February 12th marked the birth anniversary of former US President Abraham Lincoln. Born on the same day in 1809, this hero of democracy was remembered for his yeoman contribution to wiping out slavery from the United States. Lincoln became President of the USA on March 4, 1861 at the age of 52. He died four years later on April 15, 1865 at the age of 56. He became the first President to be assassinated as John Wilkes Booth fired at him point blank when Lincoln was watching a play “Our American Cousins” at Ford’s Theatre.
Lincoln is remembered for his successful abolition of slavery in the USA. But more than that he carved a niche for himself as a President who put the territorial unity of the nation at the top of everything he planned to achieve. No doubt, he was dead against slavery which had become a social practice in the US then. The Black slaves from African lands were brought to America and sold in the markets. It was the most inhuman custom unfortunately perceived as sanctioned by the scriptures.
Lincoln raised his voice against such a derogatory custom and resolved to eliminate it ‘lock, stock and barrel’. “If slavery is not wrong then nothing is wrong in the world” he would say. The northern states had discarded this system of slavery, but the southerners were not ready to end it. Instead they threatened to secede from the Union of States. Their opposition was so intense that the threat of civil war writ large on the face of President Lincoln. To end slavery or to save the union was the dilemma he faced.
And finally, the territorial unity of the Union gained paramount supremacy in his scheme of things and even risking the civil war that lasted for four years and took much of Lincoln’s time, he succeeded in ‘Saving the Union” and abolishing slavery too.
Here I am reminded of the Indian social scenario. In India though there was no slavery, there existed a custom that was even more dangerous than slavery. It was the custom of untouchability. People born in low castes were treated as untouchables and the high caste people would refrain from even their shadows lest they became polluted. Many stalwarts, social reformers and political leaders like Mahatma Jyotiba Fule, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, Veer Savarkar, Mahatma Gandhi et el tried their best to end this evil social practice, but in vain.
However, the novel social and nationalist movement the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), founded at Nagpur in 1925 by Dr K B Hedgewar succeeded in erasing this custom to a certain success. Even Mahatma Gandhi was taken by surprise when he visited an RSS winter camp in Wardha and personally enquired from each and every swayamsevak of his caste. Next day he met the RSS founder and had a long discussion with him on the issue.
In 1974, the third RSS Sarsanghchalak M D alias Balasaheb Deoras delivered his famous lecture at Pune under the auspices of the prestigious Vasant Vyakhyanmala on the topic “Social Equality and Hindu Organisation”. In that historic speech he touched upon the evil practice of untouchability prevalent in Hindu society.
Drawing parallel with Lincoln’s famous statesman on slavery, Deoras uttered his prophetic words thus: “If untouchabilty is not wrong, then nothing is wrong in the world. It should go, and go lock, stock and barrel”.
His words cleared the doubts regarding the RSS vis-a-vis untouchability and rid the organisation from the ‘Brahminical stamp’ it acquired due to misleading and concocted propaganda launched by its secular and progressive detractors.
Once again, Deoras quoted Abraham Lincoln; this time referring to priority he conceded for saving the Union of States of America.
On October 2, 1985, Deoras was addressing a gathering of intellectuals at famous Ramleela Maidan in Delhi. The event named as “Vishal Hindu Dangam” was attended by thousands of admirers and sympathisers of RSS. The atmosphere was surcharged with the terror incidents in Punjab unleashed by the pro-Khalistani outfits who had threatened the territorial integrity of the country.
During the same time, Jammu and Kashmir was witnessing similar anti-India militancy of JKLF, Assam and other north eastern states were in turmoil because of massive infiltration from across the border and in the south the LTTE threat loomed large. All these events had threatened the territorial integrity and social unity of the country.
It was against this backdrop Deoras invoked Abraham Lincoln.
Reiterating the commitment of RSS to maintaining unity and integrity of the country he said even Lincoln preferred to save the union when confronted with slavery abolition and secession of the southern states of the Union. Deoras said Lincoln had abolished slavery from the northern states and he was dead against it. But he risked civil war not for ending slavery. He went ahead with it only to save the Union. He wrote a letter to the nation on August 22, 1862 in which he stated:
“I would save the Union. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy salvery; I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.
“If I could save the Union without freeing any salve I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and coloured race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union. And, what I forebear; I forebear because I do believe it would help to save the Union.
“Much as I hate slavery, I would consent to the extension of it rather than see the Union dissolved, just as I would consent to any great to avoid a greater evil”.
Deoras said whatever Lincoln did was for saving the Union. “The Union must remain” was his paramount priority. The USA had witnessed a civil war that lasted for four years and pay major cost to keep the Union intact. Lincoln risked the civil war to save the Union which made the USA in later days a strong, prosperous and world leader number one in the international comity of nations.
The RSS too expressed its commitment to the territorial integrity and social unity of India on a number of occasions. The second RSS Chief M S alias Golwalkar Guruji persuaded Maharaja of Kashmir to join the Indian Union. The RSS swayamsevaks laid down their lives in saving thousands of Hindus and Muslims during the pre-partition and post-independence riots; helped the army during the 1962, 1965 and 1971 wars and the most credible contribution they made was under the leadership of Balasaheb Deoras to restore the democratic polity and system of India during the 1975-77 emergency days.
Today, India’s internal and external situation is delicate and vulnerable. Forces inimical to its emergence as a global super power are trying at every possible means at their disposal to destabilize the country. Skirmishes along the border by the warring neighbours, unabated influx from across the border in sensitive border districts; terrorists modules active in various parts of the nation and the urban and rural naxalites are threatening the unity and integrity and even sovereignty of our country.
The present leadership would do well to remember and imbibe this historic commitment of the late American President who some 200 years ago risked the civil war and saved his country from falling apart. It was just not a mere coincidence that the then RSS Chief had indicated to this possibility by invoking Abraham Lincoln 30 years ago. He had a message in it for the leaders of India that is Bharat.