As the Popular Front of India and its affiliate organisations have been declared an “unlawful association” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), by the Centre and banned for five years, there have been calls to ban the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS, after Independence, faced a ban on three different occasions when the Congress Party was in power at the Centre. These were: first, after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948; second, during the emergency which was declared by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975; and third after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992.
Congress party leaders have again taken charge of calling out the RSS and demanding it to be banned just as in the case of PFI. Congress MP K Suresh, from Kerala, compared the right-wing Hindi organisation with PFI and demanded a similar ban on it for perpetuating “Hindu communalism”, saying “ultimately both (majority and minority) communalism is dangerous”.
Earlier senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh while denouncing the violence perpetrated by the PFI in Kerala, had said the RSS and VHP as well, calling them “ek hi thali ke chatte batte”, demanding action against “all those who spread hatred and violence”. But the current government is under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) whose ideologue is the RSS, making such a demand which won’t be taken well, nor would it be obliged.
Why Was RSS Banned Three Times
In its gazette notification to declare PFI under the UAPA, the Ministry of Home Affairs on September 27, 2022, cites, among several points that “the PFI is involved in several criminal and terror cases and shows sheer disrespect towards the constitutional authority of the country and with funds and ideological support from outside it has become a major threat to the internal security of the country”.
Now what was RSS first banned in India for? In 1948, on January 30, Nathuram Godse a former RSS member assassinated Mahatma Gandhi. A few days later on February 4, the organisation was declared unlawful.
The communique had said: “The professed aims and objects of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are to promote the physical, intellectual and moral well–being of the Hindus and also to foster feelings of brotherhood, love and service amongst them…The government have, however, noticed with regret that in practice members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have not adhered to their professed ideals.”
Going on to say “Undesirable and even dangerous activities have been carried on by members of the Sangh. It has been found that in several parts of the country individual members of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity, and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunition. They have been found circulating leaflets exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect firearms, to create disaffection against the government and suborn the police and the military.”
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Home Minister wrote to Hindu Mahasabha leader Syama Prasad Mookerjee on July 18, 1948: “There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in the conspiracy [to kill Gandhi]. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of the Government and the State. Our reports show that those activities, despite the ban, have not died down. Indeed, as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure.”
As the group’s activities continued, the next ban came decades later when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed a state of emergency in the country on the night of June 25, 1975. The RSS was banned on July 4, 1975. One article says the RSS chief (Sarsanghchalak) Balasaheb Deoras had been taken into custody on June 30, 1975, at Nagpur railway station and was then kept at Yerwada jail in Pune. A number of top leaders of the RSS were arrested, along with thousands of Swayamsevaks.
In his letter to the then prime minister Deoras wrote, “On July 4 1975, the Central government issued a special ordinance to ban the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS). From press reports about the ban, it appears that it has been imposed on the ground that the activities of its swayamsevaks and senior workers are prejudicial to the security of the country and public law and order.”
The next ban came under Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao who banned the organization and two other militant Hindu groups, after the Babri Masjid demolition in December of 1992. He blamed the organisations for the demolition of a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya. By 1993, A tribunal headed by Justice PK Bahri, upheld the ban imposed on the VHP, but quashed the ban on the RSS and the Bajrang Dal.