There are some historical events that are momentous in nature but have not received the kind of attention and examination they deserved. The topic of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination at the hands of Nathuram Godse on 30 January 1948 is one such incident. Though it comes up regularly for discussion, it is wantonly distorted to embarrass the RSS and the party associated with it, the BJP, which was actually founded in 1980, that too as a reincarnation of the Jan Sangh, which had equally been founded after the murder, in 1951. This then is the best-known long-term effect: The unrelenting allegation that anything smelling of Hindu nationalism, and certainly the RSS, necessarily leads to such crimes. But are we missing something?
The first consequence of the murder was immediate: Nathuram Godse’s own community, the Chitpavan Brahmins, was targeted for mass murder. The comparison with the mass killing of Sikhs by Congress secularists after Indira Gandhi’s murder is fairly exact, except that the 1984 massacre is well-known (even eclipsing the memory of the larger number of Punjabi Hindus murdered by Sikh separatists in the preceding years), whereas this one has been hushed up. The New York Times first drew attention to it, reporting 15 killings for the first day and only for the city of Mumbai (then Bombay). In fact, the killing went on for a week and all over Maharashtra, with V.D. Savarkar’s younger brother as best-known victim.
Arti Agarwal, who leads the research in “Hindu genocide”, estimates the death toll at about 8,000. On mass murders, estimates are often over-dramatised, but here we must count with a countervailing factor: The government’s active suppression of these data, as they would throw a negative light on Gandhism. But research on this painful episode has now started in earnest, and those presently trying to get at the real figures include Savarkar biographer Vikram Sampath.
The second consequence came right after: The government’s crackdown on the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. Their offices were closed down, their office-bearers imprisoned for a year or so, their stocks of literature impounded. It clipped their wings for years to come. The Hindu Mahasabha lost its president Syama Prasad Mukherjee, who went on to found the Jana Sangh. The Hindu Mahasabha would never recover from this blow. Its last MP was Mahant Avaidyanath, best known as a leader of the Rama Janmabhoomi movement and the guru of present UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, defected to the BJP in 1991.
By contrast, the RSS did survive quite well, and even generated a whole “family” of like-minded organisations, including a new political party. In a numerical sense, it was to thrive; but in two other senses, it paid a high price.
The third consequence was a drastic change in the political landscape. After Partition, the Hindutva movement had the wind in the sails. All Congress’ assurances that warnings against Islamic separatism were mere British-engineered paranoia, had been refuted by reality. Gandhi’s promise that Partition would only come over his dead body, had proven false. The new-fangled ideology of secularism stood discredited at its birth. And yet, overnight, the Hindutva current was marginalised and Nehruvian secularism started its triumphant march. By his murder, Godse had smashed the window of opportunity of his own political movement.
Finally, the fourth consequence would only materialise over the long term: The Hindu movement began to lose its defining convictions. Rather than continuing to see India as an essentially Hindu nation, it bought into the secularist notion of a mere “Hindu community” juxtaposed to “minority communities” that were endowed with equal rights and increasingly with privileges vis-à-vis the Hindus.
When Jawaharlal Nehru was widely criticised for having facilitated the Chinese invasion, the RSS halted the publication of a Nehru-critical article by Sita Ram Goel in Organiser: Rather than clamouring that its guest author’s judgement of Nehru stood vindicated, it feared that if anything were to happen to Nehru, the RSS would again get the blame. As the Gandhi murder had shown, it wasn’t necessary to be actually guilty to still incur the punishment, viz, by “having created the atmosphere” for the crime. The RSS bought into the secularist narrative that the Hindu ideology had caused the murder and started amputating its own ideological backbone.
If Godse had foreseen these consequences of the act he contemplated, he might have thought twice about going through with it. – Firstpost, 27 July 2022
› Dr. Koenraad Elst is a well-known Indologist from Belgium.