IN the final week of the 2019 Parliamentary Election campaign, Prime Minister Modi, the BJP and the RSS scrambled to distance themselves from the declaration of BJP candidate Pragya Thakur, that “Nathuram Godse was and will remain a patriot, those who call him a terrorist will get a reply in this election.”
Pragya Thakur herself is charged with participating in a terrorist bomb blast, and she had earlier declared that it was her “curse” that resulted in police officer Hemant Karkare being killed at the hands of terrorists during the Mumbai terror attack. But neither Modi nor the BJP were embarrassed by any of this: rather, Modi himself and other BJP leaders described Thakur as a ‘symbol’ of Hindu civilisation and her candidature as a “lesson” to those who dared accuse a Hindu of an act of terror. But it seems that Thakur’s blatant idolisation of Gandhiji’s assassin was a line the BJP, RSS, and Modi do not want to be seen crossing.
So Modi said he would “never be able to forgive” Thakur. But he has made it clear that his self-proclaimed inability to “forgive” Thakur does not extend to actually dropping her as a candidate or a member of the BJP. Moreover, neither Modi himself nor any other BJP leader is able to say the simple words, “Godse was a terrorist who hated secular India and killed Gandhi for his defence of Hindu-Muslim unity.”
Meanwhile the BJP asked Thakur to apologise. In her first ‘apology’ Thakur simply said that she was a faithful member of BJP and that the BJP’s line and her own line were the same. This statement, of course, gave the message that the BJP’s line was, in fact, that of idolising Godse. Soon after, a tweet from Thakur’s Twitter handle appeared, declaring, “I apologise to the people of India for my statement on Nathuram Godse. My statement was entirely wrong. I respect Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the nation, very much.” After the conclusion of the election campaign, another tweet from her handle announced her intention to “undertake a vow of silence for 63 hours” as penance “if” her words had “hurt the sentiments of patriots”.
Thakur had made her remark on Godse in response to a media-orchestrated storm over Tamil actor and political Kamal Haasan’s simple statement of fact: that Nathuram Godse, the first terrorist of independent India, had been a Hindu. Kamal Haasan’s statement was clearly made in response to the PM Modi’s repeated assertion that “no Hindu” had ever been or could ever be a terrorist. Yet, a case was filed against Kamal Haasan, and the Madras HC judge, while granting him anticipatory bail, chastised him for associating a terrorist or criminal with any community. In fact, it was the PM Modi who communalised the issue of terrorism by claiming that no Hindu could ever be a terrorist, and that the cases filed against Pragya Thakur and others were an insult that Hindus must avenge by voting against the Congress party. It is Modi, not Haasan, who deserves judicial chastisement for an election speech that blatantly violates the Constitutional guarantee of equality to all, irrespective of faith, in the eyes of the law.
In fact, it is undeniable that the RSS and BJP share ideological affinity with Gandhi’s assassin Godse, and with those like Savarkar who plotted the assassination. It is well established that Pragya Thakur herself belongs to Abhinav Bharat, a terrorist outfit set up by descendants of Godse and Savarkar to violently overthrow the secular Indian state and achieve a Hindu Rashtra. By handpicking Thakur as a candidate as a mascot for the 2019 election campaign, Modi and the BJP are seeking to camouflage Hindutva terrorism, from Gandhi’s assassination to killings of Muslims and intellectuals like Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi, and Gauri Lankesh, as ‘patriotism’.
There is ample historic evidence that Godse and the RSS shared the same violent hatred for Gandhi for his refusal to condone hatred and violence towards Muslims. Intelligence records document a speech by RSS founder Golwalkar in December 1947, telling Sangh cadres that Muslims must be evicted from India and Pakistan must be finished off, and “if anyone stood in our way we will have to finish him too.” In the same speech Golwalkar went on to name Gandhi and say that “if compelled”, the Sangh would “immediately silence” him. Nathuram’s brother Gopal Godse stated in 1994 that Nathuram and all his brothers were RSS members, and that Nathuram said he had left the RSS, only to shield the RSS from the repercussions of Gandhi’s assassination. India’s first Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is on record stating that it was the “communal poison” in the speeches of RSS leaders that led to the assassination of Gandhi, and that RSS “men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death.”
As a loyal RSS man, Modi himself inherits this selfsame poisonous attitude to Gandhi. He can hardly afford to openly endorse Gandhi’s assassin. Therefore he seeks to appropriate and distort Gandhi’s legacy by associating Gandhi with “cleanliness” alone, and remaining silent on the fact that Gandhi was killed for upholding Hindu-Muslim unity and resisting anti-Muslim hatred and violence.
By fielding a terror-accused follower of Godse as a candidate for India’s Parliament, the BJP has exposed its true face as a supporter of far-right Hindu majoritarian terrorism. No amount of fake ‘penance’ or crocodile tears shed by Modi or Pragya Thakur for Gandhiji can wash out this ugly fact.
Excerpts From Interview With Tushar Gandhi
(Tushar Gandhi, great-grandson of Gandhiji, is the author of Let’s Kill Gandhi: A Chronicle of His Last Days, The Conspiracy, Murder Investigation and Trial. Below are excerpts from an interview of his with Open Magazine)
Please tell us about all previous, unsuccessful assassination attempts on Gandhi before the final and the successful one by Nathuram Vinayak Godse on January 30, 1948.
In India after he became the single-most important leader of the freedom movement, especially since the 1930s, there were meticulous and organised efforts to physically eliminate him and all these were spearheaded by active members of the fanatic Hindus groups such as the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. So, there was a campaign of hate against him starting from that time.
Why did such attempts surface all of a sudden in the 1930s?
That is the whole question. If this assassination (of Gandhi) took place out of a fit of exasperation against what they perceived as his pro-Muslim tendencies that damaged the hopes of a Hindu India, then why was there an attempt on his life as early as 1934, at a time when Muhammed Ali Jinnah had not raised a demand for Pakistan? The only one who had spoken about a division of India then was Savarkar. Mind, it was at this time that Gandhi had been working relentlessly in uplifting the untouchables and reduction of atrocities against them. He had been going around, ever since he was freed from jail after the Salt Satyagraha, working towards securing Harijans access inside temples and to village wells and so on.
So, were Hindu fanatics angry because of those activities of Gandhi?
If you look at the thread of attempts on his life that had failed, they were either made in Pune or Brahmins from the region were involved in them. Of the seven attempts on Gandhi’s life, five involve the Pune unit of the Hindu Mahasabha. Of these, three had the involvement of Narayan Apte and Nathuram Godse (both executed in Ambala in 1949 for their roles in the assassination of the Mahatma). In 1934, they didn’t find anybody because the hand grenades were lobbed in Pune on a car that was to carry him to the Corporation Auditorium to receive a civic honour. This happened on June 25, 1934.
Vishnu Karkare, one of the accused in the Gandhi assassination case, was very active in the area, often launching attacks on Muslims. The Kapur Commission Report mentions that a raid on Karkare’s property led to the seizure of arms that bore marks similar to the one used in the Pune 1934 attack. Karkare used to be close to Narayan Apte, who was thick with Nathuram Godse. Apte and Godse were Savarkar’s most trusted lieutenants. So, there is a link that associates these people (Apte and Godse) with the very first recorded attempt on Gandhi’s life. It was no secret that ever since Gandhi’s campaign of Harijan assimilation and his work for the rights of Harijans, he became a target of Sanatani Hindus.
When was the next attempt?
The next recorded one to kill Gandhi was when he was recuperating after his release from the Agha Khan Palace Prison Camp in mid-1944 from malaria, which he had contracted during his stay there. He was in Dilkush Bungalow at the hill resort of Panchgani at that time, on the advice of his doctor. In July 1944, a bunch of Hindu Mahasabha-RSS volunteers went around Panchgani shouting slogans against Bapu. Later they congregated outside a prayer meeting in a school that Gandhi attended. Suddenly, one young man jumped into the prayer hall and rushed towards Bapu brandishing a dagger. One of the volunteers was a wrestler from Satara: Bhilare Guruji. He and Manishankar Purohit, who owned a lodge in Pune, overpowered the attacker, who happened to be Nathuram Vinayak Godse.
Another attempt was made in the September of same year when Gandhi was preparing to hold talks with Jinnah. The fanatical Hindu right-wingers had pledged to stop Gandhi from meeting Jinnah to negotiate a formula to avoid the partition of India. On the designated day when Gandhi was to leave on a train to meet Jinnah, as his car approached the gate, one of the Hindu right-wing members rushed towards Gandhi. Again he was disarmed and a dagger was found on him. Immediately the police arrived and detained these youths. Nathuram, Apte and Datte were part of the group. The organizations behind this knew then that Nathuram would be the martyr when an occasion to kill Gandhi came along. Notably, even then, an assassin was being groomed in a highly organized way.
Wasn’t there an attempt some years later to derail a train and kill Gandhi?
Yes, all of these are detailed in my book, Let’s Kill Gandhi. Gandhi ji was travelling to Pune by a train on 29 June 1946. It was on a train that had a third-class compartment, a guard room and an engine. It was known as the ‘Gandhi special’. It met with an accident somewhere between Nerul and Karjat thanks to boulders placed on the track with the intention of derailing it. Gandhi was saved because the driver was prompt in applying the brakes and delinking the engine carriage from the passenger compartment.
Then you have the very well-known bomb attack of 20 January of 1948 in which Madanlal Pahwa was arrested from the scene. What is striking about it is that an assassin had long been prepared to kill Gandhi by Savarkarites in the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS.
What do you think of Kamal Haasan’s statement that the first extremist of Independent India was Godse who was a Hindu?
In the context of what I have stated so far, the statement by him is very pertinent. Nathuram was classified by the police even before Bapu’s killing as a “hot-headed extremist”. Kamal Haasan’s statement is absolutely true.
What were the most striking lapses in the Gandhi murder probe?
Many. Now, the 9mm Beretta pistol, known as M1934 (serial number 606824) came from Italy and that was the one used by Nathuram Godse in the assassination of Gandhi. It was the most modern gun of its time. The pistol, manufactured in 1934, was brought to India from Ethiopia by a colonel from the Gwalior Regiment fighting in the British regiment. He took the Italian commander’s gun as a trophy back to Gwalior. Later on, this officer became the ADC to the Maharaja of Gwalior. Surprisingly on the 28th of January, when Nathuram Godse went to Gwalior along with Dattatreya S. Parchure (another accused in the Gandhi murder case) to purchase the revolver, that particular gun of the ADC was available with a gun trader named Jagdish Prasad Goyal in Gwalior. There is no investigation done yet how the gun under the custody of the ADC of the Gwalior Maharaja reached the gun trader’s hands, and then to Godse. If that investigation had been done, the role of Savarkar would have been established. In fact, Godse didn’t have the stature to find the network that took him to the gun trader that sold him the most effective close-range revolver at the time.
Golwalkar Wanted To “Finish” and “Silence” Gandhi
CHRISTOPHE Jaffrelot in his essay in Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism Is Changing India (see review in this issue of Liberation), cited a speech by RSS founding leader Golwalkar, made on 8 December 1947 to 2500 Sangh cadres. In that speech, Golwalkar told the Sangh cadres that Muslims must be evicted from India and Pakistan must be finished off, and “if anyone stood in our way we will have to finish him too.” Gandhiji was of course among those who stood in the way of the Sangh’s genocidal dreams. Golwalkar said about Gandhiji, “Mahatma Gandhi could not mislead them (Hindus) any longer. We have the means whereby such men can be immediately silenced, but it is our tradition not to be inimical to Hindus. If we are compelled, we will have to resort to that course too.”
It is this kind of speech to which Patel referred in his letter to Golwalkar, when he said, “All their (RSS leaders') speeches were full of communal poison....As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the valuable life of Gandhiji. ...RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death.”
(Patel’s letter to Golwalkar is quoted in full in Deshraj Goyal’s book Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh)
In a letter to Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Patel, India's first Home Minister, again affirmed the RSS role in creating the climate for the assassination of Gandhi ji:
"As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha… our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former (RSS) an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy (Gandhi's assassination) became possible.”
(Sardar Patel Correspondence, Volume 6, edited by Durga Das)