(This story is being reposted from The Quint’s archives on the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi as hashtags hailing his assassinator Nathuram Godse dominate Twitter once again.)
‘Nathuram Godse Amar Rahe’ (Long live Nathuram Godse)/ ‘Nathuram Godse Zindabad’ (All Hail Nathuram Godse) were the two top trends on Twitter on 15 November, the death anniversary of the man who assassinated the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.
More than 20,000 tweets, glorious praises for Godse hailing him as the true patriot, and of course the annual ‘sacrifice day’ observed by Hindu right-wing outfit Hindu Mahasabha marked the 71st death anniversary of Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse and co-conspirator Narayan Apte.
In fact, Andhra Pradesh BJP State Secretary Rameshnaidu Nagothu posted a tweet calling Godse “one of the greatest patriot” in India, which he later deleted.
In another tweet that was in Telugu, Nagothu claimed that the “objectionable” post was made by someone who operated his Twitter handle and that person has been sacked.
More than a year ago, a BJP Lok Sabha candidate, Pragya Thakur, created massive controversy when he called Godse a “true patriot”.
The BJP’s top leadership did give her a rap in the knuckles when PM Narendra Modi said he would never forgive her, but didn’t drop her as a candidate. This was one step towards making Godse mainstream.
Godse, who had long been hailed a hero by many in the saffron fold because of his Hindutva ideology, was now been publicly called a “patriot” without concrete and substantial action.
She won the Bhopal seat, against two-time Madhya Pradesh CM Digvijaya Singh, with over 3 lakh votes.
In 2019 November, once again Thakur called Godse a ‘deshbhakt’, this time during a debate inside the Lok Sabha. She denied it, the speech was expunged but BJP leaders Rajnath Singh and JP Nadda condemned her for “hailing Godse inside Parliament”. She was also removed from the defence parliamentary panel.
But the damage was already done. Like the Managing Editor of The Quint said in his video on 1 December 2019, “Godse is no longer being worshipped by some cranks in some obscure part of India. He is a hero for at least one of India’s parliamentarians.” Albeit, there was massive outrage from the opposition, on social media and also from within the BJP to an extent. Similar outrage was seen in 2014 when another BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj praised Godse, although the BJP renominated her in the next election.
Nagothu wasn’t the only BJP leader after Pragya Thakur to have glorified Godse. In May 2019 itself, another BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh, Usha Thakur, was heard in a video hailing Godse. BJP MPs from Karnataka, Anantkumar Hegde and Nalin Kumar Kateel had followed suit after Pragya Thakur and tweeted in support of Godse.
“Godse killed just one. Ajmal Kasab killed 72. Rajiv Gandhi killed 17,000. Now you tell us who is the most gruesome murderer?” Kateel’s tweet read.
Hegde tweeted that he was “glad that the new generation was talking about this”, adding that “Thakur should not apologise on her remarks”. He, however, later claimed that his Twitter account had been hacked.
In November 2019, grand-niece of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose , also the leader of the Hindu right-wing organisation Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha (ABHM), Rajyashri Choudhary made headlines for performing aarti in front of a portrait of Nathuram Godse outside the outfit's Gwalior office.
In an article in February 2020, the New York Times documented the steady rise of public approval of Gandhi’s killer among the right-wing through Godse statues, Godse temples and even a proposal to rename an Uttar Pradesh city in memory of Godse.
Godse’s Long History With the Right Wing
Fifteen years after Gandhi’s killing, in a book published by Godse’s brother, the latter is quoted as saying, “Gandhi was the reason for partition. He is the main reason for all the atrocities against Hindus during the partition. Gandhi acted in favour of Muslims. His presence will be harmful to Hindus. Hence, by killing Gandhi I did great justice to this nation.”
Years later, Editorial Director of Swarajya wrote a full-fledged opinion piece in The Print in 2019 supporting Pragya Thakur and saying, “ She called him a patriot, and this is not a tag one can reasonably deny Godse, whose decision to kill Gandhi was driven by a desire to stop Gandhi from repeatedly selling Hindu interests down the drain.”
Ever since Gandhi’s killing, the Sangh has maintained a considerable distance with Godse claiming that he had left the outfit before the assassination. The Caravan, in its report, had highlighted historical records that Godse had not given up the membership of the RSS.
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay wrote in Deccan Herald, “In the years that the Saffron fold was in the Opposition, its cadre, and even large sections of the leadership, privately admired Godse for his decision. While they neither publicly upheld any of the assassin's assertions, they also never went overboard in paying lip-service to Gandhi. Periodically, a handful of leaders eulogised Godse yet the BJP, and Jana Sangh previously maintained an institutional distance from such assertions. It was only after the BJP secured a majority in 2014 that their belligerence came to the fore and a public embrace of Godse's legacy became more mainstream.”
Ramachandra Guha, the author of Gandhi: The Years That Changed The World, explained in a piece in the Hindustan Times, how even though the RSS had thus far maintained a safe distance from Godse even in its criticism of Gandhi, the hardliner Hindutvavadi now has fodder to hate on Gandhi and hail Godse in the mainstream. He wrote, “The cult of Nathuram Godse is no more marginal; but mainstream. Its members include not only BJP MPs but also prominent Sangh ideologues. In a recent television debate, the well-known Gujarati writer, Vishnu Pandya, called Pragya Thakur “a saint”, no less. Of her praise of the Mahatma’s murderer, he commented: “Godse was a patriot, and so was Gandhi.” Pandya is no ordinary Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) worker; he is a Padma Shri awardee and the current President of the Gujarat Sahitya Akademi.”
He further wrote, “Some of those who venerate Godse while simultaneously detesting Gandhi now sit in Parliament, sent there by Indians who find their views utterly congenial. That this is happening in the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth is a grim and cruel irony that we have to live with.”