Hindu Mahasabha

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Hindu Mahasabha was founded in 1915 to bring together the diverse local Hindu movements which had roots in North Indian public life, reaching back as far as the previous century. It was remodelled much on the lines of the Congress in the early 1920s by its founders including UP's Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. With branches in most parts of India it put emphasis on social and religious work among Hindus and untouchables, on protection of cows and in the spread of Hindi. The organisation remained more interested in protecting Hindu interests, particularly at times when the Congress tactics seemed to endanger them.

In 1925, a group under the leadership of K Hedgewar broke away from the Hindu Mahasabha and established the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangha (RSS), which, since its inception, adopted a more militant stand.

Since the mid 1920s, the Hindu Mahasabha's operations in Bengal remained mostly concentrated around the removal of untouchability and the purification of 'polluted' peoples. The leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha with the support of local Congressmen undertook campaigns in favour of the social uplift of the untouchable communities. The Mahasabha's involvement with the lower castes gained much prominence in the early 1930s, especially in the aftermath of Macdonald's Communal Award. The Hindu Mahasabha invited aboriginals to adopt caste Hindu names and register their caste as ksatriya during the census enumeration. In Malda district, Mahasabha activists tried to persuade the aboriginal labourers and sharecroppers to stop work in the fields of Muslim jotedars. They encouraged aboriginals to make a common cause with local Hindu politicians on the one hand and break their connections with the Muslim employers on the other. They thought that such efforts would enable them to thwart the efforts of the leftists to win over the sharecroppers in the northern districts.

In the late 1930s, the Mahasabha also lent support to several new Hindu organisations to carry out campaigns in favour of unification of Hindu society. In several districts, Mahasabha activists maintained links with the lower caste leadership. However, this sort of campaign to bring the lower castes into the Hindu community resulted in communal clashes between the lower castes and the Muslims which often took the form of communal riots. Instances of rioting and arson involving the Muslims and the lower caste Hindus were reported from Burdwan, Khulna, Jessore, Dhaka, and Noakhali districts.

Interestingly, the 1940s also witnessed a political discord between the Congress and the Mahasabha. The Bengal Congress by selecting caste Hindu candidates could win over the majority of the Hindu Nationalist and Sabha voters. Congress leaders tried to prove that they could represent Hindu interests better than the Hindu Mahasabha. The great calcutta riot, following the Muslim League's direct action day on 16 August 1946 revived some political hopes for the Sabha. shyama prasad mukherjee, in this situation emerged as the sole spokesman of the Hindu Mahasabha in Bengal. In fact under Shyamaprasad's influence Bengali Hindus even toyed with the idea of creating a new Hindu state of West Bengal.

As communal politics took over the scene, the Hindu Mahasabha became more interested in setting up Hindu volunteer corps for the defence of Hindu life and property. The Mahasabha even supported the idea of supplying firearms and ammunitions to Hindu communal organisations. The Mahasabha also arranged military training to Hindu youths by ex-servicemen. By 1946, the Hindu Mahasabha was successful in mobilising a substantial section of Bengali Hindus of Calcutta in support of its politics of Hindu nationalism. In a sense, it had emerged as a platform for the Hindu bhadralok to resist Muslim dominance in Bengal politics. Many scholars believe that Hindu Mahasabha was responsible for the partition of Bengal in 1947. [Raj Sekhar Basu]

Bibliography J M Brown, Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy, Delhi 1984; Sumit Sarkar, Modern India, 1885-1947, New Delhi, 1990; Joya Chatterji, Bengal divided: Hindu communalism and partition, Delhi, 1995.