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Monday, March 27, 2006

 

Reminiscences of an Ordinary Admirer : By Arabinda Ghose

It was probably the mid-1950s. Not even 10 years had elapsed since India had gone through the traumatic experience called the partition of the motherland. During the partition, Hindus and Sikhs of Punjab and Sindh had together fought against the marauders and had found their way to what had become the Dominion of India after August 1947. One year earlier in Calcutta, the Sikh residents involved mainly in the city’s transportation network had come out in strength when the Great Calcutta Killing of August 16, 1946, had shaken India, and had fought side-by-side with the Hindus in order to check the government-sponsored massacre of Hindus. In most of the states, agitations for carving out linguistic states in the wake of the starvation and death of Potti Sriramulu, leading to the formation of a separate state for Telugu-speaking people, were gaining strength. In Punjab, however, this agitation had taken a different course. The Sikhs, by and large, sought a Punjabi-speaking state with some people calling it the Punjabi suba. On the other hand, the Hindus sought amalgamation of Punjabi-speaking areas of Himachal Pradesh and converting this proposed large state into a Hindi-speaking one to be called Maha Punjab (Haryana was still not created). Interestingly, both the groups carried out their propaganda through the medium of Urdu, because the pre-partition Punjabi-speaking people of the undivided Punjab had received their education in Urdu medium. So, for a non-Urdu knowing person, the posters of the proponents of both these groups appeared to be similar because they were in Urdu, not in Hindi or Punjabi. In 1956, the Sangh had celebrated the 51st birthday of Shri Guruji all over the country by holding public meetings. The people were requested to contribute as shraddhanidhi whatever they could afford and the contributions had exceeded the expectations. The age-old relationship between the Hindus and the Sikhs appeared to have been dented on this issue. A thousand miles to the south, at Nagpur, it was difficult for most of the swayamsevaks to even comprehend what the dispute was all about, because they had been taught to revere Guru Nanak, Guru Gobind Singh and all the Sikh gurus. Yet the newspapers wrote about increasing tension between the two communities on the issue of languages. It was during this period that Shri Guruji, according to his normal routine, went on a visit to Punjab, where he was scheduled to address a Sangh rally as also the people of Jalandhar, if I remember the name of the place correctly. While addressing the rally, he merely mentioned the fact that the language of Maharashtra was Marathi, of Tamil Nadu, it was Tamil, for Orissa, it was Oriya, for West Bengal it was Bangla and for Uttar Pradesh and some other states, it was Hindi. So, he asked, why shouldn’t Punjabi be the language of Punjab? A very simple question. But it immediately evaporated the heat generated in Punjab because of the language controversy, and the two brave communities of the north-western India had once again come together and become one community of Punjabi-speaking people. So much so that when terrorism had erupted in Punjab in the 1980s, all efforts of the Pakistan-sponsored terrorists to drive a wedge between the two communities had failed. There were killings—selected killings—but no violence was resorted to as reprisals. The success of the security forces in eradicating terrorism could be attributed to this unshakeable bond between the two communities. And the Punjabi-speaking Hindus and Sikhs must then be remembering with gratitude the simple sentences uttered by Shri Guruji 30 years ago for this “miracle” of sorts. This, to my mind, was one of the greatest contributions of Shri Guruji towards creating cohesion among various communities of India. A Punjabi-speaking state was created during the re-organisation in 1956, but it did not generate bad blood between the two major communities. In course of time, a separate Hindi-speaking state—Haryana—was also created in 1967, though there are some pending issues yet to be sorted out. But Shri Guruji’s contribution in keeping the two brother communities together and dousing the fire in the mid-1950s will always be remembered with gratitude by the entire country. In this connection, one recalls the Delhi scenario of November 1-4, 1984, when Sikhs were massacred by the violent mobs shouting the slogan khoon ka badla khoon se lenge in the aftermath of the deplorable assassination of Smt Indira Gandhi. The localities in Delhi, where the RSS was strong, were entirely free from this organised massacres. This writer recalls a conversation he had with a colleague in the Hindustan Times, where he was then a Special Correspondent. The colleague said airily that the Hindus, led by the RSS, were just butchering the Sikhs. I immediately protested saying that an RSS man could never commit such crimes. And in fact, I advised him that he should visit the west Delhi areas where he would find all the Sikh residents safe and free from terror unleashed by those murderous crowds elsewhere in the city. A very simple question. But it immediately evaporated the heat generated in Punjab because of the language controversy, and the two brave communities of the north-western India had once again come together and become one community of Punjabi-speaking people. One recalls in this connection the underlying message on unity Shri Guruji would deliver in simple manner. For example, he would speak only in Hindi at all congregations or utsavs in Nagpur, where the overwhelming majority of swayamsevaks was and is of Marathi-speaking people and Shri Guruji’s mother tongue was also Marathi. This practice had sent the message that Hindi was the real unifying language of India—one may call it the sampark bhasha or rashtrabhasha. In 1956, the Sangh had celebrated the 51st birthday of Shri Guruji all over the country by holding public meetings. The people then were requested to contribute as shraddhanidhi whatever they could afford and the contributions had exceeded the expectations. I was asked to look after the comforts of Dr Radha Kumud Mukherjee, the wellknown scholar of Lucknow (his brother Dr Radhakamal Mukherjee too was an equally erudite scholar based at Lucknow). Dr Mukherjee was staying during those couple of days, March 5 and 6, 1956 (probably), at the residence of a wellknown philanthropist of Nagpur and had presided over the mammoth rally at the Patwardhan grounds in Nagpur. This probably was one of the largest non-political rallies ever to be held in the city. Thereafter, Shri Guruji had addressed a similar rally at Pune, where too I was present. The reason why I am referring to the Pune rally is that when in 1996, Atalji addressed a rally at Pune on the occasion of the National Executive meeting of the BJP (November 7 and 8), the size of the crowd appeared to be the largest ever in that city. However, two journalist friends of mine, residents of Pune, told me at the end of the meeting that perhaps the rally addressed by Shri Guruji at the same venue, 40 years ago, on the occasion of the presentation of the shraddhanidhi by the residents of Pune, was bigger. In 40 years, the population of the country and hence of Pune had grown substantially. Atalji is an acknowledged orator. Yet It was Shri Guruji who had drawn a bigger crowd 40 years ago. This was because of the social impact the RSS Sarsanghachalak had on the people without resorting to pontification, and just speaking about the nation and nationalism in the simple language, mostly in Hindi. One would, at the end, like to recall Shri Guruji’s commitment to the cause handed over to him by Dr Hedgewar in 1940 before he departed from this world. It was the OTC season in Nagpur. One of the swayamsevaks attending the third year OTC had offered to leave home and work as a pracharak at the end of the OTC. This decision had broken the hearts of his parents, who had high hopes from their son. The father, therefore, came to Shri Guruji and requested him to convince the swayamsewak not to leave home and become a pracharak. I still remember the reply Shri Guruji had given to the father. He had said: “My commitment to the Sangh is to recruit more and more pracharaks so that the organisation could spread all over the country. I cannot ask him to return home. However, if he wishes to change his mind, I would have no objection” or words to that effect.

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