campus because of the demonstrations. In a mood of bitter disappointment he expired on 4 March 1948, merely weeks after the murder of Gandhi.

When Moonje died, the Bhonsala Military School began to sink. According to Ghatate, the Nagpur RSS man who had accompanied him on part of the European tour, “The money stopped flowing in and so [did] the students as there was no person in the school’s society who would put in efforts like those of the parent of the institute.” Though Ghatate was also part of the CHMES, the RSS had distanced itself from the Hindu Mahasabha, including Moonje’s school, after MS Golwalkar took over the Sangh in 1940. The parting of ways between Moonje and the RSS became most obvious when Golwalkar—merely months after succeeding Hedgewar—refused the Mahasabha leader’s invitation to the Sangh volunteers to attend guerrilla warfare classes at the Bhonsala Military School.

For some time after Moonje’s death, there was complete confusion. There was no one to look after the school. The RSS had been banned following Gandhi’s assassination and the Hindu Mahasabha was crippled. But after the ban was lifted in 1949, the RSS started to look for ways to move forward. The Bhonsala Military School, though in deep financial crisis, was an extremely promising institution from the point of view of Hindu communalists. It was then that Golwalkar started taking an interest in it. Ghatate, who had by then become a close confidant of Golwalkar, proved instrumental in the RSS’s takeover of Moonje’s school.

According to Ghatate, by 1953 the strength of the students had come down to fifty and the media had begun to report that the school would be closed down for want of funds and enrolment. “I stepped in at this stage,” he writes:

I requested the managing body to give me two years’ time for my trial before the school was finally closed and assets were handed over to the government. The management agreed to this. I moved all around, especially in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Hyderabad and other places and admitted boys from there. Gradually the number on roll increased to 150 by 1955. Maintenance grant was sanctioned by the Education Department and the sapling so fondly planted by Dr Moonje gathered strength by this manuring and has developed into what it is today.

The Bhonsala Military School was thus revived. But the revival came at a price. With Ghatate acting as Nagpur’s key aide in the whole exercise, the management of Moonje’s school was silently taken over by men belonging to the RSS. “The shift took place during the period between 1953 and 1956,” says Major (Retd.)

Prabhakar Balwant Kulkarni—who witnessed the shift and who had been attached to the school in different capacities from 1956 to 2003—in a detailed interview that took place in Nashik.

Kulkarni had been an active member of the RSS since the late 1930s. In 1961, he cleared the necessary tests to receive a letter of commission to the Territorial Army, a non-professional arm of the Indian army consisting of volunteers who receive periodic military training so that they can be mobilised for defence purposes in case of an emergency. “The Territorial Army is the people’s army. That’s why I could join it and remained a member of the Sangh,” says Kulkarni, who was mobilised twice—during the Indo–China war of 1962 and the Indo–Pak war of 1965—and rose to the rank of major before his retirement.

He was in the news after he was detained for interrogation by the Maharashtra ATS following the 2008 Malegaon blast. However, he was let off after the interrogation.

“The Central Hindu Military Education Society had life members who used to elect the governing body of the Bhonsala Military School. Along with the revival of the school, the composition of the Society’s life members also started changing. The new members who joined now were all RSS men,” says Kulkarni, also a life member of the CHMES. In his eyes the transformation is justified because it was the RSS who had played a significant role in reviving the school. “The revival would not have been possible had the Sangh activists in different parts of the country not sent their boys to the school,” he points out.

This is an excerpt from Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutvaby Dhirendra K Jha, published by Juggernaut Books. It is available in bookstores and on