Dr. Hedgewar – The Unorthodox Reformer

25 Mar 2020 06:52:02


Hindu New Year, Varsh Pratipada, or Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra, being celebrated today also happens to be the birthday of the founder of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Most of us remember Dr. Hedgewar as a visionary leader who took up the challenge of uniting a fractious Hindu society that had degenerated into a caste driven, orthodox community as it wound itself up into the safety of its shell like a tortoise to save itself sustained attacks of the invaders. It used to be jokingly said that four Hindus look in one direction only when a fifth Hindu is on their shoulder. It was this community that doctor decided to not just unite, but reform. His tireless efforts at creating a process unheard-of process of creating disciplined persons of high character, proud of their legacy but with modern outlook. He created an organization bereft of any self-interest of moksha, nirvana, etc, but built on selfless work for the society; karma yogi in action.

His method of organizing Hindus and training young people to devote their prime hours and years to motherland itself was highly unorthodox, never tried before or later by anybody. He named his proposed organization as “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh” through voting. He did not show his own preference. He experimented for months for the right format of ‘shakhas’ before he actually started the first shakha in April 1926, though RSS itself was founded on Vijayadashami day of 1925. He chose a popular Marathi-Hindi prayer initially, but as Sangh spread its wings in neighboring states, he with his team created a new Sanskrit prayer, Sanskrit orders of the physical drill, etc. that could be easily adopted by Indians across length and breadth of Bharat.

Dr. K B Hedgewar’s unorthodoxy can also be seen from his choice of uniform for RSS. He could have easily chosen khadi, kurta pajama, etc. But, he chose military-like western uniform of half-pant, shirt, military-style boots, etc. Because, they suited his purpose of exercises, games, military-like discipline, reflected modernity; and they were longer lasting and easy and cheaper to maintain. Just to remind readers, Congress Sewa Dal too had a similar uniform of half pants and shirt. He introduced a musical band that also used British instruments. Incidentally, the first coach of this musical band was a Christian teacher. Initially, the musical notes too were adopted from British as there was no Indian precedent to follow, but slowly changed to Indian indigenous notes.

While we are aware of the ability of RSS to help create a wave of a renaissance in the Hindu society and slowly and steadily creating a ground of national renaissance that we witness today; many are not aware of burning reformist zeal of Dr. K B Hedgewar.

There is an incident from his childhood. Once, a gentleman with very rigorous religious habits came to his home as a guest. After his bath, he sat down to recite Bhagwad Geeta. After completing his recitation, he placed flowers very reverently on the sacred book and bowed to it. Doctor ji asked him, “You must surely be trying to walk the path shown by Geeta.” The guest was highly incensed with this intemperate talk by the young boy and scolded him saying, “Bhagwad Geeta is something to be read. This, itself, leads to the salvation of the human being.” Young Keshav shot back, “But, it is not mentioned anywhere in our sacred Hindu religious scriptures nor is there any tradition which says that one can attain salvation just by worships without attaining high character and develop virtuous qualities in oneself. Doctorji had a deep faith in cow protection and nurturing and he supported various initiatives in this matter.

Once on a visit to Arvi, his friend Gangadhar Deshpande told him about his niece being married off to an old man. The doctor was quite upset. He asked whether he was fine with the match, Deshpande was not. The doctor hatched a detailed plan of picking up the girl on way and taking her to Nagpur. The plan was successfully executed. It led to some cases put against both of these friends. But, the girl was married off later to a suitable young man. His ever-present sense of social duty made him do such spontaneous acts many times during his life.

On reforming the Hindu society, he had more faith in evolution rather than revolution. He believed that centuries of distortions and deep-seated prejudices can’t be removed by agitations, force or revolution. They can’t change their hearts. It needs persuasion and taking everybody along. Swami Vivekananda had expressed similar views on his return from the USA, “I am more reformist than the reformists. They are doing a great job. But, I have serious differences with them on one point. Their path is of breaking and destruction. My path is of joining and bringing people together. They talk about revolution. I don’t believe in revolution, but in internal evolution.” Doctor ji simply removed any reference to the caste of a swayamsevak. All were treated equally. If an orthodox Hindu swayamsevak joined RSS and resisted equal treatment without discrimination, he would just let him experience the unity of others and let him succumb to the charm of brotherhood. Bachharaj Vyas, who went on to be a prachaarak and then President of Bharatiya Jan Sangh, went through his individual reform in an RSS camp.

He did not choose typically popular religious Hindu festivals but celebrated Hindu festivals with a social message or reflecting the glory of Indian history and science. RSS gave no place to Hindu rituals but prayed for ‘param vaibhav’ for the nation -a prosperous nation, every day.

Though soft on people whom he wanted to change, he was strict and uncompromising in his methodology and commitment to the nation. During his meeting with some intellectuals in Kashi, he explained to them the RSS work and its philosophy. He also talked about the words, “I will work for the protection of nation, dharma, and Sanskriti with body, mind and wealth (tan, man, dhan) throughout my life,” that appeared in the oath of RSS. One of the lawyers suggested that it should be “as per my strength” (yatha shakti) Doctorji said, “These words are put consciously. They remind one that though it is possible, one may not be doing one’s duty.” There can be no compromise in commitment to society. Working for the nation can’t be a hobby or part-time work of convenience.

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