On Mahatma Gandhi's 71st death anniversary on Wednesday, the general secretary of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha recreated Gandhi's assassination by shooting at an effigy with a toy gun. This was not the first situation where the Hindu Mahasabha, active on the Indian landscape for more than a hundred years, has gone against the symbols that the country loves to love.
Since its inception in 1915, the Mahasabha has been distinctly "anti-national" in its activities, its devotion to a singular Hindu system overshadowing every other political concern.
One of the very first instances of the organisation's dissent was seen when it colluded with the British during Gandhi's Quit India Movement in the 1940s because the Mahatma opposed the idea of having Muslims under the domination of Hindus.
In the movement, Gandhi saw an opportune moment to weaken the influence of the British Empire through a nationwide civil disobedience struggle. For the first time, a mass non-cooperation movement began with Gandhi's "do or die" call that reverberated across the Indian subcontinent, says The Wire.
Only three groups of political participants did not support the movement and instead opted to collaborate with the British Empire: the Muslim League, the Hindu Mahasabha and the communists. The Hindu Mahasabha, then led by Syama Prasad Mookerjee, and the Muslim League, ironically, ended up on the same side, with Mohammad Ali Jinnah's party joining it in opposing Gandhi's vision of a secular and free India.
The Mahasabha's famed leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar's presidential address at the Kanpur session of the Mahasabha in 1942, The Wire notes, asserted that the Hindu Mahasabha follows the policy of "responsive co-operation" with the British Empire since he considered the Congress a "pseudo-nationalist body".
It is also a well-documented fact, writes Yogendra Yadav in The Hindu, that Savarkar, whose ideology inspired the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's founders and who remains its icon, was released from prison in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands after he wrote mercy petitions to the Viceroy pledging loyalty to the British empire.
While the Partition did realise Jinnah's vision with the formation of the Islamic state of Pakistan, the Hindu Mahasabha's demand remained unfulfilled, leading it to nurture a hatred towards Gandhi and any form of politics which is not violently Hindu for decades.
Its fascination with Gandhi's death, however, also leads it to focus on Gandhi's assassin, Nathuram Godse.
The Mahasabha celebrates 30 January, the day Gandhi was assassinated, as Shaurya Diwas and has even urged the government to rename the day. Originally celebrated as Martyrs' Day, on which freedom fighters and soldiers who have laid their lives down for a free India are remembered, the Mahasabha claims the day should instead celebrate the courage or shaurya displayed by Godse.
Godse’s popularity within the Mahasabha is not only because he killed the man who they think denied India its non-secular, Hindu identity, says The Independent, but also because of Godse's unique definition of what constitutes a patriot and why he was one in having killed the Father of the Nation. Godse's speech at his trial was banned by the Indian government of the time because of fears that distributing it would polarise communities.
The internet has made it readily available and the Mahasabha has only capitalised on its cult value.
The Mahasabha's activities always increase around the time surrounding Gandhi's death anniversary. In January, 2015, Meerut administration had to seal a spot where the outfit's members had planned to erect Godse's statue. In Alwar, reported Times of India, activists named a 750-metre, four-lane flyover the "Rashtrawadi Nathuram Godse Pul". Media reports led the authorities to hastily pull the plaque down.
Later in 2015, kicking up quite the storm, the Mahasabha announced plans to install statues of Godse in Mangaluru, Bengaluru, Chitradurga, Ballari, Mysuru and Vijaypura in Karnataka. Swami Pranavananda who headed the group then, described Godse as a "Hindu patriot" who had taken "deeksha" from Veer Savarkar, reported News18.
It had also planned other statues for New Delhi, Ambala (where Godse was executed), and at least 14 other cities in India.
The Mahasabha is also often unhappy with the BJP, whose pro-Hindutva stance falls short of its own expectations. In August, 2016, it even considered sending Prime Minister Narendra Modi a legal notice after he commented against cow vigilantism, reported DNA. In one of the very few times he had spoken against cow vigilantes, Modi had then said most of them are "anti-social" elements who are running "shops" in the name of cow protection.
Then Mahasabha chief Swami Chakrapani was quoted as having said, "We condemn the prime minister's statement against those who devoted their lives to preventing cow slaughter in India."
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Updated Date: Jan 31, 2019 15:34:53 IST