RSS in Sindh: 1942-48 (Part-I)
An article build upon the memories of some Sindhi Hindus who attended RSS shakhas in their teens and early youth and brought with them distinct memories to divided India.
Once the Partition of the Indian subcontinent had become a reality, a team of RSS activists in Sindh had two urgent aims in mind: to facilitate a smooth evacuation of the Sindhi Hindus who had begun to repose considerable trust in them, and to blow up a few government structures before leaving.
In colonial Sindh, unequal economic opportunities and widening class cleavages created ruptures in self-perception. The Sindhi-speaking Hindus and Muslims, who hitherto drew their sense of identity from territory, language and Sufi masters (worshipped commonly by both communities) began to move towards polarized religious identities. The success of the Muslim League and RSS from 1941 onwards concretized the polarization (which was neither complete nor uniform). This article builds upon the memories of some Sindhi Hindus who attended RSS shakhas in their teens and early youth and brought with them distinct memories to divided India, a phenomenon undocumented but with considerable implications for the contemporary politics of India.
Once the Partition of the Indian subcontinent had become a reality, a team of RSS activists in Sindh had two urgent aims in mind: to facilitate a smooth evacuation of the Sindhi Hindus who had begun to repose considerable trust in them, and to blow up a few government structures before leaving. They saw the former as a duty and the latter as a legitimate response to the looting and riots supported by the Muslim League. Both aims required arms; a group of 21 young men made intense preparations.
In the Shikarpur colony of Karachi, the house of one Raibahadur Tolaram became the hideout for this cadre. The house was ostensibly taken over for tutoring students, and this turned out to be perfect camouflage for making bombs. The secret operation was going smoothly until on August 14, a powerful bomb accidentally exploded. It blew two swayamsewaks and the house to pieces. The two young men who died were Prabhu Badlani and Vasudev. The local police swooped down on the premises. All but one escaped. He was imprisoned and tortured for several months, until he was exchanged for another prisoner of war in 1949. There are contradictory opinions about the precise identity of this prisoner and his connections with the RSS.
The story of the Shikarpur colony bomb case has come to us through individual accounts as well as lesser known written sources. Among the mainstream studies on the RSS, only one makes a passing reference to the, “manufacturing of bombs in Sindh” [Anderson and Damle 1987: 48]. Among lesser known sources, a Sindhi writer Jayant Relwani (from Gujarat) refers specifically to the Shikarpur colony bomb case in an article on the predominance of the RSS in Sindh (1996: 89-90). The case finds a detailed discussion in what claims to be “an authentic and critical biography” of L K Advani, former president of the BJP and former deputy prime minister, by Atmaram Kulkarni (1995). Kulkarni’s intention in mentioning the Shikarpur colony bomb case is to show Advani’s participation in it, as testimony of his courage. However, Advani’s participation has not been confirmed by any other source. Meanwhile, an anonymous pamphlet titled Balidan Ki Baldevi Par provides photographs of the “martyrs” who died in the explosion at the Shikarpur colony.
Besides these few written references, the Shikarpur colony bomb case exists as an important episode in the minds of RSS activists from Sindh who are now in their late seventies and eighties. Fortuitously, I have met at least two members of the group of 21 who were involved in the Shikarpur colony bomb case.
The two men are Jhamatmal Wadhwani who lives in Mumbai and Harish Vazirani who lives in Ahmedabad. Jhamatmal Wadhwani was one of the key figures in the plot to make bombs for use against the Pakistan government. He remained in Pakistan until 1948 to help people under surveillance after the Shikarpur colony bomb case escape. He corroborated the incident, but refused to reveal specifics like names. Wadhwani was the secretary of the RSS in Hyderabad. He has continued to be involved in the post-independence avatars and affiliations of the RSS by being an active member of the Jan Sangh and the BJP. L K Advani, K R Malkani and Jhamatmal Wadhwani are three of the most experienced members of the RSS from Sindh. Harish Vazirani, on the other hand, did not sustain his links with the RSS after coming to India. He is, however, proud of a past that brought him close to the organization and volunteered information about the Shikarpur colony bomb case as a context for his unplanned departure from Sindh. He was the first person to lead me into what turned out to be a significant, although unsuccessfully conducted operation. The single incident of the Shikarpur colony is of interest to us indirectly. It stands as a concrete example of the RSS network in Sindh, a phenomenon ignored in studies of Hindu fundamentalism in India. Despite the conspicuous example of L K Advani, “a gentle face with a beatific smile” [Basu et al 1993: vii], who symbolizes Hindu fundamentalism in India since the early 1990s, the making of the RSS in Sindh and its consequences have largely been ignored as subjects of historical inquiry.
The creation of the RSS story in this essay has been out of a cloudy and murky past that came to me almost accidentally. As part of the process of understanding the Partition experiences of the migrant generation, I conducted oral interviews and found that references to the RSS occupied considerable space in my record of interviews. This is probably among the first accounts of the role the RSS played in Sindh and its implications on the Sindhi psyche after Partition. Among the first migrant generation that came to India during 1947, some young men brought with them legacies of the RSS and passed them onto the next generation. A tangible case of one such transmission in Gujarat has been that of Maya Kodnani (BJP MLA, Naroda constituency) who admitted in a personal interview that her father belonged to the RSS and she was deeply influenced by that legacy.
This legacy is very significant from the point of view of ideology formation and its sustained influence in the present. However, given the lack of written documentation, the numerical subscription of the RSS in Sindh remains unknown. Some figures are indicative, but perhaps they should be understood to point a tendency rather than a trend. For instance, the writer Jayant Relwani mentions that there were 41 ‘shakhas’ (branches) of the RSS in the city of Karachi alone (1996: 87). He begins his article on the presence of the RSS in Sindh by saying that “there is a general impression that every Sindhi is a Sanghi, a generalization not without justification. Every Sindhi male has had a direct or indirect relationship with a shakha.” Furthermore, Anderson and Damle note that the membership of the RSS surged from 1945 and 1948 and most of that increase occurred in areas now part of Pakistan (especially Sindh and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP)), Punjab and Delhi (1987: 45). Jhamatmal Wadhwani mentioned that there were 75 ‘pracharaks’ (people in charge of dissemination and recruitment of volunteers) in Sindh, and that in every district, every taluka had an RSS volunteer, making in all 450 full-time RSS volunteers (personal interview). According to K R Malkani, the RSS had “spread to every nook and corner of Sindh” (1984: 86). These scattered remarks about the “success” of the RSS may not give us the exact number subscribing to this Hindu ideology, but they do indicate a noticeable presence during the 1940s. Malkani’s generous claim that the RSS had spread to every nook and corner may seem excessive; however, the truth may lie somewhere between the silence and his claim.
My discovery of the RSS connection in Sindh was first made in an unsuspecting corner: it was one of the many nuggets of memory dominating my father, Laxmandas Makhija’s narrative about his life. Although my father talked to me about Sindh at home as I grew up, he had never mentioned the RSS. In 2001, when I formally interviewed him to record his experiences of Partition, he mentioned the RSS as one of his most “vivid memories”. According to him, “From the age of 12, the highpoint of my life in Sindh was the RSS. I was not really involved in politics in Sindh. Many friends and acquaintances were in the Congress Sewa Dal. Me and my brother were in the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.” It was surprising that if this was an important part of his memories, it had never figured in conversations at home. However, based on what he had said, I went on to interview his brother, Udhavadas Makhija who proudly stated, “I know L K Advani from my RSS days. RSS was very pervasive in Sukkur, and since Shikarpur where your father and I lived was in the district of Sukkur, we were strongly influenced by it. We were the true nationalists. The ‘shakha sanchalak’ (branch-manager) used to tell us, ‘Know yourself and help your kind’. They gave us the courage to fight outsiders. My brotherin-law was also with the RSS. At least the RSS bothered about us. What did the Congress ‘haraami’ do? Nothing.” The interviews with the Makhija brothers served as the first link in a chain of conversations with many more Sindhis who joined the shakhas in Sindh. My father and uncle, like the rest of the men in my family are businessmen from Shikarpur. As many more narratives unfolded in interviews, it appeared that this aspect of the Sindhi Hindus was not restricted to businessmen and Shikarpur only. It was an important part of the Sindhi Hindu’s history but lived only in people’s consciousness because its presence became significant in not more than six years preceding Partition.
The two decades before Partition witnessed the simultaneous effects of the Khilafat movement, which helped the politicization of Muslims, and the after-effects of an abandoned noncooperation movement (1919-1921) on one hand and a gradual rise of non-secular organizations like the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha on the other (1930s). As in India, so in Sindh, the period of 1920-1940 played a decisive role in generating irreconcilable differences between the Congress and the Muslim League. The generation that then watched the communalized politics in Sindh was also that of the adolescent swayamsewaks of the RSS. They formed Sindh’s first significant cadre and came to a divided India with that legacy. In India, they have un/consciously transmitted their “experiences” and ideology to the next generation. From among those succeeding generations have emerged some of the most hardened followers of Hindutva, a form of Hindu fundamentalism, strengthened intellectually by the RSS, politically by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and pragmatically by outfits such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). To give but a few examples, Seth Naomal from Adipur told me that he was the BJP president in Adipur, Kutch and that his sons were with the BJP (personal interview). Maya Kodnani’s admission in this regard has already been mentioned above. Of the many factors that might be responsible for the Sindhis’ preference for a right-wing Hindu political party like the BJP, one is the RSS. Since Sindhis represent a minority, their ideological affiliations have not drawn attention but an examination of such micro-communities is needed to locate majoritarian politics in local cultures.
Rita Kothari is Professor of English at Ashoka University, Delhi. She is one of India’s most distinguished translation scholars and has translated major literary works into English. Rita has worked extensively on borders and communities; Partition and identity especially in the western region of India. She is the author of many books and articles on the Sindhi community.
Courtesy: Economic and Political Weekly (Published on July 8, 2006)