The repeated attempts to browbeat and humiliate Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur over her views on Nathuram Godse do not do Indian democracy any credit. While the opposition may think it has scored a big political point by getting her to apologise, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), by succumbing to opposition pressures to make her eat crow, has not done its own cause any good. If the party of Hindutva can no longer stand by those who believe in the ideology, it will be the ultimate loser.
No matter how hard the BJP tries to prove its reverence for Gandhi, the opposition is not going to cut it any slack. You will keep hearing the same old accusations, that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to which the BJP is affiliated, was part of the plot to kill Gandhi.
The Sadhvi, who spent nine years in prison over a terrorism charge that is nowhere near being proven, is entitled to her views on Godse. She called him a patriot, and this is not a tag one can reasonably deny Godse, whose decision to kill Gandhi was driven by a desire to stop Gandhi from repeatedly selling Hindu interests down the drain.
The real problem we should have with Godse is his decision to kill the Mahatma instead of fighting him politically. By assassinating him, Godse gave the Mahatma’s aura eternal life, far beyond what history may have been inclined to give him. This is not to suggest that Gandhi was not a Mahatma – he was one, given his own high ethical and moral standards and extreme dedication to pacifism – but he had no business inflicting his personal moral standards on vast sections of society that did not quite agree with him. It is not easy for anyone to believe that there is something quite moral in asking the Jews to let themselves be killed by Hitler, or for Hindus to fight for Khilafat, a cause that had nothing to do with this country or this society.
The big mistake Gandhi made was to confuse individual morality with state and societal morality, where larger interests beyond personal fads have to be defended. Godse’s mistake was to give in to the pessimism that Gandhi’s views would always prevail with the masses. In effect, his assassination of Gandhi was an admission of defeat – that Gandhi’s ideas could not be fought with reasoned arguments alone.
Coming back to Sadhvi Pragya, she is free to consider Godse a patriot. An assassin can be a patriot. If India’s communists can be seen as patriots after eulogising global mass murderers like Lenin, Stalin and Mao, what is wrong in the Sadhvi thinking of Godse as her hero?
The pathetic assault on the Sadhvi’s freedom to decide who her heroes are was compounded by Rahul Gandhi and Asaduddin Owaisi calling Godse a terrorist. They should read up the dictionary. An assassin is different from a terrorist, as the latter has motives that go far beyond just killing one or two persons. A terrorist seeks to intimidate society as a whole by random and focused acts of mindless killings and mass murder. Godse cannot by any stretch of imagination be called a terrorist.
Rahul Gandhi called both Sadhvi Pragya and Godse as “terrorists”, and Owaisi said much the same. If they really want to know what terrorism is, they need look no further than the acts of their own parties. In 1984, the mass killings of hapless Sikhs in Delhi by Congress workers in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination was terrorism, plain and simple. Owaisi’s own party, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), the party his father inherited from the razakars of the Hyderabad Nizam, was once terrorism personified. MIM’s razakars played a huge role in the rape and terrorisation of Hindus in Hyderabad state before its formal integration with India.
The party that comes off worst in the humiliation of Sadhvi Pragya – who was forced to offer an apology she did not believe in – is the BJP. Having used her during the last elections to make a point against the author of the idea of “saffron terror” – Digvijaya Singh – it cannot now disown her completely. The Sadhvi defeated Singh in the Bhopal Lok Sabha constituency by a large margin.
This is not to suggest that the BJP cannot have views that are different from the Sadhvi’s, but all it needs to do is say that it does not share her views on Gandhi or Godse.
The reason why the BJP seems to require Gandhi so much for its politics is that he was the tallest Gujarati ever. And both Narendra Modi and his No 2, Amit Shah, hail from Gujarat. They believe that owning the Gandhi heritage is crucial to making the BJP the central pole of Indian politics.
One cannot entirely disagree with this view, for, at the end of the day, Gandhi, in his own way, was a great Indian, even a great Hindu. But the BJP is not doing itself or the nation any favour by throwing to the wolves those whose views on Gandhi it disagrees with. There has to be space for both views.
The Sadhvi has more silent believers in the BJP and the Hindu community than the party’s mainstream leaders.
The author is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi. Views are personal.
This article was first published on Swarajya.