Will Rahul Gandhi score a self-goal by turning down the suggestion of the Supreme Court that he should apologise to the RSS for blaming it for the murder of Mahatma Gandhi or be prepared to face the trial in the defamation case? Or, will it give him and the Congress an opportunity to take on the RSS ideologically and to put all the unpalatable facts about the organisation before the people through the Supreme Court proceedings and expose the RSS’ doublespeak on the Mahatma whom it publicly praises but privately loathes?
It is being argued that there is very little chance of Rahul Gandhi winning the case. From a strictly legal point of view, it might be correct as the Supreme Court has revealed its mind by asking him, “Why did you make a sweeping statement against the RSS branding everyone associated with the organization in the same brush? You can’t make wholesale denunciation of an organisation.” The court has also asked him that should he not regret his statement and face trial, he would have to prove what was the “public good” in his statement.
At a time when assembly elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are approaching, will it be a wrong political strategy for Rahul Gandhi to fight the ideological-political battle even if there is a real risk of his going to jail? Will his going to jail not galvanise his Congressmen and women all over the country, something that his party badly needs? It does not seem so.
What did Rahul Gandhi really say?Addressing an election rally at Thane in March 2014, he allegedly said: “RSS people killed Gandhiji and today their people (BJP) talk of him…They opposed Sardar Patel and Gandhiji.” Was he really very wide of the mark? Let’s have a look at what the then Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who was also the Home Minister, had to say about the RSS in the context of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. On 18 July, 1948, in a letter to top Hindu Mahasabha leader Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, who later founded the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, he wrote: “As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, the case relating to Gandhiji’s murder is sub judice and I should not like to say anything about the participation of the two organisations, 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.” Sardar Patel is the current icon of the RSS-BJP and his words cannot be taken lightly. He held the RSS even more responsible for “creating an atmosphere” in which the Mahatma’s assassination could take place.
The entire case of the RSS having no role in the Mahatma’s assassination rests on the “fact” that much before Nathuram Vinayak Godse committed the murder on 30 January, 1948 he had left the RSS and thus had no organisational links with it. For a long time, this was believed to be true. However, Nathuram’s younger brother Gopal Godse, himself one of the accused in the Gandhi murder case, cleared the air in an interview given to Frontline (January 28, 1994). “All the brothers,” Gopal Godse said, “ were in the RSS. Nathuram, Dattatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our home. It was like a family to us. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah [intellectual worker] in the RSS. He has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS.” He further clarified, “You can say that RSS did not pass a resolution, saying, ‘go and assassinate Gandhi’. But you do not disown him (Nathuram). The Hindu Mahasabha did not disown him. In 1944, Nathuram started doing Hindu Mahasabha work when he had been a bauddhik karyavah in the RSS.”
In this context, we must remember that the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with each other and membership of one did not preclude that of the other. One could be active in both the organisations. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the propounder of the theory of Hindutva, was never formally part of the RSS but he and his theory continue to inspire it even today. He too was an accused in the Gandhi murder case but was let off not because of lack of evidence, but because the statement of a prosecution witness, who was otherwise found reliable, could not be independently corroborated.
It is being argued that in the post-Partition months when the subcontinent witnessed unprecedented communal strife and history’s biggest transfer of population, “Gandhi emerged as the most “hated, despised and ridiculed” figure in a nation craving for revenge and violence well before he was done in by Godse.” This view was first articulated in an editorial in Organiser (January 11, 1970), then edited by KR Malkani: “It was in support of Nehru’s pro-Pakistan stand that Gandhi went on fast and, in the process, turned the people’s wrath on himself.”
However, what do the facts tell us?
Mahatma Gandhi undertook an indefinite fast on 13 January, 1948. Two days later, replying to newspaper correspondents’ questions in a dictated message, he said, “My fast, as I have stated in plain language, is undoubtedly on behalf of the Muslim minority in the Indian Union and, therefore, it is necessarily against the Hindus and the Sikhs of the Union and the Muslims of Pakistan. It is also on behalf of the minorities in Pakistan, as in the case of the Muslim minority in the Indian Union.” It is absolutely clear that Gandhi was fasting in support of the minorities of both India and Pakistan — Muslims of India and Hindus and Sikhs of Pakistan. It is also being asserted that “Gandhi was despised, booed and shunned by his own people for his adamant demand that India should help the new nation-state of Pakistan monetarily.” However, as GD Tendulkar has explained, owing to the Kashmir dispute, India had been withholding from Pakistan fifty-five crores of rupees which it had previously agreed to hand over as part of the division of the assets.
The fact is that Gandhi was “despised, booed and shunned” not “by his own people” but by the Hindu and Sikh refugees who had crossed the border and suffered unspeakable cruelty at the hands of the Muslims. Similarly, innocent Muslims of Delhi were bearing the brunt of the refugees’ anger. Their mosques and houses were being forcibly occupied. Gandhi’s fast was directed against the terrible communal violence in which Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs had been participating and it had stirred the conscience of people throughout the country. Had he been shunned by his own people, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim leaders, including representatives of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, would not have met him on 18 January, 1948 to persuade him to break his fast as they had brought with them a written pledge to maintain communal harmony.
At a time when the RSS-BJP combine is busy appropriating icons like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, BR Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh, it will be a worthwhile exercise if historical facts about their attitude towards Gandhi are brought before the Supreme Court. Even if Rahul Gandhi loses the legal battle, he would have won politically.