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On Godse’s birthday, it’s time to remember his ideology is still dangerous and threatening

BJP’s Pragya Thakur called Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse a patriot, then retracted under pressure. But it wasn’t the first attempt to legitimise him.

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New Delhi: When BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate in Bhopal, Pragya Thakur, referred to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse as a ‘deshbhakt (patriot), she set off a political storm that may reverberate for years to come.

Thakur later retracted her statement and said: “My statement was absolutely wrong. I have huge respect for the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi.” But she seemed to have articulated the point of view that many in Right-wing groups, from the Hindu Sena to the RSS and even the BJP, have held. Union minister Anantkumar Hegde and Dakshin Kannada MP Nalin Kumar Kateel also made controversial statements about Godse.

All three leaders have been asked to explain their statements by BJP president Amit Shah, while PM Narendra Modi has said he’ll “never forgive” Pragya Thakur for her remarks.

However, this isn’t the first time the BJP is involved in a controversy regarding its tacit support of Godse. According to an investigation by AltNews, several people found supporting and defending Godse are followed by PM Modi on twitter.

BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya has previously tweeted in defence of Godse. “Calling Nathuram Godse a patriot is not the same as justifying his act of assassinating Mahatma Gandhi. The two must be treated distinctly.”

In a recent debate that has ensued over the definition of “terrorist”, multiple BJP leaders, from union defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman to national spokesperson Nalin Kohli have been heard trying to make a point about how Godse was an “assassin”, not a terrorist.

So, who was this man who continues to create waves in Indian politics nearly 70 years after he was hanged for murdering the Mahatma? On what would’ve been his 109th birthday, 19 May, ThePrint retraces Godse’s journey, and explains why he continues to be symbolic of a dangerous and disturbing ideology.

How childhood changed Godse

Godse was born on 19 May 1910 to an orthodox Maharashtrian Brahmin family. He was fiercely, even fanatically, committed to the cause of Hindu sangathan (consolidation) and Akhand Bharat (undivided India).

In The Men Who Killed Gandhi, author Manohar Malgonkar describes in detail what Godse’s childhood was like. His father Vinayak served in the postal department, and before Nathuram’s birth, his parents had lost three sons while one daughter survived. The superstitious parents were certain their male children bore a curse, so they brought up their next male child, Ramchandra, as a girl in order to please the Gods. They pierced his nose, and began calling him ‘Nathuram’ — Ram who wears a nose-ring — and the name stuck.

Psychologists have tried to make sense of how this childhood incident warped his mind.

Political activist Yogendra Yadav, in fact, wrote for ThePrint that this could have had a direct bearing on Godse’s perception of Gandhi as ‘effeminate’, which is perhaps why he wanted Hinduism to emulate the ‘masculinity’ of colonial rule.

Also readGodse, raised as a girl, saw Gandhi as an ‘effeminate’ Father who didn’t protect Mother India

Savarkar’s influence

Seen as a neighbourhood do-gooder, Godse was noted to be fiercely against casteism since his childhood. The turning point in his life came in 1929, at the age of 19, when met Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

Known as ‘Veer’ Savarkar, he was a member of the Hindu Mahasabha whose primary mission was to keep India whole as the undivided land of Hindus. Savarkar had been sentenced to two life terms of imprisonment in 1910 and was kept in the dreaded Cellular Jail in Andaman, but was moved to Ratnagiri jail in 1921. He was released from Ratnagiri jail in 1924, but was not allowed to leave the district for five years.

Godse’s father had been transferred from Karjat to the town of Ratnagiri, and the young man was ecstatic because he had heard of the political prisoner who lay confined there. By this time, Godse was already taking an interest in the politics surrounding India’s freedom movement.

“Once he had come under Savarkar’s influence, Nathuram was never the same man again,” Malgonkar writes.

Savarkar’s firebrand nationalism and his unabashed belief in taking up an armed revolution against the British — contrary to Gandhi’s teaching — appealed greatly to Godse. It was under Savarkar’s leadership that a small sangathan grew into what came to be known as the Hindu Mahasabha.

Godse eventually moved to Pune and started a Marathi daily called Agrani, which was eventually renamed Hindu Rashtra.

Malgonkar states it was this influence which eventually led to the assassination of Gandhi. “Blind devotion to the potent teachings of the master, and his shattering disillusionment at the way everything in Savarkar’s scenario had gone wrong, ultimately led Nathuram to the insane expedient of murder and self-immolation,” he writes.

Also readThere is a Gandhi and a Godse inside every Indian. We must make peace within us first

Gandhi’s murder

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Godse on 30 January 1948. His co-conspirators included his younger brother Gopal, Narayan Apte, who left the Royal Indian Air Force and joined as manager of the Marathi daily, and Vishnu Karkare, a poor orphan who had come in contact with him.

Less than three weeks before Godse actually picked up the gun and committed the heinous crime, his and Apte’s murderous instincts had been triggered by a piece of news on a teleprinter in their newspaper’s office — Gandhi had decided to go on a fast to pressure the Indian government to release funds to Pakistan.

Gandhi felt his daily requests at prayer meetings were going unheard, so on 12 January 1948, he made the decision to go on a fast until he knew that the Hindus and Sikhs had successfully assured the Muslims that they are safe in Delhi and don’t need to run away.
In his final speech in court before he was sentenced to death, Godse would quote this as being the last straw.

“The accumulating provocation of 32 years, culminating in his last pro-Muslim fast, at last goaded me to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhi should be brought to an end immediately,” he told the court.

Godse blamed Gandhi alone for Partition, and said in his final speech ‘Why I killed Gandhi’: “When top leaders of Congress, with the consent of Gandhi, divided and tore the country — which we consider a deity of worship — my mind was filled with direful anger.”

Pleas of commutation by Gandhi’s sons, Manilal and Ramdas, were turned down by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and Godse was hanged to death in Ambala Jail on 15 November 1949.

Continued legitimisation

Political philosopher and Delhi University professor Apoorvanand says of Godse: “It is important for us to understand that Nathuram Godse is not just the name of an individual. Nathuram Godse was the disciple of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Nathuram Godse was a representative of the ideology of the RSS. Nathuram Godse is the symbol of the ideology that believes India belongs to Hindus alone.”

There have been several books and articles written to explain, perhaps even legitimise Godse’s position. On 11 January 1970, RSS mouthpiece Organiser published a controversial editorial remembering Gandhi: “It was in support of Nehru’s pro-Pakistan stand that Gandhiji went on fast and, in the process, turned the people’s wrath on himself.”

The BJP has tried to assert that Godse severed ties with the RSS, but its claims have been rebuffed by Godse’s own family. Rubbishing L.K. Advani’s claim that RSS severed links with his brother, Gopal Godse said: “I have countered him, saying it is cowardice to say that. You can say that RSS did not pass a resolution, saying, ‘go and assassinate Gandhi’. But you do not disown him [Nathuram]. The Hindu Mahasabha did not disown him. In 1944, Nathuram started doing Hindu Mahasabha work when he had been a boudhik karyavah in the RSS.”

Godse’s grand-nephew, Satyaki Savarkar, has also gone on record to say: “Nathuram joined the RSS when he was in Sangli in 1932. He remained a boudhik karyavah till his death. He was neither expelled nor did he ever leave the organisation.”

Books like Gandhi and Godse and Why I killed the Mahatma written by Right-wing author and activist Koenraad Elst, have been criticised for whitewashing Godse. The foreword of Gandhi and Godse, written by Gautam Sen, states: “Quite clearly, Gandhi’s assassin was not the raving Hindu lunatic popularly depicted in India, but a thoughtful and intelligent man who was prepared to commit murder.”

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  1. This article has good amount of information.

    India should have courage to scrutinize Gandhi after 70 years.

    “Pleas of commutation by Gandhi’s sons, Manilal and Ramdas, were turned down by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru” Nehru’s action is extremism. While Gandhi’s sons have shown True Gandhi response

  2. Not a sigle word on Gandhi’s association in the Kilaphat movement. And the nausating sermans by Gandhi during World War 2.

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