Resurrecting Godse

Print edition :

Gopal Godse.

On Martyrs' day, Frontline replugs its piece from 1994 on Gopal Godse, convicted for Gandhi's murder, along with an interview of him.

The publicity given to the Nathuram Godse memorial meeting, held in Bombay on November 17 has been extremely embarrassing to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which would like to disown all connections with Mahatma Gandhi's killer. The meeting, unusually for this annual event, was widely reported, and saw several inflammatory speeches eulogising Godse and vilifying Gandhi­ji. On November 21, BJP president L.K. Advani issued a statement denying that his party had anything to do with the recent attempts to glorify Nathuram. "Nathuram Godse was a bitter critic of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh," he said. "His charge was that the RSS had made Hindus impotent. We have had no­thing to do with Godse. The Congress is in the habit of reviving this allega­tion against us when it finds nothing else." (The Times of India, Novem­ber 22, 1993)

In fact, Nathuram Godse was a life­long member of the RSS, attaining the position of baudhik karyakarta (intellectual worker). His statement at the murder trial (originally published in 1976, in a volume entitled May It Please Your Honour) says, "1 am one of those volunteers who joined the Sangh in its initial stage" (p. 142). He says he left it to do more directly pol­itical work in the Hindu Mahasabha (he does not say when). But his brother Gopal Godse suggests that he never really left the RSS (see inter­view), and that the statement at his trial was meant to alleviate the press­ure on the Sangh, which was banned following Gandhiji's murder. A leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, Shyama Pra­sad Mookheriee, went on to found the Jana Sangh, forerunner of the BJP.

Mere membership does not, of I course, mean responsibility: the BJP does not necessarily have to answer for the actions of each person ever associ­ated with the Sangh Parivar. But in this case, the chickens have come home to roost. Gopal Godse reacts to Advani's statement angrily, and calls it the response of a coward. The polltics of swayamsevaks like the Clothes does not differ too greatly from that of the RSS and the BJP today. The BJP's campaign slogan in the recent elec­tions: Ham ne jo kaha, so kiya (What we said, we did), boasting of an event that consumed thousands of lives, denotes an implacability of re­solve at least equal to Nathuram's.

Meeting Gopal Godse himself is helpful in uncovering any affinities that might exist between his politics and that of the Sangh parivar. He lives in the heart of old Pune, in Sadashiv Peth, in a new apartment building called Vinayak. His flat shares a landing with a bank, and, in that busy space, it is startling to see the names in Devanagari script in prominent red on the door: "Shree Gopal Godse. Sow. Sunita Godse."

He opens the door. Gandhiji's mur­derer, you think, but there he is, a tall, slightly bent man in pyjamas and an old yellow sleeveless sweater. You scan his appearance for signs of what might make him different. But as in most scandals, one experiences the shock of banality on meeting its perpetrator. He looks, for all purposes, like any other Chitpavan Brahmin one. sees in Sadashiv Peth — a frail old man, albeit with hooded eyes. He remains proud of his Chitpavan heritage. He smiles slightly and lowers his gaze — the half-conscious reaction, perhaps, to a lifetime of notoriety.

A large glass case dominates the drawing room decorations. It contains a small silver urn surrounded by photographs. In the urn are the ashes of Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte. The pictures arc of them and of V. D. Savarkar. Just below the case is a porcelain plate with Savarkar's por­trait. His motto, "Ilinduise all politics and militarise Hinduilom," encircles the picture. Although "honourably ac­quitted" of conspiring to kill Gandhi, Savviesr was nevertheless a close asso­ciate of Nathuram Godse. Gopal Godse's daughter Asilata has married Ashok Savarkar, son of Savarkar's younger brother Narayan. Both famil­ies are still close to the Hindu Mahasabha (the party Nathuram be­longed to and Savarkar was president of for several years); Gopal Godse was until recently its general secretary.

He is eager to talk. "Greedy to spread his message," as he puts it — to justify his brother's act, and to propa­gate the concept of Hindu rashtra which, he feels, is the only answer to the country's political prob­lems. He is polite and courteous; though his views may be offensive in the extreme, he tries not to let his manners impede the reception of his ideas. It is hard for most people to conceive of Gandhiji's killers as other than demented or demonic. This is ob­viously a matter very much on his own mind. He is constrained to refute the myth that Nathuram was a madman or a fanatic. "You may disagree with his views, but you must rust consider his arguments." Gopal says.

He rejects all existing political part­ies except the Hindu Mahasabha. Every other party, he says, is guilty of pandering to the Muslims and conse­quently endangering the nation. Simi­lar criticisms of the BJP, however, are made by several within the RSS itself. Godse's views themselves have much in common with those of the BJP. India is nothing if not Hindu — this is the theme he tirelessly stresses, in one variation after another. Muslims do not have their originary place of worship within this country, and it is essential, in his view (derived from Savarkar), that one's place of birth is also one's holy land. Muslims can be loyal only to Pakistan; every Muslim in India is a Pakistani agent, he says. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad slogan Babar hi santaan — jaao Pakistan ya kabristan (Children of Babar — go to Paki­stan or else to the grave!) dramatises this sentiment.

He has spent much time in the last few years studying texts on Hindu architecture. His object is to demonst­rate that, while Hinduism provided the sanskriti, or culture, of India, Islamic influence was nothing but vikruti, destruction. The Taj Mahal was a Sin temple — this is proven by the fact that Siva temples have four doorways. The Taj, like many other Mughal structures of its kind, has four doorways. All those other Mughal structures, therefore, are also Siva temples, Godse argues. The Qutb Minar is a particular preoccupation of his — another Hindu structure usurp­ed and defaced by invaders, and ori­ginally called the Dwija Sthamba, he maintains. He has even convinced an M.Phil student to do his thesis on the subject. The Muslims did not build a single structure in India, he asserts, astonishingly. All they did was to efface Hindu icons and ornamentation from existing structures, and often incompletely. He has memorised many Sanskrit and Arabic verses for dramatic effect, and urges visitors to test his memory. He recites the verses, which few visitors understand in any case, in support of his arguments. He cites Sitaram Goel, author of What Hap­pened to the Hindu Temples? which gave the rhetorical foundation to the VHF's long list of mosques to be de­molished. Most of his ideas with re­spect to architecture and culture, how­ever, derive from P. N. Oak, the ex-Indian National Army volunteer and "scholar" who claims all of world cul­ture for Hinduism's province. Rome was named after Ram, Christianity is actually Krishna-nisi, and so on; an entire history is swiftly fabricated by manipulating the syllables of proper nouns.

What unites these ideas is an insist­ence on the unity of history, geogra­phy, culture, religion and nation, ex­tending to every object or individual within the region. He follows fearless­ly the implications of this monistic pol­itical theology. No displacements, no articulations of different but related parts are allowed; every artefact and every text forever reduplicates the im­mutable truth that is 'Hindu.' Just what this truth is is in itself less impor­tant than its endless proliferation under the same category. All his theorising is then ultimately a process of renaming. The etymology of "category" is categorein, to accuse, "Hindu" func­tions not as a neutral name but in sharp opposition to its "others," no­tably Muslims. For Godse, Hindus and Muslims can never be part of the same nation without disastrous results. Islam is an inherently fanatic, aggressive re­ligion, and its adherents will always take advantage of the tolerance and catholicity of Hindus. The opposition to Muslims only serves to render Hin­dus more like their demonic "others," the Muslims, but that seems secondary to the imperative of survival.

When questioned on the need for aggression, he demonstrates a deft abil­ity at sophistry. Carrying through the assumption of the unity of the individ­ual, religion and nation, he declares the concept of aggression to be inappli­cable in the case of action against Mus­lims. "I cannot be violent in my own country," he says, comparing Muslims to a "foreign attack" of virus.

Godse's ideas are in a continuum with Hindu right-wing thought today. They draw from and reflect its charac­teristics. They have the trait of can­dour, of fleshing out the implications of what an Advani or a Vajpayee would be more likely to obscure with assur­ances of moderation and democratic process that are routinely violated. They have a great deal in common with, for instance, Uma Bharati, an "extremist" who was, however, always seen by the side of the moderate Advani after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Muslims are the main target of her wrath: "Muslims are like Sudras — dirty, filthy people," she said in a conversation with this writer last year. "We must tyrannise them. If any one of them creates any kind of fuss, they should simply be killed. Even her reassurances were alarming: "I am not a Hitler, she said. "I am not going to build gas chambers.

Others, like journalist Arun Shourie, ,concentrate their attacks on the enemy within, namely pseudo-secularists. In a November 25 lecture in Pune under the auspices of the Lok Swaraj Andolan (to promote his new book A Secular Agenda), he reminded his audience that Abraham Lincoln had fought a civil war to keep his country from splitting into two. The war killed 2 per cent of the country's population, but no one questioned the necessity of the war — it was redeemed by the nobility of its purpose. Two per cent of India's population amounted to 18 million, but Shourie made it clear that India too should be prepared for such a war.

If you turn to M. S. Golwalkar, the RSS leader, the confirmation of a con­tinuity with Godse's views is even more emphatic: "When we say 'This is the Hindu Nation,' there are some who immediately come up with the question, 'What about the Muslims and Christians...?' They are born in this land, no doubt. But are they true to their salt? ... Do they feel a duty to serve her? Not .. They look to some foreign lands as their holy places... They have cut off their ancestral moorings of this land (sic) and men­tally merged themselves with the ag­gressors. They still think that they have come here only to conquer and establish their kingdoms. So we see that it is not merely a case of change of faith, but a change even in national identity. What else is it, if not treason, to join the camp of the enemy leaving their mother-nation in the lurch?" (A Bunch of Thoughts, pp 166-167)

Every Muslim, for Golwalkar as for Godse, is a foreign agent with little to do but engage in anti-national activit­ies, usually of a violent kind: "...The Muslims are busy hatching a dangerous plot, piling up arms and mobilising their men and probably biding their time to strike from within when Paki­stan decides upon an armed conflict with our country... Not that our leaders do not know it. The secret in­telligence reports reach them all right. But it seems they have in view only elections. Elections means vote catch­ing, which means appeasing certain sections... And the Muslims are one such solid bloc. Therein lies the root of all this appeasement and consequent disastrous effects." (A Bunch of Thoughts, pp 239-240).

Compare this with Gopal Godse: "They make bomb blasts in Bombay in the name of the Koran. They will con­tinue because the Koran is very clear. They want to Islamise their complete world. And the secularism is the most fertile ground for them to do it... Out­side, what happens today, for haj, a Muslim who is a smuggler goes there. And a Pakistani Minister goes there. They join there together under the name of Islam. They dictate what is to be done in India... So all conspiracies go on in the name of Islam. And we allow it." (Godse, personal interview).

The true Hindu patriot has two en­emies: the Muslim and the "secular" (nowadays pseudo-secular) government. The Muslim's danger is well-known and unambivalent, whereas that of the secularists is much less so. Partaking itself as tolerant and pluralistic, the secular government is actually cal­culating and selfish, and will lead the nation to disaster. Only in Hindutva is such narrow selfishness overcome, as individual identity merges with the nation. In these ideas, Godse and the RSS "guru", Golwalkar, are unanimous.

It must be conceded that the BJP and the RSS are more sensitive to pub lie opinion, to the practicality of actually getting something done, as op­posed to landing up behind bars or in the gallows after having made a "statement" of some kind. Especially with the BJP, a party primarily seeking power, the ideas its leaders express mice often serviceable means to an end rather than deep convictions. In this respect, the saying goes, BJP minus RSS equals Congress (a witticism that says as much about the Congress as about the BJP). It is the RSS which is the backbone of the Hindutva party and which makes the BJP different from other parties.

The habit of seeing dangerous con­spiracies everywhere, of calling for rooting out a scourge that threatens the nation, is itself sign of a paranoid men­tality that in the U.S., for instance, was called McCarthyism. Perhaps we should cease calling a paranoid and violent politics by its own preferred name of Hindutva, and thereby deny it any respectable cover. Advani's dis­avowal of Nathuram Godse' connec­don with the RSS flies in the face of the well-documented connections be­tween them and the essential similarity of their ideas, as suggested by Nathuram's published statements, as well as Gopal Godsc's own words (see interview). The Janata Dal slogan against the BJP in the recent elections summed it up: "Muh me Ram our dil me Nathuram" (Ram on their lips and Nathuram in their hearts).

One trait that seems common to rabid advocates of Hindutva, be it the demolishers of the Babri Masjid or the murderers of the Mahatma — is lack of remorse at what they do in furthering their cause, despite the sense of shock and anger their act sends across the nation, and beyond. Gopal, younger brother of Nathuram Godse and one of those convicted in the Gandhi murder case, comes across as one such stereotype fundamentalist in this interview he gave. Excerpts:

  • Were you a part of the RSS?

All the brothers were In the RSS. Nathuram, Dattatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our Inene. It was like a family to us

  • Nathuram stayed in the RSS? He did not leave it?

Nathuram bad become a baudhik karyavah (intellectual worker) in the RSS. He has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. Rut he did not leave the RSS, they have countered him, saying it is cowardice to say that. Yet can say that RSS did not pass a resolution, saying that. 'go and ussassinutt Gundhi; But you do not disown him (Nathuram;. The Hindu Mahasahha did now disown him In 1444 Nathuram started doing Hindu Mahasabtu work when he had been a baudhik karyavah in the RSS.

  • When was the plan to kill Gan­dhi made?

Nathuram had a teleprinter, as edi­tor of the Hindu lRashtra, a daily. On the teleprinter, he saw that Gandhi has decided to undertake a fast on the next day, (The fact was to demand that the amount of Rs. 5 more not he with­held front Pakistan, against the Gov­ernment's decision to withhold pay­ment until Pakistsn's aggression in Kashmir had boon resolved. The Rs. 55 crore was part of the settling of post-Partition accounts between India and Pakistan.) Immediately it must have struck Nathuram. So that was the turning point.

But there were many occasions on which people: may have thought of the killing Gandhi. In the refugee camps That he is the poison who brought us disaster, so why not kill him? It many times happens...that the clouds gather in the skies and we assume that in the next 15 minutes it will be a rainfall, and a heavy one. But the things are otherwise. Winds blow, don't know from which side, and take away all the clouds... So what is required for that rainfall? That particular atmosphere, the particular degree of temperature to be connected with the particles of wa­ter in the cloud. And then they take the shape of water to drop on the earth.. So there might have been con­spiracies and conspiracies, and the wind might have come and blown diem away. But when everything was lust in order, this conspiracy proved to be fruitftil. So far as the conspirators were concerned. Fruitful in the sense materialised. Their aim was achieved.

  • What was your involvement with Veer  Savakar?

No question - we were all taking him to be our guru — a political guru. We read all his writings. So if we say we have understood Savarkar to the tidiest, it will be a folly on our part to ask him whether we should do it. A guru's blessings are required for a weak-hearted person. Supposing the guru ties your hands (saying) — 'You took don', do any such thing,' and wow third peewit of his own sloes it, can we say, 'Oh, we would also have done the same thing, but the guru tied out hands?' That would be shielding our own fear and defaming the guru.

  • What was Savarkar's response to the matter?

The game as that of the general battens "I was aghast at the news of the communication which reached me here" and so on. That was his public response.

  • Many writers hate argued that Gandhi was responsible or bring­ing Hindu culture into the national movement and thereby giving the movement a broader, more popular base. lWhat do you think?

Had it really been the case, Gandhi should have helped our government to declare this a Hindu state. But he did not want it. And this story that Gandhi died saying He Ram is a fabrication of the Congress. He said no such thing. The story that Gandhi died saying lie Ham is the first use of Rant by the Congress for political purposes.

  • One criticism some people hair made of Gandhi is that his interpre­tation of Hinduism teas "effemi­nate." and that he did not emphasise the "more manly aspect of Hinduism" What do you think about this criticism?

You we, this is very much an ambi­guity. For instance, he sent telegrams to Roosevelt, Hitler, all the warlords — to stop war. And when Pandit Nehru asked him, "Shall I send the army to defend the place," he said Yes. Why didn't we send troops with Gorkhas? What the sane then? You only teach others — you don't ad­here to your principles.

  • When Uma Bharati or Sadhvi Ritambhara says that "we Insist he more aggressive." that Hindus have been cowards for too long. that ahimsa is actually weakening the Hindus..

I disagree. In my country I am never said to be aggressive. Let m take the east — I have been attacked by ma­laria. The doctor gives me some injec­tions. The foreign attack of malaria has been diminished or wiped out. Should I say that I should he aggressive against malaria, that imposition of malaria is itself an aggression? So wiping it out can be a retaliation. In my country if want to remove every germ of malaria from my body. I armor he called ag­gressive    

  • In what ways do you find a continuity between the Hindu Mahasabha and the BJP"?

All  them have to come to the way of a Hindu rastura. All of them. There is no alternative. There is going to be polarisation as Hindus and Muslims mingle. And the stage will come like Bosnia.

  • There will be a civil war!"

It is hound to he. And these omit only will bring it. Because of the ap­peasement and infiltration of the Mus­lims — for the sake of the votes. The BJP is not strong enough to play the Hindu card straightforwardly. They ar not. Whatever you do, you cannot count on Muslim vows. One time you are doing this Ayodhya Ram mandir. And then you are begging votes from the Muslims These things will not do.

  • What do you think of the cul­tural background of the people in­volved in (hr social reform and na­tionalist movements? Many of them seem to have come from the ('Chitpavan Brahmin community).

This Brahminical class — Peshwas — right from the top, you will And the revolutionaries — the link is all Brahminical. Mengel Pandey, for in­stance. the tint hero of the War of In­dependence, was a Brahmin. Then you go to Maharashtra, Vacudev Ratwant Phadke, who led a revolt, and died after transportation to Aden in 1883, Then came the Chapekar brothers, who killed ;Walter Charles) Rand (authoritarian Chairman of the Plague Committee in Poona in 1897). Then Lokamanya Tilak was a Brahmin. Vishnu Shastri Chiplunkar, Ranade ...

  • How do you explain that?

They were the thinkers and with a feeling of sacrifice to do something for the nation. So one who has integrity does it. Maharashtra was not directly affected by Partition. and yet it was Maharashtra which had sympathy for the provinces that were cut and the atrocities that were going on... Why should a Maharashtrian go to a place 2000 miles away? It is called national integrity. This tradition has moved with that spirit, that idea behind it. These papers — you can call it yellow journalism — they use the name Peshwai to defame, to put them in the class of Brahmins and Brahminism That is the tradition because they wain to appease the so-called weaker sec­tions, or Bahujan Samaj as they all it.

  • You do not see any validity in those distinctions?

As I explained, at the time of Partition, no person was spared. All were slaughtered. Whoever comes as a target of the Muslim dagger is the proved definition of Hindu So we come to­gether in the graveyard. But while alive, we say, 'No, I'm not a Hindu'. The Muslim determines who is a Hindu. It so happens — to give a sim­ile, one who gets some ancestral prop­erty without any trouble for himself just becomes spendthrift, goes in for sonic vices — because he does not know the value of it. Hinduism has come to these people like that.

  • Which people?

All these people who criticise Hindutva. And, therefore, they do not know the value of it.