Resurrecting Godse: The Hindutva continuum

Published on: August 1, 2004
In Frontline, January 28, 1994, Arvind Rajagopal describes his encounter with an unrepentant Gopal Godse, co-conspirator and brother of Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram

THE publicity given to the Nathuram Godse memorial meeting, held in Bombay on November 17 (1993), has been extremely embarrassing to the Bharatiya  Janata Party, which would like to disown all connections with Mahatma Gandhi’s killer. The meeting, unusually for this annual event, was widely reported, and saw several inflammatory speeches eulogising Godse and vilifying Gandhiji. On November 21, BJP president LK Advani issued a statement denying that his party had anything to do with the recent attempts to glorify Nathuram. "Nathuram Godse was a bitter critic of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh," he said. "His charge was that the RSS had made Hindus impotent. We have had nothing to do with Godse. The Congress is in the habit of reviving this allegation against us when it finds nothing else." (The Times of India, November 22, 1993).

In fact, Nathuram Godse was a life-long member of the RSS, attaining the position of baudhik karyavah (intellectual worker). His statement at the murder trial (originally published in 1977, in a volume entitled May It Please Your Honour) says, "I am one of those volunteers who joined the Sangha in its initial stage" (p. 142). He says he left it to do more directly political work in the Hindu Mahasabha (he does not say when). But his brother Gopal Godse suggests that he never really left the RSS (see interview), and that the statement at his trial was meant to alleviate the pressure on the Sangh, which was banned following Gandhiji’s murder. A leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, went on to found the Jana Sangh, forerunner of the BJP.

Mere membership does not, of course, mean responsibility: the BJP does not necessarily have to answer for the actions of each person ever associated with the sangh parivar. But in this case, the chickens have come home to roost. Gopal Godse reacts to Advani’s statement angrily, and calls it the response of a coward. The politics of swayamsevaks like the Godses does not differ too greatly from that of the RSS and the BJP today. The BJP’s campaign slogan in the recent elections: Hum ne jo kaha, so kiye (What we said, we did), boasting of an event that consumed thousands of lives, denotes an implacability of resolve at least equal to Nathuram’s.

Meeting Gopal Godse himself is helpful in uncovering any affinities that might exist between his politics and that of the sangh parivar. He lives in the heart of old Pune, in Sadashiv Peth, in a new apartment building called Vinayak. His flat shares a landing with a bank, and, in that busy space, it is startling to see the names in Devanagari script in prominent red on the door: "Shri Gopal Godse. Sow. Sunita Godse."

He opens the door. Gandhiji’s murderer, you think, but there he is, a tall, slightly bent man in pyjamas and an old yellow sleeveless sweater. You scan his appearance for signs of what might make him different. But as in most scandals, one experiences the shock of banality on meeting its perpetrator. He looks, for all purposes, like any other Chitpavan Brahmin one sees in Sadashiv Peth – a frail old man, albeit with hooded eyes. He remains proud of his Chitpavan heritage. He smiles slightly and lowers his gaze – the half-conscious reaction, perhaps, to a lifetime of notoriety.

A large glass case dominates the drawing room decorations. It contains a small silver urn surrounded by photographs. In the urn are the ashes of Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte. The pictures are of them and of VD Savarkar. Just below the case is a porcelain plate with Savarkar’s portrait. His motto, "Hinduise all politics and militarise Hindudom", encircles the picture. Although, "honourably acquitted" of conspiring to kill Gandhi, Savarkar was nevertheless a close associate of Nathuram Godse. Gopal Godse’s daughter Asilata has married Ashok Savarkar, son of Savarkar’s younger brother Narayan. Both families are still close to the Hindu Mahasabha (the party Nathuram belonged to and Savarkar was president of for several years); Gopal Godse was until recently its general secretary.

He is eager to talk. "Greedy to spread his message," as he puts it – to justify his brother’s act, and to propagate the concept of Hindu Rashtra which, he feels, is the only answer to the country’s political problems. He is polite and courteous; though his views may be offensive in the extreme, he tries not to let his manners impede the reception of his ideas. It is hard for most people to conceive of Gandhiji’s killers as other than demented or demonic. This is obviously a matter very much on his own mind. He is constrained to refute the myth that Nathuram was a madman or a fanatic. "You may disagree with his views, but you must first consider his arguments," Gopal says.

He rejects all existing political parties except the Hindu Mahasabha. Every other party, he says, is guilty of pandering to the Muslims and consequently endangering the nation. Similar criticisms of the BJP, however, are made by several within the RSS itself. Godse’s views themselves have much in common with those of the BJP. India is nothing if not Hindu – this is the theme he tirelessly stresses, in one variation after another. Muslims do not have their original place of worship within this country, and it is essential, in his view (derived from Savarkar), that one’s place of birth is also one’s holy land. Muslims can be loyal only to Pakistan; every Muslim in India is a Pakistani agent, he says. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad slogan "Babar ki santaan – jao Pakistan ya kabristan (Children of Babar – go to Pakistan or else to the grave!)" dramatises this sentiment.

He has spent much time in the last few years studying texts on Hindu architecture. His object is to demonstrate that, while Hinduism provided the sanskriti, or culture, of India, Islamic influence was nothing but vikruti, destruction. The Taj Mahal was a Siva temple – this is proven by the fact that Siva temples have four doorways. The Taj, like many other Mughal structures of its kind, has four doorways. All those other Mughal structures, therefore, are also Siva temples, Godse argues. The Qutb Minar is a particular preoccupation of his – another Hindu structure usurped and defaced by invaders, and originally called the Dwija Sthamba, he maintains. He has even convinced an M. Phil student to do his thesis on the subject. The Muslims did not build a single structure in India, he asserts, astonishingly. All they did was to efface Hindu icons and ornamentation from existing structures, and often incompletely. He has memorised many Sanskrit and Arabic verses for dramatic effect, and urges visitors to test his memory. He recites the verses, which few visitors understand in any case, in support of his arguments. He cites Sitaram Goel, author of What Happened to the Hindu Temples? which gave the rhetorical foundation to the VHP’s long list of mosques to be demolished. Most of his ideas with respect to architecture and culture, however, derive from PN Oak, the ex-Indian National Army volunteer and "scholar" who claims all of world culture for Hinduism’s province. Rome was named after Ram, Christianity is actually Krishna-niti, and so on; an entire history is swiftly fabricated by manipulating the syllables of proper nouns.

What unites these ideas is an insistence on the unity of history, geography, culture, religion and nation, extending to every object or individual within the region. He follows fearlessly the implications of this monistic political theology. No displacements, no articulations of different but related parts are allowed; every artefact and every text forever reduplicates the immutable truth that is ‘Hindu’. Just what this truth is, is in itself less important than its endless proliferation under the same category. All his theorising is then ultimately a process of renaming. The etymology of "category" is categorein, to accuse; "Hindu" functions not as a neutral name but in sharp opposition to its "others", notably Muslims. For Godse, Hindus and Muslims can never be part of the same nation without disastrous results, Islam is an inherently fanatic, aggressive religion, and its adherents will always take advantage of the tolerance and catholicity of Hindus. The opposition to Muslims only serves to render Hindus more like their demonic "others", the Muslims, but that seems secondary to the imperative of survival.

When questioned on the need for aggression, he demonstrates a deft ability at sophistry. Carrying through the assumption of the unity of the individual, religion and nation, he declares the concept of aggression to be inapplicable in the case of action against Muslims. "I cannot be violent in my own country," he says, comparing Muslims to a "foreign attack" of virus.

Godse’s ideas are in a continuum with Hindu right-wing thought today. They draw from and reflect its characteristics. They have the trait of candour, of fleshing out the implications of what an Advani or a Vajpayee would be more likely to obscure with assurances of moderation and democratic process that are routinely violated. They have a great deal in common with, for instance, Uma Bharati, an "extremist" who was, however, always seen by the side of the moderate Advani after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Muslims are the main target of her wrath: "Muslims are like Sudras – dirty, filthy people," she said in a conversation with this writer last year. "We must tyrannise them. If any one of them creates any kind of fuss, they should simply be killed. Even her reassurances were alarming: "I am not a Hitler," she said. "I am not going to build gas chambers."

Others, like journalist Arun Shourie, concentrate their attacks on the enemy within, namely pseudo-secularists. In a November 25 lecture in Pune under the auspices of the Lok Swaraj Andolan (to promote his new book A Secular Agenda), he reminded his audience that Abraham Lincoln had fought a civil war to keep his country from splitting into two. The war killed two per cent of the country’s population, but no one questioned the necessity of the war – it was redeemed by the nobility of its purpose. Two per cent of India’s population amounted to 18 million, but Shourie made it clear that India too should be prepared for such a war.

If you turn to MS Golwalkar, the RSS leader, the confirmation of a continuity with Godse’s views is even more emphatic: "When we say ‘This is the Hindu Nation,’ there are some who immediately come up with the question, ‘What about the Muslims and Christians…?’ They are born in this land, no doubt. But are they true to their salt? … Do they feel a duty to serve her? No!… They look to some foreign lands as their holy places… They have cut off their ancestral moorings of this land (sic) and mentally merged themselves with the aggressors. They still think that they have come here only to conquer and establish their kingdoms. So we see that it is not merely a case of change of faith, but a change even in national identity. What else is it, if not treason, to join the camp of the enemy leaving their mother-nation in the lurch?" (Bunch of Thoughts, pp. 166-167).

Every Muslim, for Golwalkar as for Godse, is a foreign agent with little to do but engage in anti-national activities, usually of a violent kind: "…The Muslims are busy hatching a dangerous plot, piling up arms and mobilising their men and probably biding their time to strike from within when Pakistan decides upon an armed conflict with our country… Not that our leaders do not know it. The secret intelligence reports reach them all right. But it seems they have in view only elections. Elections means vote catching, which means appeasing certain sections… And the Muslims are one such solid bloc. Therein lies the root of all this appeasement and consequent disastrous effects." (Bunch of Thoughts, pp. 239-240).

Compare this with Gopal Godse: "They make bomb blasts in Bombay in the name of the Koran. They will continue because the Koran is very clear. They want to Islamise their complete world. And the secularism is the most fertile ground for them to do it… Outside, what happens today, for Haj, a Muslim who is a smuggler goes there. And a Pakistani minister goes there. They join there together under the name of Islam. They dictate what is to be done in India… So all conspiracies go on in the name of Islam. And we allow it." (Godse, personal interview).

The true Hindu patriot has two enemies: the Muslim and the "secular" (nowadays pseudo-secular) government. The Muslim’s danger is well known and unambivalent, whereas that of the secularists is much less so. Parading itself as tolerant and pluralistic, the secular government is actually calculating and selfish, and will lead the nation to disaster. Only in Hindutva is such narrow selfishness overcome, as individual identity merges with the nation. In these ideas, Godse and the RSS "guru", Golwalkar, are unanimous.

It must be conceded that the BJP and the RSS are more sensitive to public opinion, to the practicality of actually getting something done, as opposed to landing up behind bars or in the gallows after having made a "statement" of some kind. Especially with the BJP, a party primarily seeking power, the ideas its leaders express are often serviceable means to an end rather than deep convictions. In this respect, the saying goes, BJP minus RSS equals Congress (a witticism that says as much about the Congress as about the BJP). It is the RSS which is the backbone of the Hindutva party and which makes the BJP different from other parties.

The habit of seeing dangerous conspiracies everywhere, of calling for rooting out a scourge that threatens the nation, is itself sign of a paranoid mentality that in the US, for instance, was called McCarthyism. Perhaps we should cease calling a paranoid and violent politics by its own preferred name of ‘Hindutva’, and thereby deny it any respectable cover. Advani’s disavowal of Nathuram Godse’s connection with the RSS flies in the face of the well-documented connections between them and the essential similarity of their ideas, as suggested by Nathuram’s published statements, as well as Gopal Godse’s own words (see interview). The Janata Dal slogan against the BJP in the recent elections summed it up: "Muh me Ram aur dil me Nathuram (Ram on their lips and Nathuram in their hearts)".

(Frontline, January 28, 1994).

Archived from Communalism Combat, August 2004, Anniversary Issue (11th), Year 11    No.100, Cover Story