Many Nehruvian-Left intellectuals used Gandhi's assassination as a tool to malign RSS and portray it as an ultra-Right body with no faith in a liberal democracy.
Dr Swadesh Singh
"Godse had in fact joined the RSS in 1930, winning prominence as a speaker and organiser…Time to remember that Godse might be dead but the danger of Godse’s worldview gaining further legitimacy exists."(1)
“On February 26, 2003, the BJP regime had Savarkar’s portrait installed in Parliament House where Gandhi’s portrait had stood for years. It was out to redefine India’s polity. Whitewashing Savarkar and Godse is part of that sordid game. Would you shake hands with an assassin of any of your kin who is acquitted by the court in circumstances like these?” (2)
These two statements are part of a calculated design to delegitimize the very core of an ideology and an organization. The ideology in question is one which stands for a certain value system which the whole line of Nehruvian-Left intellectuals reject. Though many of these intellectuals did not have faith in the leadership of Gandhiji and his ideals, yet they used his assassination as a tool to malign RSS and portray it as an ultra-Right wing organization that does not believe in the idea of liberal democracy.
Time and again attempts have been made to prove that as an organization and as an ideology RSS is not worthy of being allowed the freedom to function and that it should be banned to ensure healthy functioning of Indian democracy. It is no wonder that the RSS has faced ban three times. It is another matter that after each ban RSS emerged a stronger force. On the other hand, RSS itself claims that it is a socio-cultural organization that believes in the ideology of nationalism. The organisation believes in the ancient glory of Bharat. It aims to re-establish this glory and hence the idea of ‘National Reconstruction’ becomes its objective.
Using ‘Gandhi Murder’ as a tool
On January 30, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi, the ‘Father of the Nation’, was shot dead by Nathuram Vinayak Godse. Much ink has been spilled on determining whether Godse was, at that time, a member of the RSS, or indeed of the Hindu Mahasabha, or perhaps of neither the two organisations. Though Godse single-handed carried out the murder of Gandhi, others were implicated in the plot, and among those against whom the Indian government filed charges was Veer Savarkar. Godse, as investigations after Gandhi’s murder were to reveal, appears to have been close to Savarkar, a prominent leader of the Hindu Mahasabha. Godse was certainly a frequent visitor to Savarkar’s residence, and he did not, in the time that intervened between his arrest on January 30 and his execution upon conviction of the charge of murder nearly two years later, ever disown his association with the Mahasabha.
The general consensus appears to be that Nathuram, who saw himself as a passionate and ardent defender of the Hindu motherland against the depredations of Muslims, was at one point active in the RSS but resigned his membership in the early 1930s. This mere fact, if fact it be, has been used by the RSS in the seven decades following Gandhi’s assassination to argue that Godse had no association with the RSS, but curiously Nathuram’s younger brother, Gopal Godse, who was convicted of partaking in the conspiracy to murder Gandhi and served a 15-year jail term, has himself on more than one occasion issued a strong rejoinder to the RSS, for attempting to cover his brother’s long-term association with the RSS. Thus, shortly after releasing Nathuram’s book, Why I Assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, in December 1993, Gopal Godse in an interview with Frontline magazine stated: “All the (Godse) brothers were in the RSS. Nathuram, Dattatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our home. It was like a family to us. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah (intellectual worker) in the RSS. He has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because (Madhav Sadashiv) Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS.” (3)
Gandhi and RSS
The online portal of RSS acknowledges that Sangh initiated movements - social, reformist or anti-secessionist - evoke ready response and approbation from the common multitudes as well as from vast numbers of elites of different shades. It has increasingly been recognized that the Sangh is not a mere reaction to one or another social or political aberration. It represents a corpus of thought and action firmly rooted in genuine nationalism and in the age old tradition of this country.
The contents and evidence of the Gandhi era are very clear and a bare perusal makes us think that the Sangh was never against the ideals of Gandhiji but it confronted some of his appeasing entreaties which were not acceptable to the masses at large. Senior BJP leader LK Advani has written clearly in his book ‘My Country, My Life’: “RSS had some differences with Gandhiji regarding his approach to securing India’s freedom. But these were minor, which never detracted from the high regard the Sangh had for the Mahatma.” (4)
Guru Golwalkar’s immediate response after knowing about the murder of Mahatma Gandhi was: ‘What a misfortune for the country!’ He sent telegrams of condolence to Pt. Nehru, Sardar Patel and Shri Devdas Gandhi. At the same time he also issued a country-wide directive to keep all Sangh Shakhas closed for 13 days as an expression of grief over the tragedy. (5)
In his letter to Pandit Nehru, Golwalkar wrote, in essence, “The attack on such a deft helmsman who held so many diverse natures in a single string bringing them to the right path, is indeed a treacherous act not merely to an individual but to the whole country.” In the letter to Sardar Patel, he wrote: “Let us shoulder the responsibility that has fallen upon us by the untimely passing away of that great unifier, keeping alive the sacred memories of that soul who had tied diverse natures in a single bond and was leading them all on a single path.”
Nehru and RSS
Gandhiji’s death was a tragic incident which shocked the whole world. However, Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India harbored a deep prejudice against Sangh. Even before the assassination of Gandhi, on December 7, 1947 Nehru wrote a letter to all the chief ministers and directed them to keep vigil on the phenomenon called RSS and take strictest action, if required, to curb its actions. Such mind set of the government at that time bears a clear testimony to the fact that the growing clout and support of RSS was a threat to the supremacy and monopoly of Nehru.
A secret file (No. F-74(1)-P/48) reveals that government employees were under Intelligence Bureau (IB) surveillance and many were suspended on the suspicion of being RSS sympathisers. (6) Another government file (No. 68-P/48-A) notes the IB was tasked to shadow all those suspected to have RSS links, including students as young as 15 years of age, who were watched by CID personnel of their states. (7) This was exactly what happened during the Emergency, when according to LK Advani’s A Prisoner’s Scrap Book around 105,000 RSS members were arrested along with 8,000 satyagrahis who demonstrated against the draconian laws of the time. The secret file includes a letter trail from states informing that spy agency officials, including GK Handoo, who as Inspector General of Police, UP, and RN Kao, who later become the first chief of R&AW, about action taken against the suspects. Though the probe into Gandhi’s murder gave a clean chit to RSS, thousands of its members were hounded and imprisoned because of the ban. It is relevant to mention here that the judgment in the case was pronounced on February 10, 1949, after accessing the evidence clearly stated that RSS has no role in the incident.
Godse and RSS
LK Advani once said in an interview, “Nathuram Godse was a bitter critic of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. 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.”(8) Prof Rajendra Singh, fourth Sarsanghchalak of RSS in an interview said regarding Godse “Initially, he was a member of the Congress, later he joined the RSS and left it subsequently, saying that it was a slow organisation. Then he formed his own group.” (9) Godse left the RSS in 1934 and joined the HMS as per his own admission to the court. He then formed his own group. Gandhi was assassinated in 1948. Prof Rajendra Singh had asked, “If investigations were done on whether RSS was involved in the assassination, why were there no investigations whether Congress was involved in allowing the assassination to happen” (since he was a member of both the organizations and had left them).
Inquiry into Gandhi Murder
It is also noteworthy that RSS at this time was not engaged in political activities which in fact left it defenceless when the party in power banned the nationalist organisation in the wake of Gandhi assassination. As for links between Savarkar and Nathuram Godse, former has been acquitted by the court of law at the time when emotions were high and court must have been under tremendous pressure to hang anyone with even remote connection to the conspiracy. But the matter did not end there. There is introduction of two witnesses before JL Kapoor Commission where they affirmed meetings between Savarkar and Nathuram Godse, few days before the day of assassination. In the opinion of some, that piece of evidence, if it was produced before trial judge, would have corroborated testimony of approver and Savarkar would have been convicted in the trial itself. It is another matter that the same JL Kapoor commission gave clean chit to the RSS for any connection with the assassination, which is conveniently overlooked by vested interests but dishonesty of convenience knows to overlook such findings in the report. There is weird logic in the manner untested (without having to pass through rigour of cross examination) testimony of two witnesses before a commission is sought to be read along with testimony of approver before the trial court to arrive at prejudiced conclusion which would militate against the spirit of fair justice.
The correspondence between actors of the time which played part on ban as well as mediation process during period of ban would show how much of ban was prompted by real actionable evidence. Any prudent mind would be shocked at the lack of any evidence except for stray intelligence inputs and prejudiced views which were being cited to justify ban and denying liberty to thousands of innocent persons. It is worthy to note that the method adopted by Sangh to protest against the clampdown during its days of oppression was non-violent Satyagraha, launched on 9th December 1948 with more than 80000 swyamsevaks being part of it and that alone should put to rest any doubts about respect RSS accorded to the mahatma.
The fact that over the years every responsible leader of RSS or that of affiliated political party, when speaking on the allegation of any link between the perpetrator of ghastly murder of Mahatma Gandhi and that of RSS, has sought to deny existence of any link in itself should be closure on the subject.
On the government's part, it would be unthinkable for any government today to clamp down on any organisation in such a manner, the same would hardly pass muster of judicial scrutiny but at the time there was hardly any challenge to executive power and a deliberate conspiracy was crafted with sole view to crush organisation which could pose challenge to the popularity of ruling party, however even this insecurity was misplaced as RSS had no political ambition at the time.
Above discussion concludes that the ban on RSS in the aftermath of Gandhi’s assassination could not be justified on the basis of any legally admissible evidence as none existed at the time. There was no evidence except for stray intelligence inputs and prejudiced views which were cited to justify the ban and deny liberty to thousands of innocent persons.
Assassination of Gandhiji was used as a convenient tool aimed at crushing the rising popularity of RSS which was making the ruling party insecure in the new democratic country after Partition. This was the first instance in Independent India of political vendetta where the executive overstepped and charged one organisation which was not of the same ideology as the ruling dispensation and had no political backing.
(Author teaches Political Science in Satyawati College of Delhi University, and is Founding Member of Academics4Nation)
1. Subhash Gatade, First Terrorist of Modern India, Kafila
2. AG Noorani, The BJP and the Nathu Ram Godse, http://www.frontline.in/books/the-bjp-and-nathuram-godse/article4328688.ece
3. Frontline, 28 January, 1994
4. LK Advani, My Country, My Life, Roopa Publications, New Delhi
5. CP Bhisikar, Shri Guruji: Pioneer of A New Era, Translated into English by Sudhakar Raje, Sahitya Sindhu Prakashan, Bangalore, p 61-62
6. Nehru wanted RSS banned but Patel wanted proof, https://satyavijayi.com/nehru-wanted-rss-banned-but-patel-wanted-proof/
7. Pael Succumbed to Nehru Pressure on RSS Crack Down https://www.pressreader.com/india/sunday-express-8291/20150614/281487864976594
8. The Times of India, November 22, 1993 9. Outlook, 19 th January, 1998