The history of RSS dates back to September 27, 1925 when Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, popularly known as “Doctorji”, laid the foundation of the “Sangh” on Vijaydashmi. The humble beginning was made in Doctorji’s own house “Sukravari” in Nagpur with the purpose of training people physically and intellectually. In the initial days, the activities of RSS were limited to holding discourses on national affairs on Thursdays and Sundays.
It was not until April 17, 1926 when a meeting at Dr Hedgewar’s house picked up Rasthriya Swayamseval Sangh (RSS) as the name of the organisation. The other options that were rejected included Jaripatka Mandal, Bharat Uddharak Mandal and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh.
Nagpur’s Mohitewada ground became the first venue of the “Nitya Shakhas” (Daily meetings), a tradition that continues even today. It was here when the traditions of having Lathi-Danda was introduced along with Daksha and Aaram. The Shakhas began with salutation to the Bhagwa Dhwaj (saffron flag) and concluded with Prarthana (prayer).
The organisation begun to grow and in 1928, Sardar Patel’s elder brother Vitthalbhai Patel attended the Shakha in Mohitewada in which around 100 swayamsewaks took part.
The practice of appointing a sarsanghchalak (the organisation head) started in 1929. Hedgewar was designated Sarsanghchalak on November 10, 1929.
There is a controversy about RSS role in freedom movement. While the critics of the organisation claim that it had no major contribution in the freedom struggle, RSS counters this argument. The RSS claims that Hedgewar backed the Congress party’s call of seeking “purna Swaraj” and instructed all the “shakhas” to celebrate January 26 as Independence Day. The RSS also claims that swayamsweaks took part in the Quit India Movement.
A new era in RSS history started in 1940 with the passing away of Hedgewar. Madhav Sadasiva Golwalkar, popularly known as “Guruji”, took over the reins of the Sangh. It was the time when Veer Savarkar visited the RSS meeting in Pune and Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee raised the issue of the plight of Hindus in Bengal. The British banned the RSS uniform – in 1930, the RSS uniform of black cap and khaki shorts was introduced – and the practice of taking out city parades. The riots in Calcutta in 1946 mostly against Hindus and in 1948 Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by former RSS member Nathuram Godse. It was followed by a crackdown on the RSS as the government blamed it for the assassination. Around 17,000 swayamesewaks were arrested and “Guruji” ordered shutting down of shakhas.
In the 1950s, the RSS launched a Cow Protection Movement or Goraksha Andolan. It was the time when the political arm of the organisation, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, was formed by Mookerjee which was joined by many swemsewaks.
Mookerjee, a former vice chancellor of Calcutta University, had joined the national government led by Nehru in 1947, but in the aftermath of Gandhi’s assassination, and a clampdown on the RSS, he quit the cabinet. However, he died in custody in Kashmir in 1953.
The first instance of mainstreaming of RSS happened in the 1960s when it was invited to take part in the Republic Day parade. The event was followed by the launch of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, another Sangh outfit.
In 1973, Golwalkar, a fiery speaker, passed away and the mantle of RSS was handed over to Balasaheb Deoras. It was the second phase of RSS struggle as many Sangh leaders went underground with the imposition of emergency by Indira Gandhi. Balasaheb Deoras, a highly influential leader, was arrested.
Just at the same time, the politics was peaking and Bharatiya Jansangh merged with Janata Party to take on Indira Gandhi. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, the RSS expanded its base until it played a key role in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
The RSS was banned again 1992 when karsewaks brought down Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. This was the third time the outfit was banned. During this phase, the RSS had a new chief in Rajendra Singh, known as “Rajju bhaiya”. The reins of RSS went to K.S Sudarshan after Singh and then, in 2009, to Dr Mohan Bhagwat, the current RSS chief.
His rise coincided with the rise of BJP’s most charismatic leader of the present era, Narendra Modi. Modi, who has been an RSS worker, has helped the organisation have a major say in the power matrix of the country.