Seventy years after he was hanged for killing Mahatma Gandhi, three Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have unwisely sought to resurrect his assassin, Nathuram Godse on the eve of the final phase of polling for the Lok Sabha elections, sending shock waves throughout the country. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah made a bid to undo the damage by distancing themselves from the three maverick saffron activists, including Bhopal candidate, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Union Minister Anant Kumar Hegde and MP Nalin Kumar Kateel, yet the controversy by no means refused to die down. The Opposition parties were quick to react accusing the BJP of denigrating the Father of the Nation and besmirching his memory.
Modi, in an interview to a TV channel, announced that he would never pardon Pragya Thakur for stating that Godse was a patriot, but did not explain why in the first place such people, who were opposed to what Gandhi stood for, were doing in public life. Shah, on his part, stated that the trio had apologised, and their cases had been referred to the discipline committee of the BJP, which would individually deal with each of them. Even Modi supporters came out publicly to condemn Pragya Thakur and others for their blatant scorn for Bapuji.
The Election Commission has asked for a detailed report regarding the Sadhvi’s provocative observation, amidst demands that she should be either disenfranchised, or the BJP should, with immediate effect, withdraw her candidacy. None of this is likely to take place given that the Election Commission has not been demonstrating any assertiveness to take difficult decisions, thus allowing the ruling party to have a field day. The West Bengal case, where the Commission was questioned for not curtailing the campaign without delay, following widespread violence so as to allow the Prime Minister to have his rallies on the following day, has perplexed political circles.
Opposition leaders have been criticising the Commission for being partisan towards the BJP, and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has claimed that the body was being run by RSS sympathisers inducted during the tenure of former Chief Election Commissioner A.K. Joti, who served as Modi’s principal secretary, when the latter was Gujarat Chief Minister. She has alleged that several top officials of her state had been transferred because they were performing their duties without being swayed by the Commission and the BJP.
The unwise statements on Godse have reignited the debate on whether terrorism was confined to just one religion or extended beyond the boundaries of faith. South Indian superstar, Kamal Haasan—who also acted in a film based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi—stirred a storm when he delineated Godse as the first terrorist of Independent India. Hindu fringe groups jumped into the fray, threatening Haasan for his description of the assassin. Even as the actor clambered down from his stand, several leaders from the Sangh Parivar took strong objection to Godse being portrayed as a Hindu terrorist, claiming that Hinduism, as a religion, was against any kind of terrorism.
Kateel, who is a two-time BJP MP from Karnataka, went a step further proclaiming that Godse had killed just one person while Kasab had shot 72, adding that the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was responsible for the death of 17,000 people. Thankfully for the BJP he did not take credit for thousands who have died in riots, nor did not make any reference to the communal violence that rocked Mumbai in the aftermath of the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992-1993.
The very fact that the three leaders had the audacity to come to Godse’s defence is indicative of the mindset of certain right wing extremist elements, who appear to have scant regard for the rule of law. They are unaware that the RSS was banned by Sardar Patel following Gandhiji’s murder, though the order was subsequently revoked. The Gandhi assassination case had furnished information regarding the covert and overt support Godse received from significant quarters, including an erstwhile royal family. How he procured the 9mm Beretta pistol remains a mystery.
The injudicious comments by these BJP leaders should be a matter of immense concern for not only the leadership but the entire Sangh Parivar. The saffron brigade detractors have been maintaining that the fringe had become the principal part of the political discourse, while the more rational functionaries had been marginalised within the BJP. The Prime Minister, who is hoping to secure another term next week, must ensure regardless of the poll outcome that leaders who transgress permissible limits have to be effectively reined in, thereby allowing the law to take its due course.
In the past five years, a plethora of hate crimes have taken place; this has to come to an immediate end. It is evident that the fringe is receiving support from some sections to keep the divisive pot boiling. When the country should be looking towards the future, there are activists who are inclined to push back the wheel of time by several centuries.
Needless to say Gandhiji is one of the most revered figures worldwide; Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela were amongst icons who were inspired by his non-violence doctrine. His statues have been erected in major international capitals and he continues to be India’s most venerated ambassador. Between us.