Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar (19 February 1906 – 5 June 1973), also known as Shri Guruji, was the second Sarsanghchalak (Supreme Leader) of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Golwalkar wrote the books Bunch of Thoughts, and We, or Our Nationhood Defined. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who considers Golwalkar as one of his inspirations, as he wrote a biographical profile of Golwalkar in his book “Jyotipunj”
Golwalkar was born on 19 February 1906 in a Marathi family to Sadashivrao and Lakshmibai at Ramtek near Nagpur, Maharashtra. His family was a prosperous and closely-knit. Sadashivrao started as a clerk in the Posts and Telegraphs Department, later became a school teacher in Central Provinces, and then ended his career as the headmaster of a high school. Golwalkar was the only surviving son of nine children born to his parents. As the father was frequently transferred around the country, Golwalkar enrolled in various schools. He studied science and was an exemplary scholar and quite apolitical. During his adolescent years, he developed a deep interest in religion and spiritual meditation.
In 1922, Golwalkar joined the missionary Hislop College in Nagpur. At the College, he is said to have been incensed at the `open advocacy’ of Christianity and disparagement of Hinduism. Much of his concern for the defence of Hinduism can be traced to this experience. In 1924, he left Hislop College to join the Benaras Hindu University (BHU) in Varanasi, receiving a BSc. in 1925 and MSc. in Biology in 1927. During this period, he came under the influence of Madan Mohan Malaviya, a nationalist leader and the founder of the University. After completing his degree in 1927, he went to Madras to pursue a doctorate in Marine Biology but was unable to complete it due to his father’s retirement. Later, he taught zoology for three years at BHU. It was here that he earned from his students the affectionate sobriquet of ‘Guruji’, owing to his beard, long hair and simple robe, a practice that was continued in a reverential manner among his RSS followers in later years. He later returned to Nagpur and by 1935 had obtained a degree in Law.
While Golwalkar was lecturing at BHU, Bhaiyaji Dani, a student at BHU and a close associate of RSS Sarsanghchalak K. B. Hedgewar, founded an RSS shakha in Varanasi.Golwalkar went to the meetings and was revered by the members but there is “no indication that Golwalkar took a keen interest” in the organisation. In 1931, Hedgewar visited Benares and was attracted to the ascetic Golwalkar At his request, Golwalkar is said to have gone to the “Officers Training Camp” in Nagpur, meant for training RSS pracharaks.
After returning to Nagpur, Hedgewar became a bigger influence on Golwalkar. According to RSS sources, Hedgewar encouraged him to pursue a Law degree because it would give him the reputation of learning required for a leader of the RSS. In 1934, Hedgewar appointed him the secretary (karyavah) for the Nagpur main branch. After he started practising law, Hedgewar also gave him the task of managing the Akola’s Officers’ Training Camp.However, in October 1936, Golwalkar abandoned his law practice as well as his RSS work and left for the Sargachi Ramakrishna Mission ashram in West Bengal, seeking to renounce the world and become a sanyasi. At the ashram, he became a disciple of Swami Akhandananda, a disciple of Ramakrishna and colleague of late Vivekananda.On 13 January 1937, he is said to have received his ‘diksha,’ but left the ashram of his own accord soon afterwards. He returned to Nagpur after his guru died in 1937 to seek the advice of Hedgewar in a state of “extreme mental depression and indecision.” Hedgewar convinced him that his obligation towards society could be best fulfilled by working for the RSS
After Golwalkar rejoined the RSS, it would appear that Hedgewar started grooming him for the leadership for the RSS. He was made in charge of the All-India Officers’ Training Camp for three years (1937-1939). Golwalkar’s abilities of managing the complex details of the large camp, of public speaking and of reading and writing were appreciated. In 1938, he was given G. D. Savarkar’s 1934 Marathi text Rashtra Mimansa (Nationalism) and asked to translate it into Hindi and English. The resulting text We or Our Nationhood Defined was published in Golwalkar’s own name and came to be regarded as a systematic treatment of the RSS ideology.The fact that it was an abridged translation was not brought to light until 1963.
In 1939, on the occasion of the Gurudakshina festival, Hedgewar announced that Golwalkar would be the next General Secretary (Sarkaryavah), the second most important position in the RSS.On his death bed a year later, the day before he died on 21 June 1940, he handed Golwalkar a sheet of paper asking him to be the leader of RSS. On 3 July, five state-level sanghchalaks (directors) who assembled in Nagpur announced Hedgewar’s decision.
The choice of Golwalkar is said to have “stunned” the RSS volunteers. Hedgewar had passed over several senior activists to choose Golwalkar. Golwalkar’s background, training and interests made him an unlikely successor. Balasaheb Deoras mentioned that several RSS leaders were sceptical if Golwalkar would be able to handle the responsibility of Sarsanghchalak.In retrospect, the grooming carried out by Hedgewar, including the encouragement to obtain a Law degree and the authorship of We or Our Nationhood Defined, which came to be regarded as a ‘Bible’ by the RSS cadres, is seen to have been the key to Golwalkar’s later success. One of the reasons advanced for the choice of Golwalkar is that he was likely to maintain the independence of the RSS, which was otherwise liable to be regarded as mere a youth front of the Hindu Mahasabha.
Serving as the Supreme Leader of the RSS for more than 30 years, Golwalkar made the RSS one of strongest religio-political organisations in India, witnessing an enormous expansion from a membership of 100,000 to over 1 million. The RSS branched out into various political, social, religious, educational, labour and other fields through 50 front organisations. It was extended to foreign countries where overseas Hindus were recruited into new organisations such as the Bharatiya Swayamsevak Sangh or the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh.However, there was a subtle but important shift in the RSS world view. Whereas for Hedgewar, nationalism was first and Hindutva (Hinduness) was a tool, for Golwalkar preserving Hinduism was first and nationalism was secondary A major innovation of Golwalkar was to develop an anti-communist and anti-socialist ideology, adopting the slogan, “not socialism but Hinduism.” D. R. Goyal posits that the anti-Marxist tinge made the RSS popular with the wealthy sections of the society, who made generous contributions financing the expansion of the RSS.
RSS expanded into Kashmir and Jammu starting in 1940, when Balraj Madhok was sent as a pracharak to Jammu, with Prem Nath Dogra being the sanghchalak (Director). A shakha was started in Srinagar in 1944 and Golwalkar himself visited Srinagar in 1946. On 18 October 1947, he met the Maharaja Hari Singh upon the request of Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s Home Minister, to persuade the Maharaja to accede to India. He was accompanied by Vasantrao Oak, the RSS pracharak for Delhi, and Narendrajit Singh, the RSS sanghchalak for United Provinces. It is believed that the Maharaja agreed to the proposal but the formal accession was signed only on the 26 October, after the invasion by raiders from Pakistan
Golwalkar’s religious orientation and apparent disinterest in politics convinced some members of the RSS that it was no longer relevant to the nationalist struggle. The RSS remained aloof from the freedom movement and all connections with the Hindu Mahasabha were severed. The RSS membership in the Marathi-speaking districts of the Bombay became disillusioned and the RSS sanghchalak for Bombay, K. B. Limaye, resigned. Several swayamsevaks defected and formed the Hindu Rashtra Dal in 1943 with the agenda of a paramilitary struggle against the British rule. Nathuram Godse the future assassin of Gandhi was a leader among them.
However, Golwalkar moved quickly to consolidate his position. He created the position of prant pracharaks (provincial organisers) who would report directly to him rather than the sanghchalaks. He recruited local Congress leaders to preside over the RSS functions, demonstrating the independence of the RSS from the Hindu Mahasabha.The RSS continued to expand during the years of the Second World War, especially in North India and the areas of the present day Pakistan. Many of the new members were small-scale entrepreneurs with a religious orientation who were interested in consolidating their caste positions using the symbols of Hinduism represented by the RSS.
The RSS policy during the war years was influenced by the potential threats to Hinduism. The RSS expected to be prepared for defending the Hindu interests in the event of a Japanese invasion of the subcontinent. It also expected that there would be renewed Hindu-Muslim communal struggle after the war for which the organisation must be prepared. Golwalkar did not want to give the British government any excuse to ban the RSS. He complied with all the instructions from the government, disbanding the RSS military department, and staying away from the Quit India movement. The British acknowledged that the RSS had “scrupulously kept itself within the law, and refrained from taking part in the disturbances that broke out in August 1942”
In addition to these pragmatic reasons, Golwalkar appeared ideologically opposed to an anti-British struggle. In his own words, the RSS pledged to the freedom of the country through defending religion and culture. There was “no mention of the departure of the British” in that. He called it a `reactionary view’ to equate anti-Britishism with patriotism and nationalism, alleged that it had “disastrous effects upon the entire course of the freedom struggle.”By his own admission, this attitude greatly “puzzled” people, included many swayamsevaks within the RSS, leading people to view the sangh with distrust
Rajeshwar Dayal, then Chief Secretary to the United Provinces Government, reported in his memoirs a plot by the RSS to carry out large scale attacks on the Muslim communities throughout the western districts of the state. The plot is said to have been uncovered by the U. P. police through timely raids on the organisation’s premises and the evidence was brought to him in two large steel trunks. The plans for the attack were said to have been master-minded by Golwalkar himself. Dayal, along with the Police chief, urged the government to arrest Golwalkar. However, the government headed by Gobind Ballabh Pant dithered. Golwalkar was apparently tipped off and left the state before the authorities could engage him
When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in January 1948 by Nathuram Godse, there was a widespread apprehension that RSS was involved in the plot, despite Golwalkar’s condemnation of the murderers. Golwalkar himself was arrested on 4 February, along with 20,000 swayamsevaks, and the RSS was banned on charges of promoting “violence” and “subversion.”Godse declared that he acted on his own initiative and no connection between the RSS and the Gandhi’s assassination has ever been made officially. However, Nathuram Godse’s brother Gopal Godse—who was also an accused in the assassination and asserted that Nathuram never left the RSS and his statement of having left the RSS was designed to protect the RSS and Golwalkar who were “in deep trouble” after Gandhi’s assassination. Golwalkar was released on 5 August after the expiration of the six-month statutory period.
The ban on the RSS however continued, and Golwalkar tried to negotiate with then Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel about lifting the ban. The mass arrests, violence against its members and the ban by an independent Indian government of what was understood to be a patriotic organisation was a great shock to the RSS members.
Patel asked the RSS to join the Congress, but this was not to Golwalkar’s liking. Patel then demanded, as an absolute pre-condition, that the RSS adopt a written constitution. Golwalkar responded by launching a satyagraha on 9 December 1948. Golwalkar was arrested once again, along with 60,000 RSS volunteers. The RSS leaders Eknath Ranade, Bhaiyaji Dani and Balasaheb Deoras suspended the satyagraha in January 1949 and, in collaboration with a liberal leader T. R. Venkatarama Sastri,wrote a constitution for the RSS that was to Patel’s satisfaction. The ban was subsequently lifted on 11 July 1949. The Government of India issued a communique stating that the decision to lift the ban on the RSS had been taken in view of the RSS leader Golwalkar’s undertaking to make loyalty towards the Constitution of India, and acceptance and respect towards the National Flag of India more explicit in the Constitution of the RSS which was to be worked out in a democratic manner