Godse May Have Killed Gandhi, But Forbidding His Temple Is Against People’s Fundamental Rights

Posted on July 22, 2015 in Society, Staff Picks

By Mayurpankhi Choudhury:

My penchant for books like “Why I Assassinated Gandhi” and similar others on Nathuram Godse has often been misinterpreted as an act of aggression against the father of the nation or sometimes even against Muslims. When people see me walking around with the book in my hand, they cringe and ask begrudgingly “Why are you reading that thing?” I simply answer that I’m a curious cat.

Nathuram Godse. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Nathuram Godse. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

What drove a man to assassinate the most “non-violent” man in the world at that time? The simple answer: he was afraid. As Martin Luther King once said “You can’t fight fear with more fear”. The communal tensions tearing the country apart during the pre-independence era is hardly a secret. As Noakhali, Calcutta and Bihar burned and with it both Hindus and Muslims; Gandhi decided he needed to put an end to this. He travelled the country praying for religious harmony, beseeching the Hindus not to slaughter their Muslim brothers. It was commendable, but Godse saw this as a one-sided venture. The fact that Gandhi insisted on the reading of the Quran in the temple but not the Geeta in the mosque, led fanatics like him to believe that his religion was on the brink of annihilation. He believed Gandhi was trying to appease the Muslims. And I believe the Muslims saw through this. While Gandhi tried to assuage the Muslims through inadequate provisions, he staunchly opposed their most important demand- separate electorates. His idea of a “Ram Rajya” was based on the whimsical notion of a united India where people irrespective of their religious and ethnic differences would be given equal opportunities and respect by their fellow Indians out of sheer good will. The Muslims had lost all faith in Gandhi; didn’t see him as their common leader anymore. The creation of Pakistan is a testimony to this.

It’s interesting to analyse how fear was a catalyst for partition and still is, for all communal riots, especially between Hindus and Muslims. Fear that his faith was in danger drove a man to assassinate the father of a nation. Fear of oppression by the Hindu majority compelled the Muslims to demand a separate State. Gandhi’s action to read the Quran in a temple didn’t reassure the Muslims; only made the Hindus insecure.

This brings me to my dilemma. A few months ago I came across an article that stated that the Hindu Mahasabha planned to install a Godse temple in Sitapur district in Lucknow. Initial reactions of the people were understandably horror and disgust at the blasphemy of worshiping a terrorist. Twitter and media were set ablaze with condescending comments by academics and students, condemning this act and demanding that the government put an end to this. Some blamed it on the new government. But to me, things didn’t look quite that simple.

The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS are notoriously infamous for their overtly Hindu policies and their whole propaganda surrounding “Akhand Bharat”. The hypocrisy of Akhand Bharat or “United India” which stands on the idea of a homogenous group- the Hindus, is profane. But this was different. This was the simple act of setting up a temple in honour of a man they thought was a martyr on the personal property of one Kamlesh Tiwari . This was no official declaration by the state or the government.

The Constitution of India offers all its citizens the freedom of religion and expression. If someone, even as fanatical as the Hindu Mahasabha tries to install a temple in the name of someone, does the state give them the freedom to do so? Questioning and condemning their actions is the right of every citizen. But can the government stop an organisation (who has its fair share of support in the country, I remind you) to worship someone? How do we define a terrorist? One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Ideally the state gives everyone the freedom to hold their own beliefs and popularize their ideologies. If the temple construction is forcefully stopped, can this be classified as an infringement of right to freedom of expression? Because either way, the government risks displeasing a large group of people whether it stops this temple construction or not.

Godse has been one of the most intriguing persons in Indian history and a lot of mystery surrounds him. Why did an editor of a known newspaper assassinate “the most non-violent man in history”? Was he brainwashed and then disowned by higher members of the party? Perhaps. But Godse in his statement had justified that his actions were driven by political motives and that he had revered Gandhi and didn’t have any personal enmity with him. He was
concerned that it would be detrimental for India if Gandhi was allowed to influence the decisions of the government. He was aware that history would defame him but he professed that his actions were led by nothing but love for his country. And many agree to this. I wonder if Godse hadn’t assassinated Gandhi whether he would’ve been celebrated as a freedom fighter irrespective of his religious inclinations.

When you’re building a temple you’re sending out a very strong statement. You’re not simply worshiping the person, you’re worshiping his ideologies. But the decision to whether or not stop the temple construction isn’t as simple as one would think. Godse still enjoys a fair share of support in the country. Could it be possible that stopping this temple construction instils more fear and apprehension into the hearts and minds of the Hindus? Is that why they outrageously claim that the state has aligned with the Muslim minority and are denying their right to worship whoever they want? If so happens, then the government will find itself in a difficult position like Gandhi.