On 27th September 1925, an organisation was launched that would influence the politics of modern India. It was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its first Sarsanghchalak was Keshav Baliram Hedgewar.
Hedgewar was a protege of Congress leader Balkrishna Moonje, who was an associate of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. On Moonje’s advice, Hedgewar completed his medical studies in Calcutta and, during this time, he became involved in revolutionary societies like the Anushilan Samiti.
On his return to Nagpur, Hedgewar became involved in local politics under his mentor Moonje. In December 1920, he was a volunteer making arrangements for the Indian National Congress session. He set up a small group for this purpose and called it Rashtriya Swayamsevak Dal.
Between 1918 and 1921, the Khilafat movement was supported by Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress, leading to mass mobilization of Muslims. As a counter-reaction, Hindu political leaders formed the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha. Hedgewar and Moonje became its members.
1921 saw the horrific Moplah riots in Kerala, against Hindus. It was the first of more than 20 rounds of communal flare-ups across India. Frustrated by the response of the Hindu Mahasabha, Hedgewar resigned and, on 27th September 1925, he and Moonje co-founded the RSS.
It was Hedgewar who introduced the concept of daily ‘shakhas’ as the first permanent units of the RSS, in Nagpur city. Next, the concept of ‘pracharaks’ or ‘officers’ who renounce their family and careers and work full time for the cause of the RSS, was set up.
When Hedgewar’s health declined, he handed the reins of the RSS to Madhavrao Golwalkar, in 1940. It was Golwalkar who made the RSS a pan-India force with shakhas across India. He was one of the strongest proponents of Hindutva and a Hindu Rashtra.
After India’s independence in 1947, the RSS, which had traditionally eschewed politics and was a purely social organization, began to support the Jana Sangh founded by Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee. The Jana Sangh would evolve into the Bharatiya Janata Party.
With the setting up of organizations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Kisan Sangh and Rashtriya Mazdoor Sangh, the RSS has evolved into the fountainhead of what we know as the ‘Sangh Parivaar’ today.
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