The ban helped the RSS realize that even if it was not to convert itself into a political party, it must have a political voice, in order to contest state actions such as a ban. At the time, the RSS spoke for itself, but lacked political representation. Golwalkar knew that the RSS needed a political organization that could give shape to the nationalistic vision for India. He, however, still remained clear that the RSS was not going to be a political organization.
Golwalkar left the question of the formation of a political party to the RSS members. In a statement dated 2 November 1948, he said, ‘At the outset, let me make it clear that the RSS is not a political party with any ambition for political power in the country. All these years of its existence it has steered clear of politics. It left its members free to choose and to subscribe to whatever political outlook they prefer and to join and work in the party of their choice’.
Writing in the Organiser in 1949, chief editor K.R. Malkani said, ‘Sangh must take part in politics not only to protect itself against the greedy designs of politicians but to stop the un-Bharatiya and anti-Bharatiya politics of the Government and to advance and expedite the cause of Bharatiyata through state machinery side-by-side with official effort in the same direction. Sangh must continue as it is, an “ashram” for the national cultural education of the entire citizenry, but it must develop a political wing for the more effective and early achievement of its ideals.’
Similarly, RSS worker Balraj Madhok wrote, ‘So far the Sangh has confined its activities to the social and cultural fields with the object of creating much needed unity and national character in the country on the basis of Bharatiya culture and ideals. But there are other problems whose proper handling and solution is as vital to national health as unity and character. They are mainly political and economic which the Sangh has decided not to touch . . . It is necessary that the Sangh must give the lead to the country in regard to the political and economic problems of the country as well. It is essential for the very existence of Sangh itself. Any institution or organization of the people which fails to guide its component parts about the vital question influencing their lives is bound to lose the driving force which keeps any organization alive.’
One of the non-Congress members of the cabinet was Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, formerly the president of the Hindu Mahasabha. Mookerjee had a Barrister’s degree from the United Kingdom and had been Calcutta University’s youngest vice chancellor. A member of the Congress till 1930, Mookerjee was a proponent of Hindu rights in the partition of Bengal from the time before Independence.
After Independence in 1947 but before the first Parliamentary election of independent India in 1951, an interim government was formed under Nehru. The leadership of the time felt that until the first election results were in, fairness demanded giving significant representation to a diverse canvas of political parties. Mookerjee became the minister of industry and supply in the government.
This Congress-led interim government faced significant disagreements within the Cabinet. In 1950, India and Pakistan were discussing a treaty on the protection of religious minorities in the two countries. Mookerjee strongly felt for the Hindus being persecuted in Pakistan. He opposed the terms of the treaty on the grounds that Pakistan was not protecting the rights of its Hindu minority adequately. Mookerjee felt that India should adopt a hardline attitude towards Pakistan over its treatment of minorities. On the other hand, Nehru hoped for a negotiated settlement, which ultimately led to the signing of the Nehru-Liaquat Pact on 8 April 1950. To express his strong disagreement with the government’s stance, Mookerjee resigned from the interim government cabinet on 1 April 1950, just before the pact was signed.27 In his resignation letter, Mookerjee wrote, ‘Apart from the fact that it will bring little solace to the sufferers it has certain features which are bound to give rise to fresh communal and political problems in India, the consequences of which we cannot foresee today. In my humble opinion the policy you are following, will fail. Time alone can prove this.
In addition to the disagreement on the issue of Nehru-Liaquat pact, Mookerjee also opposed the Nehru government on its Kashmir stance. He believed that by involving the United Nations in the Kashmir issue, Nehru had committed a blunder. Mookerjee warned that the country would one day come to regret Nehru’s follies on the Kashmir front. He said, ‘I agree with the Prime Minister that the matter of Kashmir is a highly complicated one and each one of us, whatever may be his point of view, must approach this problem from a constructive standpoint. I cannot share the view that we are creating a new heaven and a new earth by accepting the scheme which has been placed before the House on the motion of the Prime Minister.
In the meanwhile, there was a power struggle within the Congress. Before 1948, the path of the Congress was shaped by the triumvirate of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel. Mookerjee and the RSS were interested in cooperating with the Congress as long as it was not spearheaded by Nehru. However, these hopes were dashed when Patel died on 15 December 1950, followed by the resignation of Congress president Purushottam Das Tandon who had opposed Partition. Nehru was elected as the Congress President on 8 September 1951.
The departure of Gandhi and the end of the freedom movement led to a gradual unravelling of the erstwhile Congress as a ‘big tent’. Many parties cropped up on India’s electoral map right after Independence, and most of them were formed by Congressmen who left their parent party due to disagreements with Nehru’s policies. These included the Congress Socialist Party, the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party, the Swaraj Party and the Nationalist Party. At this time, Mookerjee developed important differences with the Hindu Mahasabha. He was uncomfortable with its pro-British stance, the weak organization, and its unwillingness to accept members who were not Hindu.
Internal debates within the RSS about whether it should transform itself into a political party, or support one of the existing parties, continued. While it had decided not to become a party, it had also decided not to support either of the two bigger Hindu political parties, i.e. the Hindu Mahasabha or the Ram Rajya Parishad. These two parties were seen as having a few key weaknesses: their emphasis on high caste Hindus, on Hindi, and their support for orthodox religious beliefs.37 In the context of the forthcoming first national elections in independent India, Mookerjee felt a new party was required.
Mookerjee met RSS functionaries and Golwalkar. He suggested that the RSS convert itself into a party, but Golwalkar disagreed. However, Golwalkar went on to say that RSS workers were free to collaborate with Mookerjee for the formation of a new party. In one such meeting, Mookerjee and Golwalkar agreed that the Bharatiya Jana Sangh would be formed.
Golwalkar later recounted his discussions with Mookerjee, ‘. . . Naturally I had to warn him [Mookerjee] that the RSS could not be drawn into politics, that it could not play second fiddle to any political or any other party since no organization devoted to wholesale regeneration of the real, i.e., cultural life of the nation could ever function successfully if it was tried to be used as a handmaid of political parties.'”
Buoyed by the support of RSS workers, Mookerjee on 5 May 1951, laid the foundation of the new party in Calcutta.
(Published with permission of Penguin Random House from ‘The Rise Of The BJP’ by Bhupender Yadav and Ila Patnaik. Order your copy here.)
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