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CHAPTER 1 - Something Seriously Wrong Somewhere

It was the summer of 1959. I was working as secretary of an organisation of which the late Shri Jayaprakash Narayan was the president. One day an RSS leader walked into my office. I had known him for a number of years. After some small talk, he suggested that I should request J.P. to visit an RSS camp which was being held in New Delhi at that time. J.P. also happened to be in town. I was diffident about the proposition. Having worked with J.P. for more than an year, I had sensed his preferences and prejudices. But I promised to the RSS leader that I would do my best. I broached the subject to J.P. next day, as soon as I found him alone, which was a rare event. J.P. seemed to be stunned as if I had uttered an obscenity. There was an expression of displeasure on his face which made me too feel uncomfortable. He was a gentle person who seldom lost his temper. But now he seemed to be on the verge of exploding. The atmoshphere became tense. For a moment none of us could find words to break the spell of silence. At last J.P. controlled himself and said : “Do you know what you are talking, and to whom ?” There was a touch of temper in his voice.

By now I had also managed to collect my wits to a certain extent. I said: “ I knew that the suggestion would be annoying to you. Even so, I took a chance.” He relaxed. I also heaved a sigh of relief. He said: “You know that I have a certain standing in the country and a certain reputation in public life. You should not expect me to get mixed up with an organisation which is known for its communal, reactionary and revivalist character.” I said: “ It is exactly because of your standing in the country and your reputation in public life that i have conveyed their invitation to you.”

He said: “ I do not understand. Could you make yourself a little more clear ?”

I explained: “ Your standing in the country is that of a man of reason and your reputation rests upon the keenness of your moral sense. I am sure you will live upto that standard in this instance as well.”

He said: “ I try to do my best according to my understanding and strength of will. Tell me where and how I have failed.”

This encouraged me and I said: “ You have been practising untouchability towards a section of your own people. You have never met the RSS people face to face. You have never listened to their side of the story. Yet you have formed an unsavoury opinion about them. This does not sound reasonable to me, nor just.”

He became thoughful. I continued: “ Your status today is not that of a party politician seeking power and fomenting partisan strife. You have become a father figure for the nation as a whole, almost the conscience-keeper of your people. You raise your voice whwnever and wherever you feel that an injustice has been done or that justice is being denied. That is why people of all persuasions Congressmen, Socialists, Communists, Akalis, National Conference men and so on - come to you for consultation, for registering their complaints, for presenting their point of view, and for seeking your advice. You do not always agree with them. Yet you listen to them patiently and give them your advice. They do not always agree with your view of men and matters, nor always follow your advice. The points is that you are always accessible to them. You always go out and meet them whenever they invite you. It is only the RSS and allied people whom you avoid, so much so that one of their leaders could not come to you directly and had to convey an invitation through a small fry like muself. Tell me if this is not tantamount to practising untouchability.” He closed his eyes and shook his head sevral times. He seemed to be engaged in some inner struggle. I pressed the point: “ I am not inviting you to get mixed up with the RSS. Nor is it their intention to spread some snare for you. What they expect from a man like you is that you should try to know them first-hand rather than depend upon hearsay and political gossip in a partisan press controlled almost entirely by people who are hostile to them. May be you find that you have been mistaken about them. May be they benefit from the advice that you give them. But all this can happen only when you meet them, listen to what they have to say, tell them frankly what you feel about them and thus open the door for a fruitful dialogue in days to come. In any case, the heavens are not going to fall because you go and visit one of their camps. That is all I have to say. Rest is for you to decide.” He opened his eyes, smiled somewhat sadly and said: “ You have put me in a rather awkward position. But I can see the point in what you have said. I cannot easily refute your accusation. I can really be held guilty of practising untouchability.”

I kept quiet and waited for him to make up his mind. He did it in a moment and said: “ Okay, you win. I am willing to visit the RSS camp. Make an appointment with them and let me know. I hope tomorrow evening will suit them. Day after I am leaving Delhi.”

Next day he spent nearly two hourse in the RSS camp, witnessing their mass drill, moved by their prayer of devotion to the motherland, meeting and talking to their leaders asking all sorts of questions and offering his own comments. Finally, he sat on a chair facing a group of about a hundred RSS workers from several parts of the country. The workers who sat on the ground in row after row stood up one by one to introduce themselves to their honoured guest of the evening. Each one of them told his name without mentioning any surname indicative of caste or community, his educational qualifications, the province from which he came and the years he had spent as a swayamsevaka. I could see that J.P. was highly impressed. His face which had been grim so far softened suddenly and visibly. Most of the Swayamsevakas held graduate and postgraduate degrees in arts or commerce or science. All of them were between the ages of 20 and 35.

Finally, J.P. was requested to say a few words and bless the young men. That he politely refused. He whispered to me that he was quite confused and did not really know what to say. I conveyed his feelings to the RSS leader who showed immediate understanding and did not press him any more.

As he was taking leave, J.P. looked at the Bhagwa dhwaja and observed: “That I suppose is the Maratha flag.”

The RSS leader explained: “The Marathas did not invent it. They borrowed it from an older national tradition. The saffron colour has always been the colour par excellence of Indian spirituality as well as of Indian nationalism.”

J.P. saids, “I do not know. I have not been a student of history. But that is what a well-known historian told me.”

The RSS leader smiled and remained silent. The parting was very warm on both sides.

On our way back J.P. muttered as if he was talking to himself: “They have a lot of young and very disciplined workers. Their workers are also highly educated. I never knew that. In our socialist movement most of our workers are not even matriculates.” I kept quiet and waited for him to say something more. He made one more comment as we got out of the car at the end of our journey. He said: “sitaramji, I am grateful to you for helping me to break down what looked like an insurmountable wall. But I am not at all satisfied that it is not an attempt to revive the Maratha empire.”

I could have asked him as to what was wrong with Maratha the empire. I could have also told him that the Maratha empire represented the triumph of a tough and long-drawn-out struggle against Islamic imperialism. But I was not prepared for some more frowns on his face. My version of Indian history was after all not the version which was being taught in school and college text-books all over the country. J.P. was repeating what most of our historians were saying from their august seats in universities and research institutes. According to the professors, the Mughal empire was a many-splendoured national mansion, while the Maratha confederacy was a congregation of self-seeking marauders. What was my locus standi for raising a controversy about what had come to be universally accepted in the world of learning? I was not even a school teacher.

Why I Have Told This Story

I have told this story not as a part of my autobiography but in order to point out the gulf which divided a national leader from a national movement. Here was a leader who had fought for national freedom and who was actively thinking and experimenting with methods of national reconstruction. And here was a national movement which took its birth at a critical juncture in the same fight for national freedom and which was now concentrating on training our youth for the same task of national revitalization. Yet the two of them – the national leader and the national movement - stood apart and could not see eye to eye on matters of major importance.

Nor have I chosen J.P. simply because I happened to see him functioning from close quarters at one time. I have chosen him because he was a leader who had continued to grow out of closed ideologies, who had shed prejudices and who was sincerely in search of a wider vision. He was not like Pandit Nehru and many others whose thought-processes became fossilized in the ‘thirties or the ‘forties and who had subsequently failed to have a fresh look at national or international affairs. It was all right for J.P. to disown, even denounce the RSS so long as he was an orthodox socialist with his moorings in Marxist thought. But the event I have described took place several years after he had publicly renounced Marxism and affirmed his faith in the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi.

Nor yet is it my intention to build a case for the RSS which is quite capable of looking after itself. I have chosen the RSS as the symbol of an ancient society and culture which have suffered for a long time and in no small measure from successive waves of aggressive imperialism let loose by Islam and Christianity, now joined by Communism. The aggression from all these dark forces is still continuing. There are many people like myself who have never been a part of the RSS but who nevertheless feel strongly that this aggression should stop, that our people should come into their own in their ancestral homeland, and that our culture should flower and contribute to the greater good of mankind.

J. P. had at last visited an RSS camp. He had been positively impressed by the quality of the workers whom the RSS had mobilized in the service of the nation. And yet he had retained his earlier reservations about the RSS. He could not visualise that the RSS was not a miracle which had materialized out of the blue. He could not see that there must be something in a society and a culture and historical tradition which had created such a splendid band of selfless workers without the benefit of any patronage from the powers that be and in the face of much malicious propaganda in the national and international press.

These were some of the thoughts which rose in my mind at that time. I felt very strongly that there was something seriously wrong somewhere. But I could not resolve the contradictions. I failed to lay my finger on the sore spot in that sorry situation.

Ever since I have pondered over the subject. And I have at last come to a conclusion which I can now present with some confidence.

Power Of A Political Parlance

To my mind the key to an understanding of the whole situation is to be found in the political parlance which has been prevalent in this country for more than five decades. Over the years, this parlance has been parodying the RSS as a “rightist, reactionary and revivalist movement of militant Hindu communalism.” Over the years this parlance has been pillorying Hindu society as a “crowd of caste-ridden, cow-worshipping and superstitious primitives.” Over the years, this parlance has been regarding Hindu culture as a “close preserve of obnoxious obscurantism.” Most of this mud has got stuck to the RSS as well as to Hindu society because neither the RSS nor Hindu society has thought it fit to put up a defence not to speak of turning the tables on their adversaries.

J.P. was not the only one who had swallowed heavy doses of this political parlance in his younger days in India and abroad. There are so many others who have done the same in shcools and colleges, in seminars and conferences, in discussions and debates. For, this pernicious parlance has been and is still being doled out on a large-scale in most of the media and other avenues of education, all over the country.

J.P. had at least tried to disgorge this poison and succeeded to a large extent in the later years of his life. There are many others who do not even suspect that they are being fed on poison, not to speak of making an effort to disgorge the doses which they have already imbibed.

I am not referring to those who have consciously chosen to be inspired by Christianity or Islam or Communism and who have made it a profession to be hostile towards everyu effort at strengthening Hindu society and culture as a means to strengthening the nation. They are the hawkers of this poison and find the profession very profitable. My reference here is to that vast intelligentsia who see a lot that is valuable in Hindu culture but who run away when it comes to the defence of the society which serves as the vehicle of that culture or who join the hawkers of poison whenever they find that this society is not going to take it any more. I have done some investigation into the history and role of this political parlance which has by now become petrified into a series of stereotyped slogans. Today everyone is shouting these slogans, back and forth. But I fear that there are not many people, not at least in the political fieldd, who have tried to find out the source of these slogans and the nature of causes they serve.

I, therefore, feel emboldened to present my investigation is the chapters that follow.