February 08, 2015

Contemporary Hindutva and The Murder of Gandhiji

Archana Prasad

ON October 2, 2014 the Modi government launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and dedicated it to Gandhiji. A sketch of the bust and the spectacles of Gandhiji were used by the government to appropriate the legacy of Gandhiji. This attempt to appropriate Gandhiji by the political representatives of the Sangh Parivar was exposed two months later. Sakshi Maharaj, a member of parliament from the BJP, called Nathuram Godse, the murderer of Gandhiji, a patriot and a martyr. This utterance created a ruckus in the Rajya Sabha but also showed that the Hindutva forces were double-speaking on the matter of Gandhi. The intentions of the Modi parivar became even more clear when it decided to confer the Bharat Ratna on two people known for their active support for the idea of the Hindu Rashtra which lies at the foundation of the formation and communal politics of the Sangh Parivar. The raking up of the debate on Gandhiji’s murder in the very first year of the NDA-II government shows the aggressive push by the Sangh Parivar towards challenging and changing the fundamental principles of the idea of India.



It is true Nathuram Godse, an intellectual worker of the RSS and an active member of Hindu Mahasabha pulled the trigger on January 30, 1948. But the conspiracy to murder was an organised one. In her introduction to the edited book Beyond Doubt: A Dossier on Gandhi’s Assassination (Tulika 2015), Teesta Setalvad correctly writes that the “assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948 was a declaration of war and a statement of intent. To those forces who, 67 years ago, conspired in the killing, the act declared a lasting commitment to India as a Hindu Rashtra, and announced how the RSS and its affiliates would be at perpetual war with the secular, democratic Indian State as well as all those who stood by these principles” (page 1).

In line with this thinking the book provides documentary evidence about the pre-meditated conspiracy hatched to kill Gandhiji. As is recounted, January 30, 1948 was the fifth attempt on Gandhi’s life. Of the other four previous attempts Nathuram Godse was himself involved in at least two, which were both ideologically and logistically supported by the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. The RSS was banned by the Government of India on February 2, 1948, two days after the killing of Gandhiji. But the document banning the organisation stated that the RSS had been a force of “hate and violence” five months before India became independent. The resolution held that members of the Sangh were found to be “circulating leaflets exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect firearms, to create disaffection against government and suborn the police and the military”. It also claimed that the “cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the Sangh has claimed many victims” (pages 6-7). This reproduced resolution in the book clearly shows that saffron terror is not new to contemporary India. Rather its antecedents lie in the activities of the Hindu Mahasabha from the 1940s onwards.

The other aspect of Gandhiji’s murder that is very well highlighted by the documents reproduced in the book is the connection between organised conspiracy and Nathuram Godse. Sardar Patel’s letter to Golwalkar after the ban clearly highlights this. As Patel writes “All their (RSS) speeches were full of communal poison. It was not necessary to spread poison and enthuse the Hindus and organise for their protection. As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of a valuable life of Gandhiji. Even an iota of sympathy of the government or that of the people no more remained for the RSS. In fact the opposition grew. Opposition turned more severe when RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death” (p.7). This quote clearly shows that Patel was clear in his view that RSS was responsible for the death of Gandhiji. It is instructive that Patel directly blamed the Sangh for the assassination of Gandhiji. Thus any attempt by Modi and the Sangh to appropriate the nationalist legacy of Sarder Patel is historically inappropriate.

Teesta Setalvad’s book clearly shows that Gandhiji’s assassination was a result of the communal polarisation and mobilisation that the RSS had been doing in the years preceding his death. Though Nathuram Godse pulled the trigger, it was the Sangh that was squarely responsible for the assassination. It is thus instructive that when L K Advani made an attempt to disassociate Godse from the RSS and the Sangh, Gopal Godse (the brother of Nathuram Godse) chided and countered him. From Gopal Godse’s logic, Nathuram was a loyal and important intellectual soldier of the Sangh and had performed a job entrusted to him by the Sangh. In this sense any attempt to delink Godse from the Sangh only betrays the dishonest intention of the BJP to cover-up the truth.



In a letter just before his hanging Nathuram Godse wrote “Gandhiji is immortal, but Gandhianism is on its deathbed” (Beyond Doubt p.68). This statement shows that through his assassination, the Sangh was attempting to root out the beliefs and the convictions that Gandhi held dear. In the contemporary context this is important. Today the Gandhian legacy can be seen in terms of both the anti-imperialism and the message of communal amity that Gandhiji espoused especially in the last years of his life. The Modi led NDA government has made an assault on both these principles in significant ways. The first is the pro-imperialist foreign policy being followed by the Modi government. Its overt closeness with America and the attempt to spread influence over the neighbouring countries (especially appealing to their Hindu antecedents) shows a movement away from anti-imperialism that has been characteristic of Indian foreign policy. This is accompanied by the special concessions made to both conservative NRIs and foreign companies, many of whom fund the activities of the Sangh Parivar.

The second and most evident repudiation of the Gandhian ideology and legacy is the continued communal aggression of the Sangh Parivar. The link between forces of social conservatism and the Sangh parivar has become evident. Lok Sabha and Assembly elections are preceded and followed by communal riots (Muzaffarnagar, Trilokpuri and others). This process of polarisation is being furthered through the active communalisation of education (also evident in NDA-I). Further the processes and wheels of justice are being systematically reversed in Gujarat especially after Modi became prime minister. The Gujarat government has facilitated the bail of Vanzara, PP Pandey and others in the Ishrat Jehan and Soharabuddin fake encounter cases. The organisations of the Sangh are being facilitated through the government’s pre-meditated conspiracy of inaction and silence which was best evident in the Gujarat pogrom of 2002.  These instances and political trends show that the Modi and the Sangh Parivar are carrying out a contemporary murder of the Gandhian legacy. In this sense, they are the true heirs of Nathuram Godse and his fascistic ideology and anti-democratic legacy as shown in Teesta Setalvad’s book.