Mahatma Gandhi, accidental death, Naveen Patnaik, Biju Janata Dal, Odisha
Today, the Hindutva groups may pay lip service to Gandhi and rattle off some of his ideas without even removing Godse from their minds

Why Gandhi’s anguished cry of ‘Hey Ram’ is giving way to 'Oh, my Godse!'

Of late, Gandhi’s idea of India is, indeed, getting a bit trite or rather old-fashioned. And the popular imagination is not as averse as it was in the past towards his assassin Nathuram Godse or towards extreme ideas that had led to the murder of Gandhiji on January 30, 1948.

Though no less than 74 years have elapsed since the Mahatma was slain, the country generally tried to see its public affairs only in the light of the moral and ethical standards of a high order as set by him. This it may still be doing but with a lesser degree or sadly not with the same resolve or steadfastness as was the case, say, about a decade ago.

The question then is, what reasons underlie such a turnaround? Though this kind of thinking is recent, it clouds not only Gandhi or his profound role in shaping what the country is today but also his principles, concepts, and deeply philosophical view of things.

Not just Gandhiji’s murder but the hurt caused by any crime, for that matter, is supposed to go beyond the victim and affect the entire society as well. But the hurt, pain, and anguish that transcended from individuals to family to society in the case of Gandhiji’s assassination still lingers. And, his loss is not that of a mere individual or leader but that of the moral compass of a nation, too. More so, since this had and still has the potential to throw the country and society asunder.

There are quite a few signs of this happening now when the country is, in many respects, rather better off than it was in Gandhi’s times. Like most people in pre-independent India, Gandhi too tried to look vulnerable. Perhaps, this was in a bid by Gandhiji to get on the same plane as most of his compatriots. The fact that he was shot dead proves that he was, indeed, unsuspectingly vulnerable while his slayers were not without a plan.

Also read: Chants of ‘long live Godse’ as Gurgaon anti-namaz extremists take out march

Nathuram Godse was not alone to be charged and hanged for murder but he went to the gallows with another, not-so-well-known accomplice by the name of Narayan Dattatreya Apte. The trial court had convicted three others as well though sparing them the death penalty. They were Vishnu Ramakrishna Karkare, Gopal Godse, and Madan Lal Pahwa.

A recent book, Gandhi’s Assassin The Making of Nathuram Godse And His Idea of India by Dhirendra K Jha gives details of not only the trial but also the probe; with details of the interrogation of the accused, including the father, originator and prime-mover of the idea of Hindutva, V D Savarkar. He was acquitted by the trial court, though.

More than this, what comes out through Jha’s meticulously researched account of Gandhi’s assassination is a larger plan to turn the country into a theocratic entity by eliminating Gandhi. Godse was close to both the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, though the RSS distanced itself from him as it does even now. Both Godse and Apte were hanged on November 15, 1949 and they died with the RSS prayer on their lips, says the book citing Gopal Godse’s 1989 publication Gandhiji’s Murder & After.

Attempts to save Gandhi’s assassins during the trial too point to Godse’s association with the RSS. Jha mentions a telegram, found in DP Mishra’s (former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and father of Brajesh Mishra) papers. The telegram was sent by an RSS worker to the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Mishra’s papers, which are kept in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, reveal the Sangh and its members’ intimate ties with Godse. “One of them, for example, even sent a telegram to Nehru, requesting the release of Godse on the ground that such a step would be in accordance with Gandhi’s principle of ahimsa. The swayamsevak, Ramchandra Singh Rambhau of Chhindwara in the Central Provinces, was quickly arrested by the police. In his statement, he said he knew Godse as one of the ‘instructors’ of the RSS in Poona, where he stayed for five years to complete his college education.”

The book provides a vivid sketch of the lives and times of Godse and his cohorts in the Sangh and the Mahasabha. It also underlines the frequent blurring of the dividing line between the two organisations.

Also read: Hate speech at Haridwar: Controversial leader tells Hindus to take up arms

As opposed to Gandhian humility and resistance to British rule, the so-called Hindu outfits, in their flamboyance, often took a fancy to totalitarian regimes elsewhere and always stayed away from Gandhiji’s struggle for freedom of the country. Yet, as per the book, Godse at one stage had felt an urge to join the Congress-led freedom movement but he was weaned away by Savarkar’s sectarianism. Despite this, Savarkar virtually disowned Godse during the trial and went scot free.

Behind every crime is a motive. In Gandhi’s murder what is palpable is that the protagonists of Hindutva of those times couldn’t ever imagine surpassing Gandhi’s avowed belief and practice of true faith. And true faith’s appeal touches across diversity and plurality of myriad sorts; something which Savarkar’s Hindutva lacked. He tried to compensate this with hate, antagonism, and confrontation that took Gandhi’s life and also endangered that of a newborn country, as India was only a few months old at the time of Gandhi’s assassination.

Also read: A conversation with Gandhiji in the time of coronavirus pandemic

Yet, it was easier to kill Gandhi than slaying Gandhism. His assassination turned out to be the result of a conspiracy that badly backfired on Hindutva outfits. For decades, they became quite unpopular following the Mahatma’s assassination. But as old habits die hard, the same groups came out of their closets as soon as public outrage against them ebbed with time. Today, they may pay lip service to Gandhi and rattle off some of his ideas without even removing Godse from their minds. And sadly, this is happening once again as attempts are on to truss up the country with theocracy, in step with the ideas of Godse and Savarkar.

(The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi and NCR. He tweets @abidshahjourno) 

(The Federal seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. The information, ideas or opinions in the articles are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Federal)

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