Modi wants them all: Godse and Gandhi together under BJP's 'big tent'

We are witnessing a farcical enactment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election-eve ideal of sabka saath. The BJP and its extended Parivar have appropriated every character associated with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, from victim to perpetrator, and Sardar Patel who banned the RSS in its wake.

Six decades after Gandhi's assassination, we find ourselves in a very strange place: the PM is hailing many of Gandhi’s ideals—though he has conveniently split Gandhi into two: good Mahatma and bad politician; the RSS is backing the BJP’s claim to Patel’s legacy and the PM’s plan to build Sardar’s gigantic statue; the Hindu Mahasabha is petitioning the government to install Godse’s statues across India while BJP parliamentarian Sakshi Maharaj argues that he be called a patriot. The utopian dream of the lamb and lion drinking from the same fountain couldn’t have found a more perverse fulfillment.

 Modi wants them all: Godse and Gandhi together under BJPs big tent

Mahatma Gandhi. GettyImage

Of this lot though, Modi's public affection for Gandhi is all that is new. As Tushar A Gandhi points out, Modi never invoked Gandhi’s name with such enthusiasm during his 12 year tenure as chief minister of Gujarat. “In this short period of 100 days that he has been the prime minister of India, it seems everything he does is guided by Bapu,” Gandhi’s great-grandson told the New York Times after the PM was seen enthusiastically posing in front of the Mahatma’s statue outside the Indian embassy in Washington in September.

In these 100 days, Modi has linked his government’s cleanliness drive to Gandhi’s birth anniversary; gifted copies of Gita translated by the Mahatma to foreign leaders and received Chinese premier Xi Jinping at Gandhi ashram. Considering his cult following, the PM’s efforts to eulogise, emulate and hardsell the Mahatma should have by now triggered a Munnabhai-type revival of the Gandhian ideals in India.

And yet, ironically, the exact opposite is happening: it is Godse’s cult that appears set for a cultural renaissance.

 Writing for the Calcutta Telegraph on Sunday, Gopalkrishna Gandhi says, “I have imagined many slights of the Mahatma by a Hindutva-powered dispensation but I had not, I admitted (to a friend), visualized this fancy (Godse’s statue) of a perverse imagination.” While most of us can safely wager that seeing Godse canonized will always remain a dream for Gandhi baiters, as Gandhi writes, “we may assume that the statue is already 'up', as a bronzed idea.”

There are many pitfalls of turning Godse into a hero. As many others rightly point out, once you defend Godse’s action, the same logic can be extended to every terrorist who kills for his ideology—political or religious—making it impossible to differentiate between the assassins of Gandhi, the butchers of Peshawar and the perpetrators of 9/11 or 26/11. None of these were seeking personal vendetta; all were promoting their political ideologies through violent means.

The people who valourise Godse are, at the core, firm believers in Hindutva, in the two-nation theory. For them, Indian secularism is their biggest enemy and Godse is a hero for having killed one of its biggest proponents. For them, Gandhi is not the man who helped Indian win freedom and the world discover the merits of ahimsa over violence; he is the person who helped create Pakistan. They are convinced Gandhian ‘antics’ like fast-unto-death were base means of coercion meant to help Muslims and the country they wrenched out of a Hindu rashtra. They see Gandhi only through the prism of communalism, not through the larger context of the freedom movement.

One way to run down a leader, it is convenient to ascribe higher, exalted motives to his ideological adversaries. If Godse serves such a purpose for the Hindu Right, Jinnah does the same for Gandhi's liberal critics. In July 2011, Christopher Hitchens questioned Gandhi’s moral heroism in his stirring critique  of Joseph’s Lelyveld’s book on Gandhi. At one point, while deriding Gandhi’s support to the Khilafat Movement, Hitchens calls Jinnah “a relatively secular nationalist and modernist.” If Jinnah could be ‘relatively secular’, Godse can also be a nationalist. Both the flawed arguments, fatuous they may sound, help in building up the case against Gandhian ideal of secularism.

That said, a public debate over Gandhi’s assassin has its merits. A majority of those who hail Godse as a hero and revile Gandhi as the villain base their arguments on personal beliefs, on their biases; not logic or facts. A detailed discussion on Godse will only add to the limited knowledge we have of him and the ideas and men who inspired him. Gandhi’s life has been an open book so far. It will be interesting to see if Godse is able to survive as much scrutiny.

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Updated Date: Dec 24, 2014 07:56:57 IST