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13 January, 2015

Gandhi assassin as Hindutva icon

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

It was this month 100 years ago that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi returned to India after two decades in South Africa and went on to become the foremost leader of the country’s freedom movement.

It was this month 68 years ago that Nathuram Vinayak Godse, editor of a little known Marathi language daily, shot Gandhi dead, having been goaded, in his own words, “by the accumulating provocation of 32 years to the conclusion that his existence should be brought to an end immediately.”

In 2003, the first Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee, designated January 9, the day on which Gandhi landed in Mumbai harbour in 1915, as Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (Indian Expatriates Day). It also started the tradition of holding a Pravasi Bharatiya convention each year to underscore Overseas Indians’ contributions to the country’s development. India, which received $70 billion from expatriates in 2013, tops the global chart of foreign remittances by migratory workforce.

As delegates from across the world gathered in Gandhinagar, capital of Gujarat, last weekend for this year’s convention, Godse, whom ascendant Hindutva elements have resurrected and are seeking to enshrine as a national icon, was once again challenging Gandhi, the putative Father of the Nation.

Godse was associated with the Hindu Mahasabha, whose president, VD Savarkar, was the author of the Hindutva ideology, as well as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is the biggest exponent of that ideology today. Members of both organisations had reportedly celebrated Gandhi’s assassination by distributing sweets.

Nathuram Godse, and his associate, Narayan Apte, were sentenced to death in the Gandhi murder case, and both were executed on November 15, 1949. Savarkar, too, was an accused in the case but was acquitted for want of evidence. He led a quiet life thereafter and courted death in 1966 by giving up food and medicine.

Efforts at glorification of Godse began when his younger brother, Gopal, another accused in the case, emerged from jail in 1964 after serving a prison term and was given a hero’s welcome. He wrote a book on the Gandhi assassination in Marathi in which he included the text of a long court statement in which Nathuram Godse explained why he killed Gandhi. It was translated into English and several Indian languages.

In the court statement, a strong indictment of Gandhi’s politics, Godse accused him of appeasing the Muslims and held him responsible for the partition of India. He said he had fired the shots as there was no legal machinery to bring such an offender to book.

While the statement is couched in terms that sound reasonable, the hatred that vitiated his thinking found expression occasionally, as when he said, “I felt that this man should not be allowed to meet a natural death so that the world may know that he had to pay the penalty of his life for his unjust, anti-national favouritism towards a fanatical section of the country.”

GD Khosla, one of the three judges before whom Godse read out the statement, wrote later that if it had been made before a jury it might have returned a ‘not guilty’ verdict.

When Vajpayee was prime minister, a portrait of Savarkar was installed in Parliament House, opposite Gandhi’s, and the airport at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, where he was imprisoned during the freedom struggle, was named after him. There was, however, no attempt to rescue Godse from political villainy.

The Hindu Mahasabha has now announced plans to make Godse a national hero. It proposes to build a temple dedicated to him at Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, unveil his statues at several places across the country and release a documentary on him, all on January 30, the anniversary of the assassination.

Last week the UP government foiled the Mahasabha’s bid to take out a rally in Lucknow in support of its Godse projects. Residents of the village where the organisation has acquired land for the proposed temple have said they would not allow it. A Pune court is looking into a petition against the release of the Godse documentary.

The Hindu Mahasabha is rickety today and cannot carry out the proposed projects without the support of the BJP and the RSS. So far neither of them has reacted publicly to the Mahasabha’s plans. However, the ambivalent statements of Sakshi Maharaj, who is a BJP MP and RSS activist, suggest that there are pro-Godse elements in both. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 13, 2915.

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