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Dr Hedgewar: Rare Gem, True Leader & Visionary

Dr. Aniket Pingley

Every time I visit Reshim Bagh Karyalaya of Rashtriya Swayasevak Sangh in Nagpur, I pay my tributes at the Smriti Mandir. Firmly nestled, there is a statue of Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, carved in black stone, depicting a sentinel of this great nation of Hindus.

In his chiselled form, ‘Doctor ji’ as he’s popular, appears calm and resolute, watching over the swayamsevaks who are expanding the work of RSS in every realm possible. To say that the statue stands as a symbol of inspiration is an understatement, as is saying that the man was an institution.

When man first landed on the moon, the whole world believed that it was a giant leap for mankind. Dr. Hedgewar also took one such giant leap for mankind, albeit a few decades earlier, when he founded the RSS. But unlike many visionaries, he put everything into action through ‘Shakhas’, basic units of Sangh and created a universal roadmap for ‘Vyakti-Nirmaan’ (personality development) that would diligently serve not only Bharat but humanity transcending borders.

More than a dozen biographies of Dr. Hedgewar have been written thus far; perhaps the most remarkable one is in Marathi by Shri Nana Palkar, titled ‘Dr. Hedgewar Charitra‘. Shri Palkar, writer and poet himself was also a lifelong pracharak of RSS.

Dr. Anil Nene recently translated his book into English under the title ‘Man of the Millennia: Dr. Hedgewar.’ It was released on March 2, 2024. Almost a century since RSS inception, its key figures remain the most under-researched and bordering on enigmatic, but amply vilified, mostly due to a lack of due diligence that often stems from malicious intent.

For the English-dominated intellectual space in metropolitan regions of India and the global audience, ‘Man of the Millennia: Dr. Hedgewar’ is a ‘go to’ book as it was originally authored by a Pracharak who not only had opportunities to meet Dr. Hedgewar personally but also internalized the vision-in-action laid down by the fountainhead of the RSS.

The book takes us through many notable incidents in Dr. Hedgewar’s life. Since his childhood, the signs of a freedom fighter, a revolutionary and a leader have been evident. From refusing to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday in school to raising slogans of Vande Mataram which eventually led to his rustication from school, Dr. Hedgewar’s moral compass was palpable. He went to Kolkata for higher studies. With revolutionary moorings, he played an active role in movement of fellow revolutionaries in Bengal and assisted with supplying them ammunition.

To readers, it may come as a shock that before founding the RSS in 1925, Dr. Hedgewar was an active member of Indian National Congress! His speeches against colonial rule as a grassroots’ organizer of Congress led to British charging him with sedition and imprisoning him for almost a year in 1921. When he was released from jail, he was not only met with a rousing welcome from the Congress cadre, but senior leaders like Motilal Nehru felicitated him in a public gathering. Dr. Hedgewar was imprisoned second time for leading ‘Jungle Satyagraha’ during Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930.

Dr Hedgewar truly believed in collaboration without any consideration for recognition. Not just with Congress and Anushilan Samiti, he aworked closely with a spectrum of leaders like Dr B.S. Moonje, Shri Babarao Savarkar, followers of Shri Lokmanya Tilak, who also had revolutionary tendencies but deep rootedness in the cultural and civilizational position of Bharat. There must be no doubt that Dr. Hedgewar not only believed in an independent and self-reliant Bharat but made solid contributions to freedom struggle.

Through all learning of working at grassroots with people holding divergent view points and methodologies, Dr. Hedgewar also experienced that sporadic passion among people and a sentimental up-tick in emotions for the freedom struggle would fade away quickly.

He also saw that Hindus were divided due to narrow considerations of language, caste, region, etc. He realized that being disciplined and organized is fundamental to having lasting conviction for a unified nation. This led him to change gears and steadfastly focus organizing Hindus via the instrument of a ‘Shakha’. Now, in its 100th year since inception, the RSS has expanded to sphere of national life.

Dr. Hedgewar’s genius lies in selflessness. He did not create anything for himself. Instead, through genuine affection and razor sharp focus on the goal, the world’s largest brotherhood of volunteers stands before humanity ever ready to do the needful without personal considerations.

Dr. Hedgewar is a legend in his own league who continues to live on through the generations of swayamsevaks he inspires. A lot of people talk, some walk the talk, very few walk more than they talk and the rarest of the rare create a roadmap for others to walk.

Dr. Hedgewar is that rare gem—a true pathfinder who once walked alone, leaving footprints in Bharat’s history.

(Author is an accomplished computer scientist, educator, and holds expertise in media content strategy)

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