The RSS and its political front, the Jana Sangh and its successor, the Bharatiya Janata Party, have always been in an acute embarrassment over Nathuram Vinayak Godse, who assassinated Gandhi. It could not own him up. But it could not own up Gandhi, either. It chose what it thought was an easy way out. It opted for V.D. Savarkar, the man behind the conspiracy to murder Gandhi, who was a mentor of Godse.
Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948. It took the Sangh Parivar about 45 years to laud him. The praise was tactical. In March 1939, RSS supremo M.S. Golwalkar published his tract We or Our Nationhood Defined . On page 42, he listed nearly 40 heroes “in our time”—ending with Savarkar. Gandhi’s omission could not have been accidental. On page 61, he took a swipe at the Congress. In 1966 came another masterpiece by Golwalkar. It was a book entitled Bunch of Thoughts . After attacking Jawaharlal Nehru, he wrote, “Once a notable Hindu personality of those days, in a largely attended public meeting, declared: ‘There is no swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity and the simplest way in which this unity can be achieved is for all Hindus to become Muslims!’ He did not even realise that then it would not be Hindu-Muslim unity but only Muslim unity as there would be no Hindu left at all!
“To this extent, self-forgetfulness was taught to the Hindus. They were taught to forget their glorious history, to forget Rana Pratap, Shivaji, Guru Gobind Singh and all such inspiring names and if at all their memory did intrude, to call them ‘misguided patriots’. In fact, history was ‘invented’ to suit their slogan of Hindu-Muslim unity. To give an example of one such invention, a well-known scholar of our country has written that there is hardly an instance on record to show that Hindus were forcibly made to embrace Islam! Is this invention not something ‘super-Einsteinian’ in its originality? And all this was supposed to be for the achievement of ‘Hindu-Muslim unity’ and therefore swaraj!…
“In other words, the Hindu was told that he was imbecile, that he had no spirit, no stamina to stand on his own legs and fight for the independence of his motherland and that all this had to be injected into him in the form of Muslim blood. What a shame, what a misfortune that our own leaders should have come forward to knock out the ancient and indomitable faith in ourselves and destroy our spirit of self-confidence and self-reliance, which is the very life-breath of a people! Those who declared ‘No swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity’ have thus perpetrated the greatest treason on our society. They have committed the most heinous sin of killing the life-spirit of a great and ancient people. To preach impotency to a society which gave rise to a Shivaji who, in the words of the great historian Jadunath Sarkar, ‘proved to the whole world that the Hindu has drunk the elixir of immortality’, and to break the self-confident and proud spirit of such a great and virile society has no parallel in the history of the world for [the] sheer magnitude of its betrayal.”
No prizes for guessing the identity of the “notable Hindu personality”—(Gandhi); he was denounced in intemperate language—“treason”, “heinous sin”—“for sheer magnitude of its [Hindu society’s] betrayal”. Violence of the language instigates people to violence.
Savarkar’s complicity in multiple murders was matched only by the multiplicity of his abject apologies for 40 years from 1911 to 1950. (For the details vide this writer’s book Savarkar and Hindutva: The Godse Convention ; LeftWord, New Delhi, 2002.) His rejection of nonviolence and attacks on Gandhi are well known. The two-volume report by Justice J.L. Kapur, a former judge of the Supreme Court, in 1969, concluded, “All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.”
In a letter to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on February 27, 1948, Vallabhbhai Patel said, “I have kept myself almost in daily touch with the progress of the investigation regarding Bapu’s assassination case. I devote a large part of my evening to discussing with Sanjeevi [Pillai, Director, Intelligence Bureau] the day’s progress and giving instructions to him on any points that arise. All the main accused have given long and detailed statements of their activities…. It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that [hatched] the conspiracy and saw it through.”
Patel wrote to Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Savarkar’s pupil and founder of the Jana Sangh by an accord with RSS supremo Golwalkar, on July 18, 1948. “As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, the case relating to Gandhiji’s murder is sub judice and I should not like to say anything about the participation of the two organisations, but our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible. There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in this conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of government and the state. Our reports show that those activities, despite the ban, have not died down. Indeed, as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure.” Members of the Mahasabha had “distributed sweets” after Gandhi’s assassination.
Ask yourself a simple question. If one’s kinsman or friend was killed by a man in these circumstances would you remain friends with him? That the Sangh Parivar actively promoted the idolising of Savarkar reveals what it really thought of his victim, Gandhi, and indeed, Savarkar’s chosen instrument Godse. L.K. Advani had Savarkar’s portrait installed in the Central Hall of Parliament facing that of the man Savarkar had conspired to assassinate.
Sangh ambivalence The Sangh Parivar has always been ambivalent about Gandhi and felt embarrassed if asked to denounce Godse. The sin is denounced, but the sinner is spared. The BJP’s then vice-president Ram Jethmalani said in Cochin (Kochi) on April 13, 1981, that Godse and Gandhi “shared the same political philosophy of a united India” ( The Times of India , April 14, 1981). Of course, Gandhi’s and Godse’s “political philosophy” were very different from each other. But even if Jethmalani meant only belief in a united India (and not a shared political philosophy), then millions shared this. Why did he single out Godse? The answer is simple; to belittle the gravity of his crime and to cast him in a favourable light. Significantly, none in the BJP criticised Jethmalani for his candid and very revealing comment. Others were less candid. Nine years earlier, the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser , remembered Godse in these revealing terms: “It was in support of Nehru’s pro-Pakistan stand that Gandhi went on fast and, in the process, turned the people’s wrath on himself” (January 11, 1970). Its editor, K.R. Malkani, became a vide-president of the BJP. To him and his party, Godse represented “the people” and the murder he perpetrated was an expression of “the people’s wrath”. In 1961, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya said: “With all respect for Gandhiji, let us cease to call him Father of the Nation. If we understand the old basis of nationalism, then it will be clear that it is nothing but Hinduism.” This was said as late as in 1961.
The Times of India editorially noted on October 17, 1989:
“Mr Advani, while holding forth on ‘Bharat Mata’, now goes so far as to deny that Mahatma Gandhi was the Father of the Nation.” None should be surprised at a photograph showing RSS supremo M.S. Golwalkar sharing, in Pune in 1952, a platform with V.D. Savarkar.
It was only in 1997, on the eve of the general elections, that the BJP warmed up to Gandhi. Rajendra Singh launched the campaign on October 2, 1997, Gandhi’s birth anniversary, and hoped to lead it to a climax on January 30, 1998, the 50th anniversary of Gandhi’s tragic assassination. On October 2, he addressed a mammoth rally of the RSS cadre, at which Atal Bihari Vajpayee was also present, and waxed eloquent on Gandhi. Earlier, BJP president L.K. Advani had suddenly discovered rare qualities in Gandhi during his Swarna Jayanthi Rath Yatra to celebrate 50 years of Independence. There was, however, no reference to Gandhian teachings in the four-day training camp of the BJP at Jhinjauli in Haryana. It was the “Thought of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya”, a president of the Jana Sangh, the BJP’s ancestor, which was propagated ( The Telegraph , September 4, 1997). In public, on October 2, Rajendra Singh used language never before heard from those quarters: “Gandhiji is one of the shining navratnas [nine gems] among the sons of Bharatmata.” Incongruously, among the other topics he covered were Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura.
By now, the derision which these antics had aroused was beginning to tell on the Parivar’s nerves. BJP general secretary Sushma Swaraj, angrily declared on October 17, 1997, that “Mahatma Gandhi is not the monopoly of the Congress party”. This was in reference to Congress president Sitaram Kesri’s jibe that the BJP was trying to “hijack” Gandhi. The issue was not one of anyone “monopolising” Gandhi but of a political movement that opposed him ferociously while he lived and rejected his ideology for decades suddenly hailing him as one of the nation’s “ navratnas ”. And all this while continuing to espouse a credo fundamentally antithetical to his.
There is nothing genuine or spontaneous about this recent and sudden conversion. The orchestration and timing reveal the motives. The Sangh Parivar profited enormously from Partition. But Gandhi’s assassination arrested that trend. The damage caused by this self-inflicted wound has not yet healed. It took the RSS-BJP 30 years to achieve some respectability—thanks to the Emergency—and 40 years to come close to acquiring power at the Centre. That, as Advani never fails to remind us, was due to the Ayodhya campaign.
The benevolence of the Modi government and Modi’s own silence emboldened some to shed tactical reservations and boldly assert their desire to build a bust in honour of the prime conspirator in the assassination of Gandhi. While some of the closet Godseites are now out in the open at last—after 66 years—there are many others who have sought sanctuary in the comforts of the closet.