By Bala Sai:
“I am a Hindu and I believe in rebirth. I pray to god that I am reborn with Gandhi so that I can kill him again.”
Thus spoke Nathuram Godse, the man who, in cruel irony, brought forth a violent end to possibly the most visible proponent of non-violence in the world. He said so not with a seething rage that blinded his senses, but with a calm demeanor of a man who fully believed in his ideology, and was confident of his actions. Nathuram Godse – religious fanatic, extremist, murderer, terrorist. A man who recited words from a holy text (Bhagvad Gita) to justify his actions. A man who destroyed everything that India stood for – peace, democracy, secularism, tolerance. Sure, let’s go build a temple for him!
We live in a time where religious fundamentalism is threatening peace around the world. We espouse belief in religious tolerance. We release strongly worded statements condemning the ISIS and the Taliban. We read informed articles about the dangers of mixing politics with religion. We are a conscious, modern people, who like to think of secularism as an ethereal commodity floating somewhere over our heads.
But from the shadows of our dark underbelly, suppressed demons have come tumbling out – into primary school textbooks, into public speeches, into parliament discussions. Wheels have been set in motion and are quietly turning, tearing through the cobwebs of restraint that had held it all together. Voices that need to be countered are being given state legitimacy. We live in a time where we are pushed backwards as we are lured by visions of a road ahead.
Mahatma Gandhi was more than a man, he was a symbol. He taught the world the power of nonviolence. He shamed the colonial powers into submission. He believed in humanity, in the concept of a tolerant people, united by the idea of India. He believed in something larger than religion. Sadly, politics changed drastically in character once the British rule receded into the annals of history, transforming itself into a hideous beast hard to tame. Gandhi, in his final years, was a lonely man, fighting a lone battle, defending an ideology the world around him had abandoned.
India had yet to come to terms with its identity. Communal cracks had fissured through the edifice of unity that had driven away our oppressors. Gandhi was seen by Hindu extremists as a traitor to the Hindus- ‘his people’ by the accident of birth. It wasn’t a battle of giants, but of sets of angry minions. By believing in a larger ideal, Gandhi was felled by the ants around his feet.
Godse famously iterated his respect for Gandhi’s honesty. “I used to respect him as a saint because he always spoke the truth, which was not easy, but he was a failed politician,” he said. It was Gandhi’s ideology he was at odds with. And it was okay to shoot him over that. Godse justified murder, giving it a purpose, a noble goal. Godse was a terrorist.
Immediately following the assassination, he was isolated, distanced. The RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, both of which he had been a member of and had drawn inspiration from, went to great lengths to disassociate themselves from perhaps the most hated man in the country back then. His own brother, Gopal Godse, later on attested to the fact that the RSS and Savarkar weren’t quite as innocent of the plot as they claimed to be. He revealed that Nathuram Godse never left the RSS. Digambar Badge, a Hindu Mahasabha worker testified against Savarkar, with whose blessings, he alleged, the Mahatma was murdered. Today, it has been 67 years since the father of our nation was murdered in broad daylight. Faces are emerging from the shadows, and in a country ruled by favorable forces, they have acquired the audacity to finally show themselves for who they are.
For many years, Hindu extremists from around the country have observed November 15th, the day when Godse was hanged as ‘Maryrdom day’. Plays glorifying Godse’s crime run to packed houses in Maharashtra. Today, it has all come tumbling out into the open.
After the Uttar Pradesh state police foiled their plans to erect statues of Godse at several identified places, the Hindu Mahasabha is planning to upgrade their operations by taking Godse’s principle of religious hate to Hindu temples around the country. “We have a dedicated set of youths who are brimming with nationalistic fervor and who are ready to put Godse’s statue at the Raj Ghat at the cost of getting arrested, but we don’t want to work like that. We just want to spread the message of ‘Akhand bharat’ (unified India) which was the main mission for Nathuram Godse ji,” said a leader of the Hindu Mahasabha.
What signal are we sending, by glorifying a terrorist? Why should a temple be built for Godse, a murderer, when so many great leaders of our country at best have statues in their memory? Will we see, in the near future, words of Gandhi’s killer appearing in the textbooks of our school children? Will we see an emergence of his extremist agenda gaining followers? How is one act of terrorism different from another? Would Godse have been praised as a martyr if he were Muslim? We need to understand that terrorism transcends religion. We need to understand that murder can never be justified, whatever the reason behind it. Building temples is certainly not the way to do that.
How far will we descend into the darkness, before the darkness consumes us?