Among the conditions imposed on the RSS by Sardar Patel for the removal of the 1948-49 ban on it after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination was “explicit acceptance” of the National Flag.
For Patel, whose 140th anniversary was celebrated by the government days ago, the flag “stood for secular society”.
Last month, RSS leaders said that many members of the Flag Committee constituted by the Congress Working Committee in 1931 saw the idea of representing different religions on the flag as “communal”.
However, their views here are at odds with that of Patel, whom many in the BJP and Sangh celebrate for his integration into India of more than 500 princely states after Independence.
Patel said at a Congress meet on December 17, 1949, in Jaipur that any organisation seeking to supplant the National Flag by another would be sternly dealt with.
“Sardar Patel, who vehemently condemned the activities of the RSS, was loudly cheered at the conclusion of his speech,” says a newspaper report of the event, reproduced in Vol. XIII of the Collected Works of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, edited by P.N. Chopra and Prabha Chopra.
“There was a challenge to the National Flag that had come to be respected by kings and rulers and the power that ruled over India for 200 years. It was under that flag that the Congress made great sacrifices, and today, under no circumstances would they give up the ideal for which they had lived and worked.”
Patel told Congressmen he had made his view very clear to M.S. Golwalkar, the leader of the banned RSS, when the latter met him, “… The National Flag must be universally accepted, and if anyone thought of having an alternative to the National Flag, there must be a fight. But that fight must be open and constitutional.”
Home Secretary H.V.R. Iyengar had written to Golwalkar in May 1949, stating, “An explicit acceptance of the National Flag (with the Bhagwa Dhwaj as the organisational flag of the Sangh) would be necessary for satisfying the country that there are no reservations in regard to allegiance to the State”.
Academic P.K. Datta, an expert on the RSS, explains, “For the RSS, the saffron flag has been the organising symbol…This has basically been an attempt to substitute the multi-cultural nature of the nation-state with a single ideological identity.”
This was just one of the core disagreements between Patel’s Home Ministry and a banned RSS in 1948-49, the others being the “secret” functioning of the RSS, the absence of a written constitution of the organisation and even the preponderance of Maharashtrian Brahmins in its organisational hierarchy.
On July 11, 1949, the ban on the RSS was removed. The order mentioned the exchanges with Golwalkar, the draft constitution, the government’s suggestions, the Sangh chief’s clarifications, and said that Golwalkar had accepted the government’s suggestions, says an article in The Economic and Political Weekly by Rakesh Ankit.