Gandhi Murder and Role of RSS: Debate Continues

Ram Puniyani

Last week (March 2014) Rahul Gandhi in an election campaign meeting said that ‘RSS people killed Gandhiji and today their people and BJP talk of him…They opposed Sardar Patel and Gandhiji.” In a reaction to his statement RSS has lodged a complaint with election commission. This is not the first time that Rahul Gandhi has made such a statement; on an earlier occasion also he had made similar statement. What is the truth of Gandhi murder; did RSS as an organization had any role in it? Were members of RSS involved in it? What was the reaction of RSS followers in the wake of Gandhi murder? What was the response of Sardar Patel, the then Home minister in Union Cabinet to this ghastly murder?

These have been the subject matters of many books, films and plays, apart from myriad of books and articles. While the incident, the commissions of inquiry and the judgment are there for all to see, the deeper causes of Gandhi murder have not been debated, the underlying cause of contrasting Nationalisms is not brought to the fore in most of the debates. Today it is necessary not only to unearth the incident of Gandhi murder but it is also imperative to understand that Gandhi murder had deeper ideological underpinnings, those related to two notions of Nationalism, the one Indian Nationalism, which Gandhi espoused and strived for and other the Hindu Nationalism, the nationalism pursued by Godse, Gandhi’s murderer. Incidentally the current Prime Ministerial candidate of BJP, the political wing of RSS, is also boasting about his nationalism being Hindu, so the matters become all the more relevant in the current political context.

After the murder of Mahatma, the official RSS line had been that we have nothing to do with Godse; neither is he a member of RSS.  They could get away with this as there was no official record of members of RSS, and they could disown Godse at legal level. As such Godse joined RSS in 1930 and very soon rose to be its bauddhik pracharak(intellectual propagator), “Having worked for the uplift of the Hindus I felt it necessary to take part in political activities of the country for the protection of just rights of Hindus. I therefore left the Sangh (RSS) and joined Hindu Mahasabha (Godse, ‘Why I Assassinated Mahatma Gandhi’ 1993, and Pg.  102). He held Mahatma responsible for appeasing Muslims, and thereby the formation of Pakistan. He joined Hindu Mahasabha, at that time the only political party of Hindutva, and became general secretary of its Pune Branch.  In due course he started a newspaper, as founder editor, called Agrani or Hindu Rashtra.

In an interview given to ‘The Times of India’ (25 Jan 98) Nathuram’s brother Gopal Godse, who was also an accomplice in the murder, elaborates the apparent reasons and Nathuram’s RSS membership. “The appeasement policy followed by him (Gandhi) and imposed on all Congress governments’ encouraged the Muslim separatist tendencies that eventually created Pakistan…. Technically and theoretically he (Nathuram) was a member (of RSS), but he stopped workings for it later. His statement in the court that he had left the RSS was to protect the RSS workers who would be imprisoned following the murder. On the understanding that they (RSS workers) would benefit from his dissociating himself from the RSS, he gladly did it.”

This murder was celebrated by RSS followers by distributing sweets, Sardar Patel wrote, “All their (RSS) leaders’ speeches were full of communal poison.  As a final result, the poisonous atmosphere was created in which such a ghastly tragedy (Gandhi’s murder) became possible.  RSS men expressed their joy and distributed sweets after Gandhi’s death.”  Excerpts from Sardar Patel’s letters to M S Golwalkar and S P Mookerjee.  (Outlook, April 27, 1998) The way Hindu communalists were spewing poison against Gandhi, it was logical outcome of their politics.  They used the word wadh for this murder; this word stands for killing a demon who is harming the society.  In a way Gandhi murder was the first major offensive of the Hindutva politics on Indian Nationalism, in a way it was to herald the onset of bigger dangers which Hindutva politics has assumed today.

Contrary to the claims of Godse that it was only his planning, the commissions of inquiry have stated that it was a conspiracy by various followers of Hindu Mahsabha-RSS ideology, who planned to kill the Mahatma as he, a Hindu, was a big obstacle to turn this country in to a Hindu nation. Sardar Patel wrote that it was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that hatched the conspiracy and saw it through,…of course his assassination was welcomed by those of the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha who were strongly opposed to his way of thinking and to his policy…” (Sardar Patel Quoted in Justice Kapoor report Chapter I page 43). Justice Jivan Lal Kapoor himself concluded that “…all the facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.”

This Hindutva became the base of politics of Hindu Mahsabha and RSS. Gandhi in contrast was a Hindu but was opposed to the idea of Nation being a Hindu nation. Similarly we see Maulana Abul Kalam Azad; a Muslim never supported the idea of a Muslim Nation Pakistan.Gandhi and Hindutva politics were two opposite poles. Gandhi united the whole nation on secular grounds, cutting across region, religion and caste. He was a religious person but he was opposed to misuse of religion for political goals… “In India, for whose fashioning I have worked all my life, every man enjoys equality of status, whatever his religion is. The state is bound to be wholly secular” (Harijan August 31, 1947) and,” religion is a personal affair of each individual, it must not be mixed up with politics or national affairs”(ibid pg 90).While Hindu Mahasabha and RSS believed that this nation is a Hindu nation and minorities have to remain subordinate to Hindus. They mostly did not take part in anti British agitations and struggles. For example Savarkar who was an anti British revolutionary in the beginning of his life, after getting released from Andman jail, never participated in any anti British movement or joined and national movement. RSS followers barring Hedgewar, occasionally and in the beginning also did not take part in freedom movement. Their main focus was countering the Muslim communalists and subjugating them, they were not against the British power as such.

The issue of 55 crores was a mere pretext As a matter of fact this 55 crore was the Pakistan’s share from the united treasury. The first installment of the money was already given and 55 crores were to be given. Meanwhile Pakistan attacked Kashmir. Indian Government withheld these 55 crores after Pakistan attack on Kashmir. Kashmir that time was an independent state and Gandhi, true to his ethical stand in political arena, asked the government not to link Pakistan’s share with the Kashmir problem.

Any way this was a pretext as even before Gandhi talked about Pakistan’s share of 55 crores, already four attacks were made on Gandhi’s life, in some of which Godse was also involved. Jagan Phadnis in his book ‘Mahatmyachi Akher’  (Lokvangymay Griha, 1994) correctly argues that Gandhi murder was not on the charges propagated by them (Partition and insistence on paying Pakistan’s dues (55 crore) from the treasury), but due to the basic deep differences with the social politics of Gandhi and that of the followers of the Hindu Rashtra.  These two reasons are proffered merely as a pretext for the same. We need to understand that when BJP and company talk of nationalism, they are not talking of Indian Nationalism but Hindu nationalism, which is the not so hidden part of their political agenda. The present attacks on secular fabric of our polity are yet another assassination attempts of Mahatma. So talking about the deeper causes of his murder will remain relevant till the attacks on secular democratic values of the country continue to hover on the nation.

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