• Documenting Hindutva’s Hatred for Our Martyrs: Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev

    “On 86th anniversary of the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev, let us remember that the RSS’ silence over the death of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev is chilling.”

    Shamsul Islam

    March 23, 2018

    Today is the 86th anniversary of the martyrdom of three great revolutionaries of India: Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev. Their crime? Their attempt to overthrow the British rule in India. The colonial rulers, like elsewhere, thought that with their death, their ideas and dreams of a democratic-secular and egalitarian independent India would also die. But they were wrong. These revolutionaries, and their ideals, continued to be an integral part of our collective memory.

    However, on the 86th anniversary of their martyrdom, we should not overlook one fact. Though it was the British who hanged them, organisations like the Hindu Mahasabha, the Rashtriya Swayamsevan Sangh (RSS) and the Muslim League in pre-independence India not only remained alien to the ideals of these revolutionaries but also remained silent over their hanging.

    Shockingly, the RSS, which had consciously kept its distance from the anti-colonial struggle, now claims to be the sole repository of Indian nationalism and patriotism has lately been making efforts to own Bhagat Singh as its hero.

    RSS displays his photos in its public meetings but also twists facts . For instance, when Valentine’s Day is celebrated in India on February 14, it comes out every year with sensational messages on social media. They demand that this day be mourned as a black day, since, according to their fictitious world, it was on this day that Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev were hanged. (They were hanged today, on March 23, 1931)This not only shows a complete disregard for facts but also a kind of farcical love for revolutionaries.

    Two years back, the Hindi organ of the RSS, Panchjanya, came out with a special issue on Bhagat Singh. Meanwhile, its English organ, Organiser, kept itself out of it. It has also has been churning out literature that makes some astonishing claims. They say that Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, met Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev in 1925, and continued attending meetings with these revolutionaries, and even provided shelter to Rajguru in 1927, when he had gone underground after killing Sanders.1 We need to compare these claims of the RSS with its own contemporary documents. Madhukar Dattatreya Deoras, the third chief of the RSS, narrated an incident of Hedgewar “saving” him and others from following the path of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. Interestingly this appeared in a book published by the RSS itself:

    While studying in college, (we) youth were generally attracted towards the ideals of revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh. Emulating Bhagat Singh we should do some or other act of bravery: this came to our mind often. We were less attracted towards Sangh (RSS) since current politics, revolution etc. that attracted the hearts of youth, were generally less discussed in the Sangh. When Bhagat Singh and his companions were awarded death sentence our hearts were so excited that some friends together vowed to do something directly and planned something terrible; and, in order to make it succeed we decided to run away from our homes. But to run away without informing our Doctorji (Hedgewar) would not have been proper. Considering this, we decided to inform Doctorji about our decision. I was assigned the job to inform Doctorji by a group of my friends.

    Together, we went to Doctorji and, with great courage, I explained my feelings before him. After listening to our plan Doctorji took a meeting of ours to discard this foolish plan and made us realize the superior work of the Sangh. This meeting continued for seven days, at night, from ten to three. The brilliant ideas of Doctorji and his valuable leadership brought a fundamental change in our ideas and ideals of life. Since that day we took leave of mindlessly made plans; our lives got a new direction, and our mind got stabilised in the work of Sangh.2

    Moreover, there is ample proof available in the documents of the RSS that establish the reality that the RSS denounced movements led by revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekar Azad, and their associates.

    Here is a passage from Bunch of Thoughts — a collection of speeches and writings of Golwalkar, often treated as a holy book by the RSS cadres — decrying the whole tradition of martyrs:

    There is no doubt that such men who embrace martyrdom are great heroes and their philosophy too is pre-eminently manly. They are far above average men who meekly submit to fate and remain inactive in fear . All the same, such persons are not held up as ideals in our society. We have not looked upon their martyrdom as the highest point of greatness to which men should aspire. For, after all, they failed in achieving their ideal, and failure implies some fatal flaw in them.3

    Golwalkar goes on to tell the RSS cadres that only those people should be adored who have been successful in their lives:

    It is obvious that those who were failures in life must have had some serious drawback in them. How can one, who is defeated, give light and lead others to success?4

    Thus, according to Golwalkar’s philosophy of life, since Bhagat Singh and his companions did not succeed in achieving their goal, they did not deserve any respect too. According to his formula, the British rulers should be the natural object of worship as they won and were able to kill revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh. It is difficult to find a statement more insulting and denigrating to the martyrs of the Indian freedom movement than this. It will be shocking for any Indian who loves and respects the martyrs of the freedom movement to know what Dr Hedgewar and the RSS felt about the revolutionaries fighting against the British. According to Hedgewar’s biography, published by the RSS

    Patriotism is not only going to prison. It is not correct to be carried away by such superficial patriotism. He used to urge that while remaining prepared to die for the country when the time came, it is very necessary to have a desire to live while organising for the freedom of the country.5

    Even the word shameful is not appropriate to describe the attitude of the RSS towards those who had sacrificed everything in the struggle against the British rulers. The last Mughal ruler of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar had emerged as the rallying point and symbol of the Great War of Independence of 1857. Golwalkar made fun of him and wrote:

    In 1857, the so-called last emperor of India had given the clarion call— Ghazio mein bu rahegi jub talak eeman ki/Takhte London tak chalegi tegh Hindustan ki (As long as there remains the least trace of love of faith in the hearts of our heroes, so long, the sword of Hindustan will reach the throne of London.) But ultimately what happened? Everybody knows that.6

    What Golwalkar thought of the people sacrificing their lot for the country is obvious from the following statement as well.

    His tone of asking the great revolutionaries who wished to lay down their lives for the freedom of the motherland almost shows that he was representing the British masters:

    But one should think whether complete national interest is accomplished by that? Sacrifice does not lead to increase in the thinking of the society of giving all for the interest of the nation. It is borne by the experience up to now that this fire in the heart is unbearable to the common people.7

    Perhaps this was the reason that RSS produced no pre-emiinent freedom fighter against the colonial rule. Unfortunately, there is not a single line challenging, exposing, criticising or confronting the inhuman rule of the British masters in the entire literature of the RSS from 1925 to 1947.

    It seems it had only one task to accomplish: fracturing the united freedom struggle of the people of India.

    The democratic-secular India today must challenge this evil appropriation of its heroes by the Hindutva gang.8


    1. Rakesh Sinha, Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, Publications Division, Ministry Of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, Delhi, 2003. p. 160.

    2. H. V. Pingle (ed.), Smritikan-Param Pujiye Dr. Hedgewar Ke Jeewan Kee Vibhin Gahtnaon Ka Sankalan, (In Hindi a collection of memoirs of persons close to Hedgewar), RSS Prakashan Vibhag, Nagpur, 1962, pp. 47-48.

    3. M. S. Golwalkar, Bunch of Thoughts, Sahitya Sindhu, Bangalore, 1996, p. 283.

    4. Ibid, p. 282.

    5. C. P. Bhishikar, Sangh-Viraksh ke Beej: Dr. Keshavvrao Hedgewar, Suruch Prakashan, Delhi, 1994. p. 21.

    6. M. S. Golwalkar, Shri Guruji Samagr Darshan, (Collected works of Golwalkar in Hindi) Vol. 1, Bhartiya Vichar Sadhna, Nagpur, 1981, p. 121.

    7. Ibid., pp. 61-62.

    8. This evil appropriation of India’s freedom struggle icons by the RSS has another dimension which we should not overlook. Mahatma Gandhi, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev whom RSS wants to appropriate lived and died for a democratic-secular India which RSS abhors and decried all attempts to establish Hindu state in India unequivocally.

    Shamsul Islam taught Political Science at the University of Delhi from 1973 to 2013.

    A slightly different version of this essay was first published in the National Herald. Reproduced here with the permission of the author.

    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.

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