Here is an excerpt from Subhash Gatade’s recent book, Hindutva’s Second Coming, throwing light on the ‘love of the assassin’. (Pages 272, Media House, 2019, http://www.mediahouse.online/product/hindutvas-second-coming/)
Jawaharlal Nehru was an inveterate letter writer, like many of his contemporaries.
Perhaps it was a reflection of the times in which he lived – when you had not many options to communicate – letter writing seemed to be the cheapest way to communicate. Nehru’s letters to his daughter Indira – when she was ten years old – later published in a book form aimed at developing sensitive perception of the world are a literary treasure.
One can get a glimpse of Nehru, the architect of free India, via his fortnightly letters to chief ministers on issues of concern – which have been compiled in five volumes. His correspondence with his contemporaries, colleagues in the tumultuous period after achievement of Independence which was accompanied by post-partition riots, can give us a feel of the challenges awaiting a newly independent nation.
It would be opportune here to reread his letter to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who was part of his cabinet, merely two days before Gandhi’s assassination.
“For some time past I have been greatly distressed by the activities of the Hindu Mahasabha. At the present moment it is functioning not only as the main opposition to the government and to the Congress in India but as an organisation continually inciting to violence. The RSS has behaved in an even worse way and we have collected a mass of information about its very objectionable activities and its close association with riots and disorder.” (Jawaharlal Nehru, Selected Works, 2nd Series, Vol 5, 1987, p.30).
Anybody can sense through these letters/circulars the storm which was brewing in the country, when he castigates the ‘extraordinary virulence’ in speeches of those leaders of RSS and Hindu Mahasabha and says “…I fear that the limit is being reached if it has not already been crossed’’ (-do-)
This particular letter was written with an expectation that Mukherjee — who was part of the government led by him — would condemn such acts and raise his voice against communal organisations but Mukherjee remained silent.
There are enough documentary proofs available which show how these Hindu communal groups were trying for direct provocation of ‘organised’communal violence. Dr B S Moonje, a Hindu Mahasabha leader, who was also one of the founders of RSS, had observed that to counter Jinnah “we will have to organise violence on a scientific basis”, in his Presidential address to the All India Hindu Mahajati Sammelan. (All India Hindu Mahasabha Papers, File C-105/46, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, quoted in RSS, School Textbooks and Mahatma Gandhi’s assassinationed. p 60).
Perhaps an extract from a book (Mridula Mukherjee, Aditya Mukherjee, Sucheta Mahajan, RSS, School Textbooks and Mahatma Gandhi’s assassinationed. p 60) is worth quoting in full to know to what extent they were ready to go.
Hindu Mahasabha workers publicly charged the national leaders with betraying the interests of the Hindus. They threatened that Nehru, Patel and Azad would be hanged and Gandhi Murdabad (Death to Gandhi) became a common slogan at Mahasabha meetings. Delhi Police Abstract of Intelligence dated 18 December 1947 reported an annual rally of the RSS attended by 50,000 volunteers, where Golwalkar described the attitude of the government as ‘un-Indian and Satanic’. At a meeting of 2,500 workers on 8 December 1947 Golwalkar said: (Kapur Commission Report, Chapter XIX: 66)
The Sangh would finish Pakistan and if anybody stood in their way they will finish him also, “No matter, whether it would be Nehru government, or any other government.” India, he said, was no place for them to live. They [the RSS], he said, had means whereby their opponents could be immediately silenced. (p 65)
Publications owning allegiance to the idea of Hindu Rashtra were openly threatening death for Mahatma Gandhi in an oblique way. Sample this one: Dainik Hindu Rashtra wrote merely six days before the assassination: “We request that the Government of India should provide more armed soldiers for Gandhiji’s protection so long as he makes anti-national and terrible statements as above”.
Well-known journalist Bharat Bhushan had in a write-up provided details of Delhi CID’s report which corroborate this which told how “RSS chief Golwalkar threatened to kill Gandhi” (http://www.catchnews.com/politics-news/exclusive-rss-chief-golwalkar-threatened-to-kill-gandhi-1947-cid-report-1469535385.html ) It also had details of Lucknow CID’s letter which told how on 1 Dec, 1950 RSS men met at Mathura, allegedly discussed assassinating Congress leaders.
This was the ambience when Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse and his accomplices; a conspiracy which was hatched by the leading lights of Hindutva supremacist forces, chief among them was Savarkar and his close associates.
Definitely it was no ordinary killing of an individual by another, not just a murder committed by a youth in a fit of rage without any planning, rather a day long awaited by the Hindutva supremacists for which they had been planning at least since a decade and half ago.
As Teesta Setalvad in her introduction of a book (Beyond Doubt: A Dossier on Gandhi’s assassination’, Tulika, 2015, Page 1) rightly puts it, the murder was not only the first terrorist act in Independent India but it,
‘[w]as a declaration of war and a statement of intent. To those forces, which …, conspired in the killing, the act declared a lasting commitment to India as a Hindu Rashtra, and announced how the RSS and its affiliates would be at perpetual war with the secular, democratic Indian state as well as any and all who stood to affirm these principles. It remains to be seen how far they could and are still prepared to go. The assassination was also an act to signal the elimination of all that Gandhi and the national movement against imperialism stood for. Equality of citizenship and non-discriminatory democratic governance has been and remain anathema to the Sangh’s ideal political order. ..
What is disturbing to note is that this “declaration of war” normally understood as the “first terrorist act in independent India” does not carry the importance it deserves now. In fact, it is the exact opposite today. With a majoritarian government led by the ideas of RSS at the Centre, we find increasing glorification of the act and its perpetrators.
How did the killers of Gandhi [try] to rationalise their criminal act?
According to them, Gandhiji supported the idea of a separate state for Muslims; thus in a sense he was responsible for the creation of Pakistan. Secondly, the belligerence of Muslims was a result of Gandhiji’s policy of appeasement. Thirdly, in spite of the Pakistani aggression in Kashmir, Gandhiji fasted to compel the Government of India to release an amount of Rs 55 crore due to Pakistan.
Anyone familiar with that period of history can decipher that all these allegations are malicious and factually incorrect also. In fact, the idea of communal amity which Gandhi upheld all his life was a complete anathema to the exclusivist, Hindu supremacist world view of the members of the RSS, Hindu Mahasabha. And while the nation was a racial/religious construct in the imagination of the Hindutva forces, for Gandhi and the rest of the nationalists it was a territorial construct or a bounded territory comprising different communities, collectivities living there.
Looking at the fourteen-year-old history of unsuccessful attempts on Gandhi’s life – which stretched from 1934 to 1948 – it becomes clear that the conspiracy to eliminate Gandhiji was conceived much earlier than the “successful accomplishment” thereof.
A simple query comes to mind: would it be possible for us to deliberate over the fact that the idea of elimination of Gandhi emerged with lot of vehemence in mid-thirties among the Hindutva supremacists?
Remember it was the period when masses of Indian people were fighting the British colonials in myriad ways, not only the Congress but the socialists and the communists were also on the offensive. The stream of social revolutionaries led by Ambedkar- Periyar – Mangoo Ram-Achutanand etc was also engaged in launching struggles for social emancipation and the Hindutva supremacists who were far away from all these struggles, focussing themselves on building their organisation, conspiring to kill the Mahatma.
One thing is certain that with passage of time as the idea of composite nationalism started taking deep roots in the society where Gandhi was a key figure, the Hindutva warriors became more and more convinced that their project of carving out Hindu Rashtra would always remain in wilderness, if something drastic was not done. For them Gandhi was THE target because he was unquestioned leader of the anti-colonial struggle and secondly, the discourse he used and propagated — the language of religion which he believed in — the proponents of Hindu Rashtra were convinced that till he is around, they would not be able to make headway on the path of Hindu unity.
Interestingly, with Gandhi their struggle was at two levels:
First, on the idea of nationhood — whether it should be a composite one or should be based on religion.
Second, on the idea of Hinduism — for Gandhi Hinduism it meant ‘Sarv Dharm Sambhav’ whereas for the Hindutva people it meant the exact opposite.
The decade of thirties is also known for the martyrdoms of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdeo (23rd March, 1931) and feeling of anger and grief which had gripped the broad masses of the people then and the historic Karachi Congress which also reflected it, followed by Congress’s bold move to put forward the idea of Swaraj. The Karachi Congress which was presided over by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel where all the leading lights of the Congress were present also stipulated state’s religious neutrality. Providing details Teesta Setalvad tells us, this session
‘[r]esulted in the Congress adopting a resolution on Fundamental Rights and Economic Policy which represented the party’s social, economic and political programme.. for the first time, it tried to define what would be the meaning of Swaraj for the common Indian. Some important aspects of these resolutions were: basic civil rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, equality before law, elections on the basis of universal adult franchise; free and compulsory primary education; substantial reduction in rent and taxes, better conditions for workers… Relevant sections constituted a legal attack on the institution of untouchability,… These principled statements were later included in the Constitution of India. (Beyond Doubt, A Dossier on Gandhi’s Assassination, p 2, Tulika, 2015).
Taking the discussion forward Teesta tells how “Communal amity remained central to the constructive programmes of the Congress Party” and how attempts were made to include leading Muslim intellectuals and leaders into the Congress fold and how it was the same period when “majoritarian as well as minority communal forces were at play pushing their narrow, hate-driven, communal agendas”. According to her the evolution of a,
‘[s]ecular and composite Indian nationhood was a deep source of resentment for the proponents of Hindu Rashtra, it was the democratic and egalitarian agenda articulated by the national leadership through the Karachi resolution that they also resented. The attempts on Gandhi’s life that began in 1934 were a response to the dominant political articulations of nationhood, caste and economic and other democratic rights which directly challenged the idea of a hegemonistic and authoritarian Hindu Rashtra. (- do -, p 3).