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Posted at: May 18, 2019, 6:41 AM; last updated: May 18, 2019, 6:41 AM (IST)

Gandhi, Godse and BJP

Rajesh Ramachandran
Rajesh Ramachandran
Pragya Singh kills Gandhi all over again by praising the assassin
Gandhi, Godse and BJP
The Mahatma: Gandhi, as an idea, is immortal. He gets killed every time his assassin is defended, because he has long ceased to be an individual.

Rajesh Ramachandran

The BJP embarrassed itself when it nominated terror accused Pragya Singh Thakur to contest the Bhopal seat on the lotus symbol. Now, the ruling party has embarrassed the nation by continuing with Thakur’s candidature after her statement praising Godse. Gandhi gets killed every time his assassin is endorsed because he has long ceased to be an individual. Gandhi is an immortal idea. The BJP’s candidate has murdered Gandhi all over again by praising the murderer. A martyr makes the murderer a part of his memory, and so is the case with the Mahatma. The only successful public act of Nathuram Godse, the failed editor of Marathi newspaper Agrani, was the murder of Gandhi. Godse is defined by just that one act. There is nothing else significant about Godse the RSS swayamsevak or the Hindu Mahasabha worker. When the BJP candidate calls Godse a patriot, she is merely talking about the three bullets that he pumped into the frail body of Gandhi and into the soul of the nation.

This statement by Thakur, since retracted and later condemned by Prime Minister Modi, has a deep ideological, psychological and social significance. At a very personal level, Thakur, a self-proclaimed nationalist, reveals her belief in Godse’s deed as a legitimate political tool to defeat a rival. Patriotism is the highest form of virtue for a nationalist and Thakur is putting the label of her greatest appreciation on Godse by terming the murder of an unarmed, ageing opponent, who offers no resistance, as the virtuous deed of a patriot. Unless Thakur invents a new reason, completely unconnected to Gandhi’s murder, her admiration for Godse reflects an attitude towards the murder of unarmed people. What school of bravery could have taught its disciples to seek virtue in killing an unarmed man? The question and its possible answers offer a glimpse into the workings of a hate-filled mind. 

Interestingly, her praise of Godse, known only for his violence against an unarmed man, has only underscored the allegations of Hindutva terror made against her by the brilliant investigator Hemant Karkare. And politically, Thakur’s candidature now can also be seen as the BJP’s endorsement of Godse and his politics of violence. After all, Gandhi’s murder was not an opportunistic crime of passion. It was the result of a conspiracy to put an end to a certain kind of politics. And Godse always considered himself to be politician and not a hired assassin. Sure, the BJP is not alone in promoting people involved in politics of violence. The Marxists did it earlier in West Bengal, they still do it in Kerala and the Maoists revel in it. But they don’t rule the country. Either the BJP has to admit that it has put up the wrong candidate in Bhopal or perhaps Thakur is telling the world what her leaders hide in the pauses and punctuation marks of their speeches.

Thakur’s statement can also be read as the negation of history, the contemptuous irreverence towards the man who led the Indian national movement, and thereby the denigration of the memory of the martyrs of a great liberation struggle. But on that count she is not alone, people of diverse and often conflicting ideological persuasions have abused Gandhi and the best example is novelist-turned-activist Arundhati Roy. The point of convergence for Thakur and Roy is Gandhi the nation builder. Interestingly, both come from streams of thought that have sources in the British attempt to negate the idea of the inclusive Indian nation. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Dr BR Ambedkar and VD Savarkar promoted identity politics and the British policy of separate electorates which Gandhi opposed, staking his life. Savarkar’s Hindu Rashtra was the pitr bhumi and punya bhumi of the Hindus, excluding Muslims, an interestingly innovative expression of the colonial theory of separate electorates. 

Decades later we are still battling the ghosts of history. It is a fact that the RSS and the BJP believe in Hindu Rashtra as opposed to a Gandhian Republic of diverse belief systems with equality for all and a special treatment for the weaker and meeker ones. Gandhi, the unifier, was obviously anathema to the colonial masters and their stooges. Now, 70 years later, the old colonial policy seems to be succeeding with the descendents of the apologists of the Empire defining the country's mainstream politics, sometimes its Opposition and even its radical fringes. About 15 years ago when I was researching Savarkar’s role in the Gandhi murder at the National Archives, what baffled me most was how clumsy the conspiracy was and how it could still get carried out. The first attempt on Gandhi’s life was made on January 20, 1948, by Madan Lal Pahwa, a follower of Savarkar. That attempt to explode a gun cotton slab and to throw grenades failed and still 11 days later Godse could casually walk up to Bapu and shoot him down on January 31. Godse’s co-conspirator Narayan Apte’s purported links with the Royal Air Force still remain unproven. The recent conspiracy theory about a British plot to assassinate Gandhi and the possibility of Apte being a British agent are all tantalising elements of Indian history’s greatest whodunit. 

Every time Godse gets praised or Gandhi gets abused it is worthwhile to look deeply at the ideological moorings of the protagonists. There is often a logical pattern and an umbilical cord of old colonial patronage or neo-colonial investments behind those who make such outrageous statements. 

Gandhi’s murder has always been a mystery. For the prosecutors, Savarkar was the key conspirator. But he was acquitted and the Nehru government did not appeal against his acquittal. Then in 1969, the Justice Jeevan Lal Kapur Commission report concluded: ‘All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.’ The Indira Gandhi government published the report in 1970, the same year it issued a postage stamp in Savarkar’s memory on May 28.


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