On Wednesday, Congress vice-president, Rahul Gandhi conveniently backtracked from one of the most controversial statements he ever made in his political career—the alleged role of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhi’s lawyer, another veteran Congressman Kapil Sibal told the Supreme Court that Gandhi never blamed the RSS but the ‘people associated with it’ for the assassination of the Mahatma. The purpose of Gandhi’s U-turn logically was to get the defamation case slapped against him by RSS activist Mahadev Kunte, quashed.
Given the nature of Gandhi’s statement and the preliminary assessment by the country's highest judicial institution, in most likelihood, the apex court will quash the defamation case against the Congress scion.
But that’s a temporary relief for Rahul.
The bigger question here is why, in the first place, Rahul made a public statement without having conviction or full information (as his U-turn suggests). At a rally in Thane during the 2014 election campaign, Rahul had said, “RSS people killed Gandhiji and today their people (BJP) talk of him… They opposed Sardar Patel and Gandhiji.”
All the courage, conviction and personal integrity Rahul exhibited then and the determination he showed subsequently when he ruled out an apology is vanishing in thin air with this U-turn. It’s nothing but a technical excuse when Rahul says he didn’t blame RSS but the “persons associated with it”. The question is what is RSS if not the people associated with it? What was Rahul trying to prove here? Rahul was referring to Nathuram Godse, Mahatma’s murderer, who had alleged links with RSS. Here lies the problem for him.
All along, both Rahul and the Congress party have maintained that Godse was a member of RSS. Since there is no dispute on the fact that Godse is the man who shot Mahatma, Gandhi could have argued that RSS cannot completely wash its hands of the act. After Rahul’s first comment and his subsequent refusal to tender apology to RSS, Congress had strongly maintained this stance. AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh, had backed Rahul and even accused RSS then.
"Nathuram Godse (the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi) was a RSS supporter. It was the RSS ideology that inspired Godse to kill Mahatma Gandhi. The Congress shall never compromise in its fight against RSS ideology," Singh had said. Here, both Rahul and the Congress party are finding themselves in deeper mess. Rahul might have saved himself from the court trouble for now, but he has let his opponents to question his personal integrity with this major U-turn.
As Firstpost’s senior editor, Sandipan Sharma argued in his piece, Rahul should have stood by his statement and proved his point in the court instead of saving himself by a shameless U-turn. Rahul is not the first one to link RSS to Mahatma’s murder. Nathuram Godse‘s brother, in a February, 2013 in an interview to the Frontline had said that Nathuram Godse was indeed a member of RSS.
““All the brothers were in the RSS. Nathuram, Dattatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our home. It was like a family to us. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah [intellectual worker] in the RSS. He has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS,” Gopal Godse said in the interview. That apart, Hindu Mahasabha, too have said in clear words that Godse and RSS had mutual links to the Mahatma's murder. There were supporting arguments for Rahul to make his case.
The point is this: it was a major opportunity for Rahul to prove his strength and conviction as a leader by fighting to make his point in the court. But clearly, Rahul has lost that opportunity with this U-turn. That will cost him badly.