The fruits of the development that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised will take some time to kick in, but we have reasons to be concerned about the deteriorating social climate in the meanwhile. Abusive language and behaviour by BJP leaders, the VHP’s ghar wapsi conversions, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s declaration that India is a Hindu Rashtra have all vitiated the atmosphere and sharpened the awareness of communal identities and boundaries. But it doesn’t stop here.
The Hindu Mahasabha has announced that it will install a statue of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, in Meerut on January 30. What is stunning about this development is that the hero worship of Godse is no longer done behind closed doors. It is now a point of view that is being defended in the public realm.
Honouring Godse with a statue is so shocking that it can paralyse people from even constructing an argument to counter the move. But that is exactly the reaction the extreme Right wants. Idolising Godse is to justify that anyone is entitled to use violence to settle political differences. Godse disagreed with Gandhi’s use of his moral authority for political purposes, blamed him for the Partition, and felt that the “accumulating provocation” of the Mahatma’s politics “goaded” him “to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhi should be brought to an end”.
Celebrating Godse is to valorise a form of vigilante politics that if practised now will surely undermine India’s unity and integrity. We saw in the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings an echo of Godse’s methods whereby the accused, inspired by their own understanding of India’s martial traditions, took it upon themselves to bomb Pakistani nationals travelling on the train.
Godse was no less a misguided fanatic than the latter; the open idolising of him is a very damaging symbol of the shape of Right-wing politics to come. On a simpler plane, Godse killed a frail old man in cold blood and this country has no business celebrating him.
The BJP may have its differences with Gandhi’s ideals and politics, as many do. It can question his secularism, grudge his closeness to Jawaharlal Nehru, dispute his political decisions, and resent his larger-than-life image owing to his visage on currency notes and the endless institutions named after him. But the BJP must know that there are other ways to contest Gandhi’s legacy than celebrate his killer. It must act to stop the canonisation of Godse.