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Gandhi & Muslims: How the Hyderabad Agitation Filled Godse With Hate

A new book lays bare Godse’s relationship with the organisations that influenced his worldview. Here is an excerpt.

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Gandhi & Muslims: How the Hyderabad Agitation Filled Godse With Hate
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It was at the time that Savarkar joined the Hyderabad agitation – often referred to as satyagraha – that Godse first emerged as a formal member of the Hindu Mahasabha.

Immediately before, he appeared to be grappling with the excitement of his expanding political life.

In the undated letter which he wrote to Savarkar just before August 1938, he made a strong case for the Mahasabha entering into the Hyderabad agitation, arguing that ‘unless we take upon ourselves the task of undertaking such ordeals on behalf of Hindu Mahasabha, its strength would not increase’.

There is no way to ascertain in what capacity Godse made this suggestion to Savarkar and how important a role it played in the latter’s decision to join the satyagraha. Though Savarkar did not personally enter the territory of the Nizam and led the agitation from outside, Godse participated in it as the Mahasabha’s flagbearer.

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The Satyagraha

The satyagraha had originally been launched by the Hyderabad State Congress, a provincial committee of the Indian National Congress, around the middle of 1938. Its objective was to obtain certain political concessions from the Nizam. It was a peaceful agitation in which Congress supporters, acting as satyagrahis, courted arrest in 'jathas' or groups. Soon, however, the Arya Samaj, alleging suppression of the religious rights of Hindus by the Muslim ruler of the state, organized a parallel ‘satyagraha’.

The Hindu Mahasabha, which saw in the largely Hindu-populated princely state a potential reservoir of support, followed suit. As the tone of the communal propaganda of the Arya Samaj and the Hindu Mahasabha became shrill, the Hyderabad State Congress, acting on the advice of Gandhi and Nehru, suspended its agitation in December 1938.

Public sympathy for the satyagraha started to wane the moment the Hyderabad State Congress withdrew from it. Under the Arya Samaj and the Mahasabha, the satyagraha received a cool reception from the vast majority of the Nizam’s subjects as the Hindu organizations were actually less popular in the Hyderabad state than it was made out to be by their leaders. The entire agitation was now financed and directed from outside, and the people courting arrest were mostly outsiders who were trucked in from neighbouring British Indian provinces in jathas.

The above is an excerpt from 'Gandhi’s Assassin: The Making of Nathuram Godse and His Idea of India', written by Dhirendra K Jha and published by Penguin Random House India. The book lays bare Nathuram Godse’s relationship with the organisations that influenced his worldview and gave him a sense of purpose. It also traces the gradual hardening of Godse’s resolve and the fateful decisions and intrigue that eventually led to, in the chaotic aftermath of India’s independence in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. Continued excerpt:

The cover of 'Gandhi’s Assassin: The Making of Nathuram Godse and His Idea of India'.

(Photo credit: Penguin Random House India)

Dhirendra K Jha

(Photo credit: Penguin Random House India)

How the Hindu Right Was Fascinated With Nazism & Fascism

In Savarkarite parlance, the leader of each jatha was called ‘dictator’ – a term borrowed from the European dictatorships prevalent at the time. A fascination with Nazism and fascism was common to both the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] and the Hindu Mahasabha, a fact that must have inspired Moonje’s [BS Moonje, leader of Hindu Mahasabha] trip to Italy, where he met Mussolini. As pointed out by Italian scholar Marzia Casolari, beginning with the 1920s, Hindu militant organizations ‘seemed to uneasily oscillate between a conciliatory attitude towards the British and a sympathy for the dictators’. The two organizations saw the European dictatorships, especially fascism, as an example of conservative revolution – a concept that was discussed widely by the Marathi press right from the beginning of the Italian regime.

The aspects of fascism that seemed to appeal to the Hindu militants most were both its stress on the militarization of society and the figure of a strong leader controlling a highly centralized organization.

Maharashtrian Brahmins – the caste that manned the Hindu militant organizations – were the people who looked at European dictatorships as a source of inspiration. In fact, all Marathi newspapers and pamphlets that eulogized the fascist and Nazi regimes belonged to members of this caste. Kesari, which published a series of editorials on the subject, was the most prominent among them. Started by Tilak in the late nineteenth century, it now acted as the mouthpiece of the Hindu Mahasabha.

The caste seemed filled with xenophobes who cherished ambitions of imitating the anti-Mughal exploits of Shivaji and the Peshwas, and saw in the fascist emphasis on discipline and respect of traditional values a reflection of their own deeply held desires. They marvelled at the martial traditions of the Chitpawans and considered the fascist advocacy for a militarized society a natural choice and a way to revive the Peshwa raj.

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Godse, the 'Dictator'

At the time the Hindu Mahasabha joined the Hyderabad satyagraha, the Hindutva forces had developed more than an abstract interest in the ideology and practice of European dictatorships – a fact summed up by their choice of calling the heads of their jathas ‘dictators’. Godse, as the first dictator of a Hindu Mahasabha jatha, entered the Nizam’s state and courted arrest on 1 October 1938.

‘I was the dictator of the first batch of eight to ten people who took part in the agitation,’ he later said. He was sentenced to imprisonment for twelve months and sent to a Hyderabad jail.

In many respects, the experience was momentous for Godse. It stretched his political fabric and offered him the first serious opportunity to grasp the real spirit of Hindutva in action. Years later, while recounting his experience, he would imply that his participation in the Hyderabad agitation was important not so much for his jail term as for the impressions of Gandhi and his approach to Muslims that it left on Godse’s mind. ‘This agitation was initially led by State Congress,’ he said:

But within two or three months, it withdrew from the agitation. [. . .] Gandhiji even tried to persuade Arya Samaj president Ghanshyam Guha to end the satyagraha, but he failed. Gandhiji also issued a statement in which he declared that [Hyderabad State Congress] had withdrawn from the agitation because he did not want to embarrass H.E.H. the Nizam. In a startling manner, it brought forth Gandhiji’s principle of not opposing Nizam’s oppressions just because it happened to be a Muslim institution. In one of his articles, written about the same time, he also gave the glorious title of 'Ram-Rajya' [a term long used to signify an ideal of good governance sanctified by Hindu mythology] to Bhopal, another reactionary Muslim-ruled state. I felt irritated by Gandhiji’s thinking in both these cases.’

This was perhaps the beginning of Godse’s ever-growing hatred for Gandhi, which lasted literally till the last hour of his life. Up till now, it was a mere echo of the speeches and writings of Savarkar or RSS leaders to which Godse owed the illuminations of his youth. The Hyderabad agitation gave him his own, never-to-be-forgotten experience that eventually shaped his mind.

(This is an excerpt from Dhirendra K Jha's 'Gandhi’s Assassin: The Making of Nathuram Godse and His Idea of India'. Blurbs, subheadings and paragraph breaks have been added by The Quint for the ease of readers.)

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