Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of Indian independence and a defender of Hindu-Muslim unity, was assassinated that day in 1948 by Hindu military leader Ramachandra Vinayak Godse (known as Naturam Godse).
A new book reveals that Godse has been a member of Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) all along, dispelling the myth that he left the Hindu race organization, which wants India to be defined as a Hindu nation.
The RSS is the ideological mentor of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP), and many government ministers, as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were former members.
Gandhi’s Assassin: The Creation of Naturam Godse and His Idea of India is a credible account of Gandhi’s assassination and how it was linked to Hindu far-right groups such as the RSS, Hindu Mahasabha and their leaders, including Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
Savarkar expounds the Hindutva ideology, which calls for the supremacy of the Hindus in India – officially a secular republic. Savarkar was like Godse’s mentor, who hated Gandhi’s pluralistic vision of India.
Al Jazeera talks to the author of the book, Dhirendra K Ja.
Al Jazeera: Does your book reveal the connection between RSS and the assassination of Gandhi? How does RSS remediate its past?
The angle of the conspiracy in Gandhi’s murder has not been properly investigated. Much later in the 1960s, a commission was formed to investigate the conspiracy of Gandhi’s assassination. But at that time, many people involved in the case had died and many things had been removed. And the commission did not do much to verify the facts.
I say that the use of the term nationalist for people like Savarkar is wrong. He can be called a Hindu communist and a Hindu supremacy, but not a nationalist.
Despite the myth that Godse left the RSS and joined the Mahasabha, documents seized from the RSS headquarters in Nagpur clearly refute these allegations. No attempt was made to find out which of Godse’s statements were correct or not. If this experiment had been made, things would be crystal clear to us today. So it was this lack of investigation into the conspiracy of Gandhi’s assassination that allowed the RSS to perpetuate the myth in the first place. Initially, the myth was supported by pro-RSS writers, but later even objective researchers, non-RSS writers began to accept these theories as true value. And here’s how RSS successfully rehabilitates its past.
Al Jazeera: Can you talk about Godse’s connections with Savarkar and RSS?
During the trial, Godse tried to give the impression that he alone was responsible for all the planning and execution – for the assassination of Gandhi. So, one by one, he released all the defendants in the case – all the accused and the organizations he remained connected with, starting with the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha. [the first Hindutva party].
After coming into contact with Savarkar in late 1929, he became part of Hindu circles that reacted to Gandhi’s nationalism and philosophy. He was part of this reactionary group that was thinking of creating a Hindu Rashtra [Hindu nation] after India gained independence [from the British colonial rule]. This man gradually began to pursue this goal – the restoration of Brahmanical hegemony in the form of Hindu rastra, as promised by the Savarkars.
Mostly young people from the higher caste of the Marathi-speaking districts in the presidencies of Bombay and Virar were attracted to this kind of philosophy. So Savarkar gave him the initial impetus, and he crystallized after joining the RSS in 1934. He gradually began to imagine that he headed both Hindu organizations, the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha. He also founded the warlike Hindu Rashtra Dahl [Hindu national party], which was organically linked to RSS.
Al Jazeera: Godse killed Gandhi – the greatest icon of Indian independence and ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity. What does his popularity among some Hindu youth say about today’s India?
Well, as I said, this section that worshiped Godse also existed in the past, but they did it quietly. Although their ranks swelled. Hindutwa organizations on the periphery have now entered the mainstream. They became much louder with the support of the government. So, you have a Godse temple that goes out in certain places. This cult of Godse has appeared in India and it has been happening since 2014.
When I was working on my 2017 book Shadow Armies, which studied Hindu organizations, even then, the young people who were part of those organizations were a radicalized part of Hindu society. But I was also amazed to see that the media, the state and the system used it to treat them as isolated cases, as if acting on an individual basis. Now the media needs to start looking at this as a group process. When it comes to Hindu youth, they would believe that this is an isolated case, not a kind of trend that is closely related to Hindutva organizations.
As the famous writer Hushvant Singh said, Hindutwa is nothing but Godseism.
Al Jazeera: How much of a threat does Hindu organizations pose to Indian democracy?
I believe that this section alone will not threaten Indian democracy and secularism.
If you hold a referendum now, the vast majority of Indians will be with Gandhi. As Hindu groups have the support of the government, they seem to occupy much more space than the Gandhians.
Even today, the BJP cannot get the majority of votes in the country. Of course, this is the largest party, it receives the maximum number of votes compared to other parties. But more than 60 percent of people vote against the BJP.
The kind of change that is happening today is due to the power that goes into Modi’s hands. It is true that Muslims are largely reduced to second-class citizens for all sorts of practical purposes.
But I will not be surprised that years later the opposite reaction occurred. India has experienced democracy. Not only Muslims, but even Hindus, the majority of them are not ready to give up the democracy in which they lived.
Al Jazeera: Do you think that the Hindu vision of Savarkar’s supremacy prevails over Gandhi’s pluralism under Modi?
I find the labeling of Savarkar as a Hindu nationalist problematic. I say that the use of the term nationalist for people like Savarkar is wrong. He was not a nationalist. In India, nationalism has a context and that is the struggle for independence against the British [colonial rule]. Savarkar has not participated in any national independence movement. After his release from prison in 1924, Savarkar transformed his anti-British approach into clear anti-Muslim action.
Earlier today, he paid tribute to Bapu in Rajhat. pic.twitter.com/F8XTCuJuVG
– Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 30, 2022
He can be called a Hindu communist and a Hindu supremacy, but not a nationalist.
I laugh when I see Modi every October 2nd [Gandhi’s birth anniversary] and a January 30 homage to the statue of Gandhi. Although he represents Savarkar, he must bow to Gandhi. He must show his respect for Gandhi. Gandhi is the soul of India. If you kill the soul, India will die.
It was the inclusion of Gandhi’s vision that was what Hindwat forces hated the most. Gandhi’s India was different, as everyone had to be treated as a citizen and there would be no discrimination based on caste and religion. And that was something they hated, so they turned to Gandhi.