Even while diminishing Gandhi’s role in the freedom struggle, the RSS was careful to distance itself from Godse. This may no longer be true(Getty Images)
Even while diminishing Gandhi’s role in the freedom struggle, the RSS was careful to distance itself from Godse. This may no longer be true(Getty Images)

Godse worship goes mainstream in India

The cult of Nathuram Godse is no more marginal. Its members include not only BJP MPs but also prominent Sangh ideologues. Its representatives sit in Parliament, and may even be in the Council of Ministers
UPDATED ON JUN 01, 2019 06:09 PM IST

In the early 1990s, the veteran Gandhian, Sushila Nayar, was in the temple town of Ayodhya on a mission to promote communal harmony. At an inter-faith prayer meeting, she led the singing of a hymn much beloved of the Mahatma, Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram. When she came to the line Ishwar Allah Tero Naam, a group of protesters marched to the stage and stopped the singing. The elderly Nayar, seeking to placate them, said: “Hum Gandhiji ki taraf sé aaye hain (We have come on behalf of the memory and legacy of Gandhi)”. The protesters answered: “Aur ham Godse ké taraf sé (We have come on behalf of Godse)”.

Back then, and for many years afterwards, commentators considered those who worshipped Nathuram Godse marginal and irrelevant. Things may be changing. A Member of Parliament (MP) in the last House, Sakshi Maharaj, praised Godse, and was yet renominated by the BJP. In this election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from Bhopal, Pragya Thakur, praised Godse. Although the prime minister later distanced himself from her remarks, her sentiments were spontaneously endorsed by several other BJP candidates across the country. Notably, all these Godse bhakts won their seats, and by very large margins.

The cult of Nathuram Godse is no more marginal; but mainstream. Its members include not only BJP MPs but also prominent Sangh ideologues. In a recent television debate, the well-known Gujarati writer, Vishnu Pandya, called Pragya Thakur “a saint”, no less. Of her praise of the Mahatma’s murderer, he commented: “Godse was a patriot, and so was Gandhi.” Pandya is no ordinary Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) worker; he is a Padma Shri awardee and the current President of the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi.

In the Mahatma’s lifetime, the Hindutva hatred towards him had two prongs; they thought his non-violence weak and effeminate, and they opposed his asking for equal rights for Muslims. More recently, this animosity has acquired a third dimension; namely, his anointing Jawaharlal Nehru rather than Vallabhbhai Patel as his political successor. While Nehru lived, right-wing Hindus principally disliked him because, like Gandhi, he resolutely opposed India becoming a Hindu theocratic State, the mirror image of Pakistan; after his death, they disliked Nehru because of the dynasty which (illegitimately) claims his mantle.

That no one man could have stopped Partition; that Gandhi did more than anyone else to stem the wounds of Partition; that Patel and Nehru were comrades, not rivals; that a civilised society does not discriminate on the basis of religion — all these facts are suppressed or denied in the Hindu Right’s perverse, paranoid, understanding of history.

Especially in the last year of the Mahatma’s life, the RSS expressed a venomous hatred of him in public. (This is documented in detail in my biography of Gandhi). After he was murdered — by a former member of the RSS — they fell silent. In the 1950s and 1960s, they rarely referred to him. After the 1970s, they began to praise him, albeit in muted terms. For them, he was now a patriot, albeit one of many. They could never bring themselves to call him what Subhas Chandra Bose had memorably named him: the father of the nation.

Even while diminishing Gandhi’s role in the freedom struggle, the RSS was careful to distance itself from Godse. This may no longer be true. With the hubris produced by this resounding election victory, their real feelings about the matter seem to be manifesting themselves. Hence Pandya’s remark: “Godse was a patriot, and so was Gandhi.” The Mahatma is here equated to his murderer, with the murderer’s patriotism mentioned first.

Godse was a deshbhakt; and so was Gandhi. That is the RSS view. The view of those to the Right of them is less equivocal; Gandhi was a traitor, and Godse was a deshbhakt, indeed a great deshbhakt because he eliminated a traitor. This view is contained in a rash of WhatsApp forwards, and in conversations among some sections of the Right, a widely held view (especially in North India) is not just that Godse was right in murdering Gandhi, but that he should have murdered him earlier, before the Mahatma’s last fast asking Indians to give equal rights to those Muslims who chose to express their own deshbhakti by staying behind in our country, which was also theirs.

The RSS might dissemble and equivocate, but for the hardline Hindutvawadi the position is clear: Gandhi was the original anti-national — because he did not stop Partition, because he asked India to give back to Pakistan the money that India owed, because he loved Muslims (and Christians) as much as he loved Hindus. The man who eliminated this anti-national thus must be a true patriot.

Some of those who venerate Godse while simultaneously detesting Gandhi now sit in Parliament, sent there by Indians who find their views utterly congenial. That this is happening in the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth is a grim and cruel irony that we have to live with.

I began this column with a few Godse worshippers in the 1990s in Ayodhya. The public servant who told me the story about them added this prophecy: that Indians had once kicked out the Buddha, and we would do the same to Gandhi. Twenty-five years later, the Godse worshippers do not any more number in the few thousands, but in the millions. Their representatives sit in Parliament.

India turfed out the Buddha because we found his ideas of social equality antithetical to our love of social hierarchy. Now, many Indians wish to turf out the Mahatma because they find his ideas of interfaith harmony antithetical to their love of majoritarian bigotry. Perhaps we should let the rest of the world own and affirm Gandhi, just as they have owned and affirmed the Buddha.

Ramachandra Guha is the author of Gandhi: The Years That Changed The World

The views expressed are personal

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
It takes courage to push a conversation that evokes almost zero public sympathy in an audience that is inclined to believe that consent has no place on the marital bed(Shutterstock)
It takes courage to push a conversation that evokes almost zero public sympathy in an audience that is inclined to believe that consent has no place on the marital bed(Shutterstock)

The conversation India refuses to have

By Namita Bhandare
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 08:01 PM IST
In the past few years, India has broken traditional silences on sexual abuse, on consent, and on the rights of sexual minorities. It’s time to break another traditional silence
Close
What other, newer democracies find relatively easy — conducting an election, the counting of votes, the peaceful transition of power — seems to have befuddled the US. There can be and must not be any normalisation of gross prejudice or violence(AP)
What other, newer democracies find relatively easy — conducting an election, the counting of votes, the peaceful transition of power — seems to have befuddled the US. There can be and must not be any normalisation of gross prejudice or violence(AP)

After anarchy in the US, reimagining the middle ground

UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 07:53 PM IST
Governments have to learn how to engage with those who did not vote for them. Citizens have to learn how to converse amidst ideological divisions
Close
Mohammed Siraj led India’s breakthrough in the ongoing tour of Australia. But he grew up playing tennis ball cricket and first held a real cricket ball only five years ago.(Getty Images)
Mohammed Siraj led India’s breakthrough in the ongoing tour of Australia. But he grew up playing tennis ball cricket and first held a real cricket ball only five years ago.(Getty Images)

The secret weapons of a fast-bowling nation

By Rudraneil Sengupta | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 03:31 PM IST
Surprise finds are making their mark in the India bowling line-up, but they aren’t coming up through the system.
Close
A New York street in the 1920s. Just two decades earlier, in the age of horse-drawn vehicles, people had feared their cities would be buried in manure. Then the internal combustion engine took horses off the streets altogether, a shift often used to illustrate the unpredict-able fallouts of new tech.(Shutterstock)
A New York street in the 1920s. Just two decades earlier, in the age of horse-drawn vehicles, people had feared their cities would be buried in manure. Then the internal combustion engine took horses off the streets altogether, a shift often used to illustrate the unpredict-able fallouts of new tech.(Shutterstock)

The horseshit paradox: Why fears about tech are wildly exaggerated

By Charles Assisi | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 08, 2021 03:11 PM IST
Our world runs on complexity. And no machine we have created — or look likely to create — can truly navigate that complexity by itself, says Charles Assisi.
Close
It is no surprise that all kinds of protests are being seen in many parts of the world at the moment(SHUTTERSTOCK)
It is no surprise that all kinds of protests are being seen in many parts of the world at the moment(SHUTTERSTOCK)

This decade will be decisive for democracy, capitalism

By Shashi Shekhar
UPDATED ON JAN 03, 2021 10:07 PM IST
There is another fact which needs attention. Human civilisation has always discovered new light in the darkest days of crisis. With this hope, let us welcome this new decade.
Close
A vibrant corporate capitalist base also leads to additional revenues for the State — which, in turn, can be used for greater welfare for the marginalised and creating a more level-playing field in terms of opportunities(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
A vibrant corporate capitalist base also leads to additional revenues for the State — which, in turn, can be used for greater welfare for the marginalised and creating a more level-playing field in terms of opportunities(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

In defence of reformed capitalism

PUBLISHED ON JAN 02, 2021 07:05 PM IST
Targeting corporate capitalism won’t help. It is essential for growth and democracy. Focus on reforming it.
Close
A health worker prepares a syringe to inoculate a volunteer with a Covid-19 vaccine, Lima, December 9, 2020(AFP)
A health worker prepares a syringe to inoculate a volunteer with a Covid-19 vaccine, Lima, December 9, 2020(AFP)

A robust public broadcaster can guard against anti-vaccine rumours

By Mark Tully
PUBLISHED ON JAN 02, 2021 07:02 PM IST
There seems no reason to doubt that a large number of Indians are, to say the least, undiscriminating in the source of news they chose to watch. This will make them liable to fall prey to false information which can undermine the vaccination campaign.
Close
The silence and loneliness of being on my own is no longer intimidating. In fact - and I know that sounds a little perverse – I’ve enjoyed it. So this morning I feel I don’t want to lose it. At least, not completely.(HTPHOTO)
The silence and loneliness of being on my own is no longer intimidating. In fact - and I know that sounds a little perverse – I’ve enjoyed it. So this morning I feel I don’t want to lose it. At least, not completely.(HTPHOTO)

Goodbye to all that? I’m not so sure

UPDATED ON JAN 02, 2021 06:55 PM IST
The honest truth – and you’ve probably guessed it by now – is that I’m going into 2021 with a little trepidation or, if that’s too strong a word, more than a touch of hesitation.
Close
n many ways, Modi’s economic vision resembles that of the United Kingdom prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the United States President Ronald Reagan. Both faced an avalanche of opposition to their push for economic reforms(PTI)
n many ways, Modi’s economic vision resembles that of the United Kingdom prime minister Margaret Thatcher and the United States President Ronald Reagan. Both faced an avalanche of opposition to their push for economic reforms(PTI)

Farm stir: Latest attempt to stop Modi’s reforms

By Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda
PUBLISHED ON JAN 01, 2021 08:06 PM IST
The Opposition may continue to denigrate him, but millions see in the PM a rare determination and willingness to take risks and cleanse the rot
Close
US President-elect Joe Biden in Delaware, December 29, 2020(REUTERS)
US President-elect Joe Biden in Delaware, December 29, 2020(REUTERS)

Biden has no record of missteps on India

PUBLISHED ON JAN 01, 2021 08:06 PM IST
With the Chinese amassing troops along the border, Indians want to see more, even as they acknowledge that the US will not conduct its foreign policy to please India, echoing a Democratic congressional aide who is normally sympathetic to India but is frustrated by “constant pushing on China”.
Close
Ancient calendars could be intricate, beautiful, but confusing. Above is a section of the ancient Mayan calendar.(Shutterstock)
Ancient calendars could be intricate, beautiful, but confusing. Above is a section of the ancient Mayan calendar.(Shutterstock)

Lend me your years: How the Indian National Calendar came into being

By Rachel Lopez | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 02, 2021 08:29 PM IST
See how, back in 1955, an elite team headed by astrophysicist Meghnad Saha untangled India’s confusing variety of almanacs.
Close
An aangan in an old home in Mehrauli, New Delhi. A fixture since the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the courtyard faded away with the coming of Western-style architecture during colonial rule.(Mayank Austen Soofi)
An aangan in an old home in Mehrauli, New Delhi. A fixture since the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, the courtyard faded away with the coming of Western-style architecture during colonial rule.(Mayank Austen Soofi)

Poonam Saxena writes on the true heart of the Indian home, the aangan

By Poonam Saxena | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2021 07:04 PM IST
It now lives on largely in books and film, but the courtyard was where we cooked, celebrated, slept under the stars on summer nights.
Close
After a traumatic and turbulent 2020, it’s time to ring in a New Year with hope. And since Rabindranath Tagore is being rediscovered by our netas ahead of the Bengal elections, this is a prayer for India in 2021 that draws inspiration from the great poet-laureate.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)
After a traumatic and turbulent 2020, it’s time to ring in a New Year with hope. And since Rabindranath Tagore is being rediscovered by our netas ahead of the Bengal elections, this is a prayer for India in 2021 that draws inspiration from the great poet-laureate.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

A ‘new’ India can’t be built by abandoning the core values of our founding fathers

UPDATED ON JAN 01, 2021 06:01 AM IST
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where an Indian identity is determined by citizenship, and not divided by the narrow domestic walls of caste, region or religion. Where true secularism demands that no state authority promote or discriminate against any religion, where equal respect for all faiths must be the basis of our constitutional secularism.
Close
The farmers’ protest may be geographically limited, but the ripples it has caused are international.(ANI)
The farmers’ protest may be geographically limited, but the ripples it has caused are international.(ANI)

The year is almost over, but scars will remain

By Shashi Shekhar
PUBLISHED ON DEC 27, 2020 06:13 PM IST
The year 2020 will be known as a year of bias, discontent, isolation and apprehensions. These can be brushed away by blaming the pandemic, but the virus merely amplified existing tendencies.
Close
The argument Covid-19 did not permit the session is specious. For a start, Parliament’s earlier functioning disproves it. The monsoon session was held in September when daily cases crossed 95,000. So how can a situation when the increase has reduced to under 25,000 be a credible reason for not holding the winter session?(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
The argument Covid-19 did not permit the session is specious. For a start, Parliament’s earlier functioning disproves it. The monsoon session was held in September when daily cases crossed 95,000. So how can a situation when the increase has reduced to under 25,000 be a credible reason for not holding the winter session?(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

Parliament should sit more often

UPDATED ON DEC 26, 2020 07:36 PM IST
The bigger moral argument rests on the belief Parliament is special. It represents our nation. It speaks for us and symbolises our resolve. So if the temple of our democracy ducks the challenge of functioning in a time of the virus what’s the example it sets for the rest of us and what’s the message it sends to the world beyond our borders?
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP