The Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological fountainhead have had an uneasy relationship with the memory of Nathuram Godse, the man who assassinated Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. From disowning Godse's ideological association with the RSS to strongly denying the fact that he had links with Sangh ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the BJP has been rather uncomfortable about Godse and Gandhi's assassination.
Just when campaigning for the ongoing Lok Sabha polls was reaching its climax, the BJP was pushed into a corner and forced to ask three of its leaders to explain their comments on Godse and initiate disciplinary action against them, as the Congress latched on to the issue.
The Pandora's box opened on Thursday with BJP's Bhopal Lok Sabha candidate and Malegaon blast accused Pragya Singh Thakur lauding Godse as a "patriot" and issuing an apology hours later saying she respected Gandhi and his work for the country cannot be forgotten. In quick succession was Union minister Anantkumar Hegde, who's Twitter handle featured pro-Godse comments made by two Twitter users, while the minister apparently added that he was happy that the society was finally open to hear out the condemned.
Hegde not only retracted those comments but also denied making them, as he claimed that his account was breached. The third in line was BJP leader Nalin Kumar Kateel, who insinuated that Godse's crime was lesser than Ajmal Kasab and Rajiv Gandhi, who blamed for anti-Sikh riots.
As controversy raged on the last day of campaigning, BJP president Amit Shah said the party has taken serious note of the three leaders' statements.
Stating that the comments were against the party's ideology, Shah asked the party's disciplinary committee to submit a report on the issue in 10 days for further action.
"They have withdrawn their statements and also apologised. However, their remarks are against the decorum of public life and the BJP and also against the party's ideology. Taking serious note of their remarks, the party has decided to send them to the disciplinary committee," Shah said on Twitter.
The party went into damage control, sensing the comments by the three could hurt the party's image and its poll prospects in the last 59 seats that vote on Sunday. Over the last year or so, the BJP has been promoting itself as a torchbearer of the Father of the Nation's ideals and legacy, which has long been the Congress domain. Apart from Amit Shah's immediate action, was a rarer occurrence: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's prompt condemnation of these remarks.
A day after BJP's Bhopal candidate Pragya praised Godse, Modi who had endorsed her candidature, has said that he will never be able to forgive the BJP leader for insulting the Mahatma.
Meanwhile, the Congress played up the issue on the last day of campaign, first on Modi's supposed silence, and later on the 'long' turnaround time the BJP sought to act against its leaders.
In a tweet, Congress leader Kapil Sibal said, "When Sadhvi Pragya says: 'Godse a Deshbakht' and Modi is silent with Vidyasagar's statue a victim of the violent I can only pray for my country and hope that one day the silent majority will keep violence at bay."
His party colleague, former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah, stepped into the debate to say Godse, who killed the father of the nation in January 1948, was inspired by RSS ideology.
"Godse was inspired by Sangh Pariwar's ideology and so is Pragya. Former killed our Mahatma and the latter killed Mahatma's children. Pragya who calls Godse a patriot is endorsed by @narendramodi Is this the sign of an attempt to proliferate Sangh's hatred based ideology," he tweeted.
This is what Rahul Gandhi had to say.
I finally got it. The BJP and the RSS...
Are not God-Ke Lovers.
They are God-Se Lovers.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 17, 2019
As the row over Thakur's remarks escalated, BJP's MP from Karnataka Nalin Kumar Kateel compared Godse with former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
"Godse killed one, Kasab killed 72, Rajiv Gandhi killed 17,000. You judge who is more cruel in this??" Kateel tweeted on Thursday, equating Godse, 26/11 convict Ajmal Kasab and Rajiv Gandhi.
Union minister Hegde, who also found himself in the news with a purported tweet justifying Godse's action, claimed his account was hacked.
"My Twitter account has been breached twice in the past one week and certain tweets have been posted on my timeline which has been discarded and deleted. Regret the posts attributed to me."
"My account was hacked since yesterday. There is no question of justifying Gandhi ji's murder. There can be no sympathy or justification of Gandhi ji's murder. We all have full respect for Gandhi ji's contribution to the nation," he posted.
However, the matter has long been a problem spot for the saffron party
In his memoir, My Country, My Life, LK Advani plays down RSS' differences with Gandhi and distances the Hindutva organisation from Godse's violent act. According to excerpts quoted from the book in Frontline, Advani reasserted the traditional party line that Godse had “severed links with RSS in 1933 (much before he hatched the plan to murder Gandhi)… had begun to bitterly criticise the RSS." This was flatly contradicted by none other than Godse’s brother Gopal, who was also an accused at the trial for conspiracy to murder.
According to a report in The Economic Times, Gopal Godse in an interview in 1994 had denied RSS' claim and said that all the three Godse brothers — Nathuram, Dattatreya and Gopal were part of the RSS and had not left the organisation. The report quoted grandson of Gopal, Satyaki, as saying, "Nathuram joined the RSS when he was in Sangli in 1932. He remained a boudhik karyawah till his death. He was neither expelled nor did he ever leave the organisation... I am definitely upset with the RSS for denying the fact that he was a swayamsevak. I understand that they do not support the act of killing Gandhiji but they cannot run away from the facts"
Satyaki is the son of Gopal Godse's daughter Himani Savarkar who passed away last year. She was running Abhinav Bharat that was originally started as a secret revolutionary movement in 1904 by Veer Savarkar for raising an armed struggle against the British. It was the same organisation that was originally accused of perpetrating the Malegaon blast and other similar attacks targeting the minority community, incidentally for which Pragya also was a co-accused.
Apart from this, in 1981, then vice-president of the BJP and an eminent lawyer, Ram Jethmalani had said both Gandhi and Godse shared the same ideology. "Godse and Gandhi shared the same political philosophy [sic] of a United India" (The Times of India; 14 April, 1981).
RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, also sought to defend Godse's action in a 1970 editorial by saying that his actions were only a manifestation " people's wrath"
"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 excerpt documented in the Frontline article reads.
Then there is the question of Godse's links with the RSS ideologue, Savarkar.
According to an article in The Hindu titled 'How Savarkar Escaped the Gallows', author AG Noorani argues that Savarkar not only knew the conspirators of Gandhi's murder but was also close to them. It is notewrthy here that Savarkar was also a co-accused in Gandhi's assassination but was later acquitted because a witness' account could not be independently corroborated.
The article quotes Savarakar's bodyguard, Apte Ramchandra Kasar, and his secretary Gajanan Vishnu Damle's statement before the JK Kapur Commission, which was probing the saffron ideologue's role in the case. The Kapur commission noted: "The statements of both these witnesses show that both (ND) Apte and Godse were frequent visitors of Savarkar at Bombay and at conferences and at every meeting they are shown to have been with Savarkar…This evidence also shows that Vishnu Ramkrishna Karkare was also well known to Savarkar and was also a frequent visitor. Digamber Badge (who later turned approver in the case) used to visit Savarkar. Dr Parchure also visited him. All this shows that people who were subsequently involved in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi were all congregating some time or the other at Savarkar Sadan and sometimes had long interviews with Savarkar."
But what Savarkar claimed in the court during the trial was a watered down version of what Savarkar's bodyguard and secretary claimed after his death.
"Pandit Godse and Narayan Apte got themselves introduced to me as Hindu Mahasabha workers at Nagar and Poona and later on came to be personally acquainted with me,"Savarkar was quoted as saying in the court by Frontline.
With all this history behind the BJP and the RSS, the ghost of Godse is unlikely to fade into oblivion. Each time the political discourse heats up, one group or another will keep invoking Godse to either tarnish the Mahatma's image or to gain political mileage by appropriating his legacy.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: May 17, 2019 19:10:40 IST