The following article was written nearly ten years ago and first appeared in People’s Democracy in 2004 but is particularly relevant today in view of the ongoing debate over Sardar Patel’s legacy, the RSS and Gandhi.
By Badri Raina
ONE repetitive cliché of ‘centrist’ opinion is that Left-wingers and Right-wingers are, at bottom, blood brothers. Although this is a subject for detailed scrutiny, just two points may quickly be made, since these relate intimately to the concerns of the present article. One, that whereas Left-wing politics seeks consistently to expand and enrich democracy, Right-wing politics invariably seeks to restrict the grounds of legitimacy. Secondly, and one speaks here of the modern Indian experience, whereas Indian revolutionaries have always owned up to their deeds, Indian fascists, led by the RSS, have invariably taken recourse to subterfuge and denial in matters wherein their role brings them widespread disgrace.
Of the latter, the circumstances of the Mahatma’s murder provide the most telling instance. The denial of the RSS here is particularly mean, being often a suitably calibrated one.
Not even in this day and age does the RSS deny that Gandhi was not one of its favorite people. As to Nathuram Godse its denial of his membership of the RSS was staunch till Curran (1950-51) revealed that fact in his otherwise sympathetic book; this despite the fact that Godse had himself said in his trial that “I have worked for several years in the RSS.” The current posture of the RSS is that Godse had given up his membership long before the Gandhi murder.
The point is, where are the records? What we do know is from Gopal Godse, Nathuram’s co-convicted brother. Speaking of his brothers’ last moments before the hanging, Gopal Godse avers: on reaching the platform he cited a verse of devotion to the Motherland; the verse in question was as follows:
Namaste sadaa vatsale matribhume
Tvya hindubhume sukhamvardite hum,
Mahamangle puney bhume tvdharthe
Patitvesh kaayaa namaste namaste
Des Raj Goyal, a one-time swayamsevak, tells us in his book, RSS (1979) that the above comprises the opening verse of the RSS prayer sung in every shakha. Goyal then provides two all-important facts bearing on this prayer: one, that “outsiders are not acquainted with it”; and, two, that at the time of Godse’s acknowledged membership of the RSS (1930-34) “this prayer was not sung even in the RSS” and that “the Sanskrit prayer, of which this verse forms a part, was adopted only in 1940” (Goyal, 142).
How then did Nathuram recite the above prayer as a sort of epitaph to his despicable life? In fact, the clinching evidence of Nathuram’s membership of the RSS has also come from Gopal Godse, his brother in his book Why I Assassinated Mahatma Gandhi (1993) wherein he says unambiguously: “He (Nathuram) has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalker and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS.” In the same book he also characterizes Advani’s denial of Nathuram’s membership of the RSS at the time of the murder as “cowardice.”
Consider the further detail supplied by Pyarelal in his biography of the Mahatma (The Last Phase, 756): “A letter which Sardar Patel received after the assassination from a young man, who according to his own statement had been gulled into joining the RSS organisation but was later disillusioned, described how members of the RSS at some places had been instructed beforehand to tune in their radio sets on the fateful Friday for the ‘good news.’ After the news sweets were distributed in RSS circles at several places, including Delhi.”
Obvious question: If the RSS had nothing to do with the event of that evil Friday how does one explain what is said in the cited letter?
If all that is not ‘evidence’ what were the circumstances of the moment? The RSS relies heavily on Patel’s letter of February 27, 1948 in which he intimates Nehru that the RSS was not involved; rather, it was an extremist wing of the Hindu Mahasabha. But what did Patel have to say to two other people—S P Mukerjee and “Brother Sri Golwalker”? To the former he wrote (letter dated. July 18,’1948):
“As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, the case relating to Gandhi Ji’s murder is sub judice and I should not like to say anything about the participation of the two organizations, but our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former, an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible….The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of government and the state….Indeed, as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure.”
In writing to “Brother Sri Golwalker” on September 11, 1948 Patel, while acknowledging that “the RSS did service to the Hindu Society,” laments that the “objectionable part arose when they began attacking Mussalmans” (referring to RSS workers). More explicitly:
“All their speeches were full of communal poison. . . As a result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji…In fact opposition (to the RSS) grew. . . when the RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death.”
The Killer Connection
What of the Godse-Savarkar connection? First, let us recall what Curran tells us—that Savarkar did not leave the RSS because he thought it was deviating from the mainlines of Hindu/fascist ideology; Curran writes of Hedgewar’s tour in Maharashtra in 1932: “One of his advisers on this tour was Nathuram Godse…Godse had joined the RSS in 1930 winning prominence as a speaker and organizer; he left the Sangh in 1934 because Hedgewar refused to make the RSS a political organization”(Curran, Militant Hinduism, 18-19).
Making too much of the separation between the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, therefore, can only be a technical nicety. In fact we know that Savarkar’s brother, Babu Rao Savarkar, had merged his Tarun Hindu Mahasabha with the RSS.
Enough is known about Savarkar’s role in the murder. Digambar Badge, the approver in the trial of 1949 (Red Fort) before Justice Atma Charan, was to refer to the meeting at Savarkar’s home on January 17, ’1948 where the latter was to say to the conspirators “Yashasvi houn ya” ergo “Be successful and come back.”
And the Justice Jivan Lal Kapur Commission which revisited the Gandhi murder in 1966, although again obliged to exonerate Savarkar for want of corroborative evidence in support of the approver’s confession, was, like Galileo at the stake, obliged nonetheless to remark that the facts taken together were “destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group” (which included Godse). And when Patel refers to the role of the “fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahsabha” in his letter to Nehru (February 27,’1948) without mentioning Savarkar, we know what he was talking about.
The point is, look where you will and the differentiations sought to be made between the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS in the context of the Gandhi murder are no more than self-serving sleights-of-hand. Gandhi’s elimination was clearly perceived as a ‘nationalist’ requirement by the combined Hindu/Fascist camp. The bone of contention between this camp and the Congress movement led by Gandhi comprised conceptualizing the defining features of Independent India. The Mahasabha/RSS view was nowhere more identical than in this. One only has to read how Savarkar (1938, Nagpur session) and Golwalker (in We, Our Nationhood Defined, 1938) spoke on this issue.
Savarkar: “The original political sin, which our Hindu Congressites. . . committed at the beginning of the Indian National Congress movement and are persistingly (sic) committing still of running after the mirage of a territorial Indian Nation and of seeking to kill. . . the life-growth of an organic Hindu Nation. . . . We Hindus are a Nation by ourselves because religious, racial, cultural, and historical affinities bind us intimately into a homogenous nation”.
Golwalker: “The idea was spread that for the first time the people were going to live a national life, the Nation in the land naturally was composed of all those who happened to reside therein and that all these people were to unite on a common ‘National’ platform and win back ‘freedom’ by ‘Constitutional means.’ Wrong notions of democracy strengthened the view and we began to class ourselves with our old invaders and foes under the outlandish name—Indian—and tried to win them over to join hands with us in our struggle. The result of this poison is well known….with our own hands are undermining true Nationality.”
Again: “All those not belonging to the national, i.e, Hindu race, religion, culture and language, naturally fall out of the pale of real ‘National’ life. We repeat: in Hindusthan, the land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu Nation—satisfying all the five essential requirements of the scientific nation concept of the modern world.”
Thus all the way from Savarkar, through Golwalker, Deoras and the current day ‘cultural nationalists’ the Nation is conceived of not as a bounded territory but as a racial/religious construct. Gandhi’s fault it was that he said that any ‘swaraj will be incomplete without Hindu-Muslim unity.” He paid the price.