Was it an individual or an ideology that killed Mahatma Gandhi?
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh may have been cleared of charges of complicity in Gandhi’s assassination but historians say the group’s ideology of pushing for a Hindu nation was in direct opposition to the freedom fighter’s stand.
Their conflicting ideologies made their relationship fraught. This conflict was back in the spotlight on Tuesday after the Supreme Court ticked off Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who had blamed the RSS for Gandhi’s assassination in a speech.
“You can’t make wholesale denunciation of an organisation. There is a difference between Nathuram Godse killing Mahatma Gandhi and the RSS killing him,” the court observed.
This has been hailed as a vindication of its stand by the RSS, which asserts Gandhi altered his opinion about the Sangh after visiting a camp in Wardha and appreciated their work. They also point out the Sangh’s work was suspended for a few days after the assassination as a mark of respect.
But many historians think otherwise.
“There are records, based on the letters of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, of how the RSS workers distributed sweets when they heard of Gandhi’s murder. One has to look at their involvement in terms of the atmosphere that they created against Gandhi,” said historian Arjun Dev.
Pointing out that there is “plenty of historical evidence” to substantiate Rahul’s statement, Dev said: “RSS may not have directly killed Gandhi, but they created a certain ideology against him.”
He underlined that Veer Savarkar and his Hindu Mahasabha had shown tacit support for Nathuram Godse, who was convicted of killing Gandhi.
While he agreed that the RSS and Gandhi were polar opposites, historian Ramachandra Guha, however was emphatic in pointing out that the Sangh could not be held responsible for the murder.
“If Rahul Gandhi said the RSS is responsible for killing Gandhi, he is wrong, because Godse, who felt RSS was not radical enough, had by the time of the assassination) left the Sangh,” Guha said.
On the larger RSS- Gandhi relation, he said, the Sangh was “ambivalent” towards him and when the rioting spread in 1946-47 and Gandhi tried to stop it, the RSS turned hostile towards him.
“Ideologically and philosophically there was a profound distance between Gandhi and the RSS. At a time when Gandhi was giving his life for Hindu-Muslim unity, the RSS and the Muslim League perpetrated hatred, the former against, the Muslims and the latter against Hindus,” he explained.
Over the years, the RSS has been striving to alter the perception that it was opposed to Gandhi and that following his murder, was considered a communal outfit by Patel.
According to a letter Patel wrote to MS Golwalkar – as quoted in Desraj Goel’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the then home minister said while there can be no doubt that the RSS did service to the Hindu Society, the objectionable part arose when they began attacking Muslims.
But the RSS’s changed stance on Gandhi too is seen through a prism of skepticism. Guha said the RSS’s attitude to Gandhi has changed, “… They now acknowledge that Gandhi was a great man, but whether this acknowledgement is genuine or tactical it is hard to say.”