The gruesome gush of high-pitch hate speeches and loud calls of Muslim slaughter emanating from Dharma Sansads and other Hindu communal assemblies/outfits/individuals including the Tek Fog ‘trads’ in the current winter season cannot but bring back to our collective memory the communal hell-fire that broke out in the autumn and winter of 1947-48 and led to huge loss of lives including that of M K Gandhi.
Back then it was the morrow of the long awaited independence. Now it is the eve of Independence 75. Then the Hindutva forces, nowhere near state power, were desperately trying to make the best of a bad bargain marked by their failure to realise a monolithic, aggressively Hindu, Akhand Bharat. Now in power, they are desperately-- and with natural impunity enjoyed under their own regime -- striving to ward off the growing threats to that power , both in UP and Uttarakhand now and on the national scale two years hence, so that they can march ahead with the next, more diabolical part of their radical Hindutva agenda without a pause. If we the people of India are to avert that bleak prospect, we must learn more thoroughly from the past and act more resolutely and decisively now.
Why did Nathuram Godse (henceforth Godse) and his political masters saw Gandhi, an avowed practising Hindu, as the biggest stumbling block in achieving their goal? Why not Jinnah before independence or the liberal, quasi-socialist Nehru, who held the reigns of the government after independence and went so far as to declare “majority communalism” to be a bigger threat than minority communalism, since it can mislead people by presenting itself as Indian nationalism? Or why not Dr. Ambedkar, who started his political career with a Dalit (Mahar) satyagraha, complete with the burning of the Manusmriti, spent his whole life mobilising Dalits and others for destroying the Bramhnical caste order and even called for applying dynamite to the Hindu scriptures?
Because the Hindutva bandwagon’s basic project -- of targeting Muslims as enemies of the nation (i.e., the Hindu Rashtra) and mobilising against them all sections/castes of Hindus (even Dalits and Adivasis) without altering the hegemony of the traditional social elite -- was most effectively countered on the ground, in terms of practical efficacy (though not, arguably, in terms of ideological or theoretical consistency) by none other than the Mahatma (as Tagore had called him) and the Father of the Nation (as Bose had addressed him in his radio message from Singapore in 1944, seeking his blessings for success in the armed struggle for freedom). He had the willpower, courage of conviction, mass appeal cutting across creed-caste-class divides and vigorous activism for Hindu–Muslim unity that worked miracles in strife-torn Calcutta, Noakhali, Delhi and other places.
In fact Gandhi had been the RSS’ foremost target of attack right from its inception. K B Hedgewar left the Congress and founded the RSS because in his opinion “yavana snakes reared on the milk of non-cooperation were provoking riots in the nation with their poisonous hissing.” By blaming the non-cooperation movement -- which under the leadership of Gandhi joined hands with the Khilafat movement against the British and achieved an unprecedented level of Hindu-Muslim unity on a massive scale, even if for a short period of time -- Hedgewar was actually putting Gandhi and his policy of ‘appeasement’ on the dock.
As before, so after independence, the RSS and Hindu Mahasava (HM) continued to provoke and organize communal violence wherever possible, as in Delhi in September 1947. At the end of that month, Nehru wrote to Patel:
“As far as I can make out, we have had to face a very definite and well-organised attempt of certain Sikh and Hindu fascist elements to overturn the Government, or at least to break up its present character. It has been something much more than a communal disturbance. Many of these people … have functioned as pure terrorists. They could only do so, of course, with success in a favourable atmosphere as far as public opinion was concerned. They had that atmosphere.
“These gangs have not been broken up yet although something has been done to them, and they are still capable of great mischief.” (emphases added.)
Jawaharlal, for all his other drawbacks and misconceived policies, got it absolutely right here. Behind the series of communal disturbances was nothing short of “a very definite and well-organised attempt of certain Sikh and Hindu fascist elements to overturn the government, at least to break up its present [secular-democratic] character” and, he forgot or considered it superfluous to add, replace it with a Hindu Rashtra. He seems to be trying and impressing upon his deputy, known to have some soft corners for the RSS, that it was urgent and critical to take more stringent measures against the fascist elements and to destroy the “favourable atmosphere” that allowed them to grow.
Patel, however, was not acting as fast as he was expected to, for he had yet to completely give up his old illusion of bringing the RSS under the Congress umbrella. As late as on 6 January 1948, with full knowledge of RSS’ active role in riots and hatemongering, he said in a speech at Lucknow:
“In the Congress, those who are in power feel that by virtue of authority they will be able to arrest the RSS. By ‘Danda’ [sticks] you cannot suppress an organization. Moreover, “Danda ’’ is meant for thieves and ‘Dakus’ The using of “Danda’’ will not help much. After all, RSS men are not thieves and dacoits. They are patriots. They love their country. Only their trend of thought is divergent. They have be won over by Congressmen with love.”
Given this somewhat ambivalent approach of his deputy, Nehru had to prod the him again. “In view of the attitude of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS,” he wrote to Patel, “it has become increasingly difficult to be neutral towards them”.
Meanwhile, HM workers were openly charging the national leaders with betraying the interests of the Hindus. They threatened that Nehru, Patel and Azad would be hanged while Gandhi Murdabad (Death to Gandhi) became a common slogan at Mahasabha meetings.
At a meeting of 2,500 swayamsevaks on 8 December 1947, Golwalkar said that the Sangh would finish Pakistan and if anybody stood in their way they will finish him too. He specifically took the name of the main target: “Mahatma Gandhi could not mislead them (Hindus) any longer. We have the means whereby such men can be immediately silenced, but it is our tradition not to be inimical to Hindus. If we are compelled, we will have to resort to that course too.”
The thing is, all birds of a communal feather -- and this applies to Muslim communalism as well -- flock together in pursuance of their ultimate objective: mobilizing an entire ethnic/religious community as a solid homogeneous block ranged against a real or imagined enemy in order to attain or retain authoritarian political power. In the case of RSS, this was true when it stayed away from direct participation in electoral politics; this remains true now when all Hindus are projected as and sought to be organised as an undifferentiated vote bank for its political wing. To expand and consolidate this social block/mas base/vote bank, leaders of the Sangh combine constantly search for new opportunities (think the Pulwama attack), meticulously draw up conspiracies and stratagems (the decades-long Masjid-Mandir tussle being just one example) and zero in on prominent targets (individuals or groups -- no matter whether from the 'enemy' community or from 'our own people') who act as spoilsports. If such targets in recent years happened to be rationalists like Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi, Lankesh, and the assorted group of jailed 'Urban Naxals' in the Bhima Koregaon case, probably the first internationally infamous fascist-terrorist attack of this nature in our country took place on 30 January 1948.
The assassination was not the handiwork of a frenzied fanatic -- as has been, and continues to be, claimed by the RSS/Hindutva outfits. The truth is, Godse -- the old Savarkar bhakt who never dissociated himself from the RSS -- only carried the communal ideological framework constructed by Savarkar and Golwalkar to its logical conclusion. Sardar Patel was spot on when in his letter to Golwalkar in the aftermath of the assassination, he wrote, “All their (RSS leaders') speeches were full of communal poison....As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the valuable life of Gandhiji. … RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death.”
Around the same time, Patel wrote to Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, "As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha… our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible.”
As Patel correctly noted, the entire Hindutva lobby happily celebrated the assassination. But the jubilation turned into mortal fear when spontaneous mass retaliations started on 31 January. Furious local people raided Godse’s house in the early morning, when he was in police custody. There were numerous attacks on RSS workers and offices, which were therefore hurriedly closed down (ostensibly as a mark of respect to ‘the revered departed one’, as the crafty Sarsangachalak declared). Frightened to their bones and desperate to save their own skins, both Golwalkar and Savarkar issued statements expressing strong condemnation of the murder and disowning Godse.
Golwalkar’s written statement read, in part, ‘In the presence of this appalling tragedy I hope people will learn the lesson and practice the doctrine of love and service. … I direct all my brother swayamsevaks to maintain a loving attitude towards all … even this misplaced frenzy is an expression of unbounded love and reverence, in which the whole country held the great Mahatma, the man who made the name of our motherland great in the world.’
The drastic change in the attitude of the RSS and HM hurt Godse immensely. So did the news that, rather than triggering a wave of sympathy for Godse, the assassination had caused a massive and violent storm of revulsion against him, the Maharashtrian Brahmins as well as the RSS and the HM. Instead of Godse being hailed as a hero (even by -- as he had expected -- Hindu and Sikh refugees who had suffered allegedly due to Gandhi’s policy of appeasement of Muslims and Pakistan) he was now seen as villain of the piece, while Gandhi became an even bigger international icon.
At the trials, Godse and Apte were sentenced to death and six others to life imprisonment. Savarkar was charged as the mastermind of the conspiracy, but acquitted due to lack of direct evidence of his involvement. Gods spent the last few months in prison a disillusioned, broken man. On 15 November 1948 he (along with Apte) recited the sacred vow of the RSS before walking to the gallows with faltering steps, trying hard to hide his nervousness.
Being wise after the event, the Home Minister promptly banned the RSS and put the leaders -- including Golwalkar -- and thousands of swayamsevaks behind bars. The HM, despite its known record of communal activities, was not banned.
Faithfully following the footsteps of Savarkar, Golwalkar soon started correspondence with Patel and Nehru. In one letter sent in late 1948, he drew attention to the communist menace in the context of the "dangerous developments" in Burma, Indochina and some other countries. He cautioned the government that large numbers of Indian youth were joining the communist bandwagon, because the only organisation that could check this -- the RSS -- was now absent from the scene. So he advanced a grand offer: if you with your government power and we with our organised cultural strength join hands, we can very soon resist this danger. No immediate response was forthcoming, but negotiations, mostly through feelers, continued. Some nine months later, on 12 July 1949 to be precise, the ban was withdrawn. If someone were to ask why so fast, the answer might well be that by this time Patel concurred with Golwalkar that the communists were more dangerous than the communalists. In fact at that time large numbers of communists were being sent to jails and they were not writing letters to the government, but carrying on protests in prisons also.
The next step in the rehabilitation of RSS in the socio-political mainstream was taken by Nehru himself. During "India's China war" (to borrow the title of Neville Maxwell's highly acclaimed book on the 1962 war) Golwalkar took up the pen again. Citing the RSS' anti-communist credentials, he expressed the desire to render all possible assistance to the government in the war with the communist enemy. The prime minister readily accepted the proposal. Swayamsevaks where deployed in some small jobs like traffic control in Delhi, but the big gain was that the stigma was all but erased at least in government circles. Next year Nehru honoured RSS by allowing it to participate in the Republic Day Parade in Delhi with its own tableau.
So far as the Congress was concerned, the circle was thus completed. How in the next decades other parties of the ruling classes embraced the Jana Sangh-BJP and helped the Parivar attain the present dominant position is a story too well-known to be retold here.
Indian experience over the past nearly hundred years amply demonstrate, and experience in South Asia and elsewhere fully corroborate, the fact that if you fail to deal decisively with the communal/racial or other similar viruses of concern from the very inception, if you take the first moderate symptoms and numbers lightly and then spring into vigorous action when the situation is going out of hand, you are doomed to a tragic failure. Indeed, in many respects the communal epidemic in our country bears a close resemblance to the Covid-19 pandemic. Only the former is incomparably more stubborn and long-lasting, sweeping the country in apparently endless waves spanning decades, and far more devastating in terms of social, economic and personal costs. Also notable is a scandalous similarity between the two: a tiny top layer of the economic and political elite earns humongous dirty profits out of the unspeakable sufferings of the billions. That evil 'elite' -- actually the scum of society and enemies of the nation -- have thus developed a deep vested interest in promoting catastrophic cycles of hatemongering, riots and ultimately genocides. The only available prevention and treatment in this case is to expose, isolate and get rid of these blood-sucking scoundrels, these professional superspreaders of the man-made communal virus. And not just once, we have to do it repeatedly, the moment a new variant is developed in the Nagpur laboratory and systematically released into the social body through the millions of shakhas and various other networks.
Today, ahead of a stream of assembly and parliamentary elections, we are passing through precisely such a moment. We must prosecute the guilty, the murderous RSS-BJP combine, in the people's court -- which extends from mass movements to electoral contests, from cultural and ideological discourses to intellectual and political debates and so on -- and divest them of the position and power to run roughshod over our lives, livelihoods, and the values we cherish. In 2002 the Gujarat CM got away scot-free after engineering a massive genocide, this time around we can't allow the Indian PM and his acolytes do the trick again.
On June 25, 1934 Godse along with Narayan Apte threw handgrenades on a car which Gandhi was yet to board. This time the immediate provocation was Gandhi's pro-‘Harijans’ campaign.
The duo founded the Hindu Rashtra Dal in 1942 as a body of storm troopers. Neither the Hindu Mahasabha nor the RSS officially owned up to the new outfit, but both covertly supported it and tried to use it as their joint venture to achieve their common objectives.
In July 1944 a group of HM and RSS activist assembled in a school at Panchgani and shouted slogans against Gandhi who was attending a prayer meeting. Suddenly Godse emerged from the group with a dragger in hand and rushed toward Gandhi, but was quickly overpowered. He made a similar attempt in September the same year when Gandhi was about to board a train for a meeting with Jinnah with a view to finding a way to avoid partition. This time too to he failed and the dragger snatched away from him. Godse’s paper Agrani wrote on 12 April 1947: "Does the Sultan blinded with power consider the blood of the Hindu people as not worth a pie, so that this Bania who is a traitor to his community should, despite the flowing of several rivers of it, devise fresh means of satisfying the blood thirst of these monstrous aggressors?” It went on to advise Gandhiji that he should commit suicide if he wished to retain any self-respect; if not, he should bid goodbye for ever to Indian politics.
On 20 January 1948 an attempt was made by a group of six men, including Godse, during Gandhi’s prayer meeting at Birla House in New Delhi. The plan failed miserably owing to their panicked state of mind and absolute lack of co-ordination. Ten days later, Godse accompanied by Apte made the final attempt at the very same Birla House when Gandhi was coming out after his prayer meeting. The former, this time armed with an imported 9mm Beretta pistol -- one of the best guns of its time and allegedly supplied by Savarkar -- did the job with professional competence. He was beaten up by the crowd and handed over to the police.
In course of his trial at the Special court, starting May 1948, Godse said: “Gandhiji continued to pursue the same policy of appeasement, my blood boiled and I could not tolerate him any longer…. The only effective remedy to relieve the Hindu from Muslim atrocities was, to my mind, to remove Gandhiji from the world.”
In his May, 1949 appeal before the Punjab High Court, Godse accused Gandhi for reading the Koran as part of the prayer meeting in front of a Hindu temple in Bhangi Colony, New Delhi, and added,
“The accumulating provocation of years culminating in his last pro-Muslim fast , at last, goaded me to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhiji should be brought to an end immediately. When the top rank leaders of the Congress with the consent of Gandhiji divided and tore the country—which we consider as a deity of worship— my mind became full with the thoughts of direful anger. I felt that the Indian politics in the absence of Gandhiji would surely be practical, able to retaliate ...”