Tuesday, June 28

Mahatma Gandhi’s Killer Revered as Hindu Nationalism Resurfaces in India | India

LLast Sunday, in a nondescript building in the Indian city of Gwalior, 200 miles south of Delhi, a large crowd of men gathered. Most wore hats and scarves the color of saffron, a color that evoked Hindu nationalism, and many wore strands of flowers as devotional offerings.

They were there to attend the inauguration of the Godse Gyan Shala, a memorial library and “knowledge center” dedicated to Nathuram Godse, the man who shot Mahatma Gandhi. Devotional yellow and pink flowers were placed around a black and white photograph of Godse, the centerpiece of the room.

Nathuram Godse
Nathuram Godse, the Hindu nationalist who shot Gandhi in 1948. Photography: Alamy

On January 30, 1948, Godse stood in front of Gandhi and shot him three times at point-blank range. A fervent believer in Hindu nationalism, Godse thought that Gandhi had betrayed the Hindus of India by accepting partition, which led to the creation of Pakistan and by defending the rights of Muslims. In 1949, Godse was hanged for the murder of Gandhi.

In the following decades, Godse was widely criticized as a terrorist and traitor, the murderer of the “father of India”. However, in recent years, as Hindu nationalism has moved from an extremist fringe into mainstream Indian politics – the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a Hindu nationalist agenda at its core – Godse’s public reputation has constantly changed from being condemned as a traitor to being revered as a misunderstood Indian patriot.

Meanwhile, Gandhi’s vision of a secular India with equal rights for all religions has eroded and subjugated since the BJP came to power in 2014.

“Godse did the right thing by killing Gandhi,” said Devendra Pandey, 53, national secretary of Hindu Mahasabha, the Hindu nationalist organization behind the memorial library. He expressed his belief that India should be declared “a legitimate country for Hindus” and that its 200 million Muslims should move to Pakistan.

“Godse regarded Gandhi as his father, so killing him must have caused him great pain, but he had a very real reason,” he said. “Godse took action because Gandhi betrayed India; this library will teach the next generation how Godse was a true nationalist martyr.”

Opening of the Nathuram Godse library.
The Nationalists, in saffron scarves and hats, prepare to open the library of Nathuram Godse. Photograph: NDTV

The library is just one of many recent efforts to commemorate and venerate Godse. The Hindu Mahasabha, to which Godse belonged and which now has around 750,000 members across India, has erected several statues of Godse and attempted to establish temples in his name.

The organization celebrates Godse’s birthday in May as a holy day. In the Maharashtra city of Pune, a silver container supposedly containing Godse’s ashes, following his dying wish that they not be scattered until India and Pakistan reunited, has become a popular pilgrimage site. Videos of sermons by extremist Hindus glorifying Godse have spread across social media.

Pandey said that the Hindu Mahasabha plans to open several similar educational and memorial centers dedicated to Godse throughout India. However, there is still much resistance to the glorification of Gandhi’s assassin. Two days after the opening of the Godse Memorial Library this week, it had to close by order of the local magistrate. And members of the Hindu Mahasabha have been arrested for attempting to erect monuments to Godse and hold ceremonies in his honor.

“This reverence for Godse and the glorification of violence is tied to the dominance of the BJP,” said Audrey Truschke, assistant professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “It started to emerge in the last decade and it has accelerated to the point where a higher percentage of people in India are now willing to accept this; and he’s shaping and reshaping people’s views of Mahatma Gandhi in decidedly useless ways. “

Nathuram Godse mugshots
Mugshots of Nathuram Godse, who was hanged for killing Gandhi. Photography: Mondadori Portfolio / Mondadori / Getty

Ramachandra Guha, a historian who wrote a biography of Gandhi, said it was not surprising that as the BJP pushed forward its Hindu nationalist agenda, including a citizenship law that directly discriminates against Muslims, Godse’s legacy is being revived in India. .

Godse had been a member of RSS, the extremist Hindu nationalist cultural organization that considers itself an umbrella organization of the BJP. Most of the leading figures in the ruling BJP government, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have held posts in the RSS.

“Privately, the BJP has always disliked and distrusted Gandhi and there has always been some admiration for Godse among the members,” Guha said. “The BJP does not like Gandhi for being effeminate, they believe that his non-violence movement weakened India, they distrust him for accepting partition and above all, they hate that he believed in equal rights for Muslims. The dislike runs deep, so it is not surprising that the BJP is now so powerful, both politically and socially, that it has risen to the surface. “

Guha said the debate around Godse “takes you to the heart of what is happening in India today.” He added: “This cult of Godse is symptomatic of a really dangerous transformation in our political life, in our public life, in our institutional life and in our cultural life. It raises the question of the future of India: are we now the Hindu majority nation that Godse always wanted? “

• This article was modified on January 17, 2021. Pune is located in the state of Maharashtra, not Madhya Pradesh as stated in an earlier version.


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