As the nation celebrates 75 years of Bharat’s Independence, it would be pertinent to take a look at the role played by the founder of RSS, Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, in the freedom movement. He was born in 1889 on the auspicious day of ‘Varsha Pratipada’. According to the Hindu calendar, this day falls on 2 April in the year 2022. He started RSS in 1925 at the age of 36 years. By that time, he had already been quite active in India’s freedom movement.
In 1910, he left Nagpur and arrived in Kolkata to study medicine. Revolutionary Trilokynath Chakravarty has written in his book titled ‘Thirty Years in Jail’ that Keshav Baliram Hedgewar was granted membership of ‘Anusheelan Samiti’, a well-known revolutionary group of freedom fighters at that time.
Led by Pulinbihari, the Anusheelan Samiti in Bengal was a key revolutionary group. One of the tasks taken up by the Samiti was to raise awareness of the public through underground literature. Keshav played an important role in ensuring this literature also reached Nagpur. His friends acted as couriers and whenever he himself went to Nagpur, he would take revolvers for revolutionaries there. Hedgewar soon became a member of the core group of Anusheelan Samiti. His code name was ‘Koken’.
Chakravarti had included the photographs of some top members of the Samiti in his book. Keshav’s picture also figures in that group. Chakravarti says, “Only those who had taken the ultimate vow were considered full and true members of the Samiti. And only those who had renounced their homes and families were entitled to take that vow.” Hedgewar had met both the conditions. After completing the five-year course, Dr. Hedgewar returned to Nagpur in early 1916. He was offered a lucrative job in Bangkok after clearing the final examination but he refused to take up the offer. Many of his fellow students took up offers from the government of the day, but Dr. Hedgewar was quite clear that he would not serve the British government. After coming back to Nagpur, Dr. Hedgewar, along with his friend Bhauji Karve, set up revolutionary groups and made attempts for an armed revolution.
In May, 1921, Dr. Hedgewar was arrested on charges of ‘sedition’ by the British authorities for his “objectionable” speeches at Katol and Bharatwada in Maharashtra. The hearing of his case began on 14 June, 1921 and the court was presided over by Judge Smely. Dr. Hedgewar read out a written statement on 5 August, 1921. This statement was followed by a brief speech by Dr. Hedgewar.
He said, “That the British have been carrying on their despotic rule in our beloved country is obvious to everyone. What law is there that gives one country the right to rule over another? I am asking you, the counsel for the government, this simple and straight question. Can you answer it? Is it not against natural justice? If it is true that no country has a right to rule over another country, who gave the British the authority to trample the people of India under their feet? Do the British belong to this land? How can they enslave us and declare that they own this country? Is it not the most blatant murder of justice, morality and dharma? We have no desire to dispossess Britain and rule over it. Just as the British in Britain and the Germans in Germany rule over themselves, we of this country of India wish to rule over ourselves and carry on our own affairs. Our mind revolts at the thought of remaining the slaves of the British Empire and carrying that stigma for all time. We demand nothing short of ‘complete Independence’. Till we achieve it, we cannot be at peace.”
He was released in July, 1922 from Ajani Jail and the same evening, a public reception was organised in which the then senior Congress leader Motilal Nehru (father of independent India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru) and Hakim Ajmal Khan also addressed the gathering. The weekly Maharashtra wrote an article on Dr. Hedgewar’s release from jail saying – “No words can adequately describe Dr. Hedgewar’s intense spirit of patriotism and selflessness. These traits of his have now become all the more resplendent after the fire ordeal.”
Speaking at the reception to welcome him, Dr. Hedgewar said, “The fact that I was a ‘guest’ of the government for a year has not in the least added to my merit; and if at all it has increased, the credit for it should go to the government! We have today to place before the country the highest and noblest of ideals. Any ideal short of Complete Independence will take us nowhere. To expound to you the method whereby that goal can be achieved would be an insult to your intelligence as all of you doubtless are aware of lessons of history. Even if death were to stare us in the face, we are not to shirk in our path.” After Nagpur, he was felicitated at Yavatmal, Wani, Arvi, Wadhona, Mohopa and several other places.
In 1930, Dr. Hedgewar had sent out a circular to all the RSS shakhas – “The Congress has passed a resolution declaring Complete Independence as its goal. The Congress Working Committee has called upon the entire nation to celebrate Sunday the 26th of January, 1930 as Independence Day. We of the Sangh are naturally immensely happy that the All-India Congress has endorsed our goal of Complete Independence. It is our duty to co-operate with any organisation working towards that goal… It is, therefore, suggested that all the swayamsevaks of each Shakha meet at 6 pm on Sunday, 26th January, 1930, at the respective Sanghasthans (places where Shahkas were held everyday). After offering salutation to the National Flag, the concept of Independence and the reason why this ideal alone should be kept before everyone should be explained. The function should conclude with an expression of congratulations to the Congress for having accepted the ideal of Complete Independence.”
As a result of this circular, all the RSS shakhas observed Independence Day on 26 January, 1930.
In April 1930, Mahatma Gandhi launched the ‘Salt Satyagraha’. Dr. Hedgewar supported the movement whole-heartedly.” On initiative of Dr. Hedgewar a medicare unit of 100 swayamsevaks was set up and it was imparted training to provide medical care. This unit provided immediate relief to the victims of the police’s brutal violence in the wake of the Salt Satyagraha. The participants in Satyagraha who bore the brunt of this brutality were immediately treated in Nagpur and the adjoining areas. Meanwhile, Dr. Hedgewar himself decided to take part in this Satyagraha. The arrest by British authorities was imminent. So, the task of running the RSS, in Dr. Hedgewar’s absence, was entrusted to Dr. LV Paranjpe by nominating him as the new Sarsanghchalak. The workers were informed about this change on 12 July, 1930.
Dr. Hedgewar and a group of RSS swayamsevaks participating in Satyagraha left Nagpur on 14 July as hundreds of people came to bid them farewell at the Nagpur railway station. According to the information available with the RSS archives, the group led by Dr. Hedgewar reached the Satyagraha centre at Pusad, after receiving felicitations on the way at Wardha and other places. Loknayak Ane had already initiated the Satyagraha at the Pusad centre. Organisers of that centre, therefore, felt that a leader of the stature of Dr. Hedgewar should inaugurate the Satyagraha movement at another important place, Yavatmal. Dr. Hedgewar and his batch had announced the breaking of the local forest Law on July 21. Over 10,000 people had assembled to witness the Satyagraha. As the Satyagrahis registered their defiance of authority by entering the reserve forest, the police officers promptly arrested them. Dr. Hedgewar, before getting into the police van, gave a farewell message to the people to carry on the movement with ever greater momentum. Dr. Hedgewar was awarded six months’ rigorous imprisonment and three months’ simple imprisonment. He and others were shifted to Akola Jail. The RSS founder started an RSS shakha on the Akola Jail premises also. In fact, the Vidarbha unit of the RSS was born in the jail itself! He was released from prison on 14 February, 1931. After his release, he stayed for a couple of days in Akola and Wardha, where he was felicitated in public functions. He reached Nagpur on 17 February. A massive crowd had gathered to welcome him at the railway station. He was taken in a procession from there. After coming back, he resumed the responsibility of the RSS as Sarsanghchalak.”
There are many more incidents in the life of Dr. Hedgewar which reveal his stellar role in India’s independence movement before he passed away in 1940. It is time to recall and recognise Dr. Hedgewar’s role in India’s struggle for Independence. It would be a true tribute to the visionary who set up the world’s largest voluntary organisation to serve the nation.