Why Dredging Up Godse Is a Godsend for Mamata & ‘Bengali Pride’
Bengal’s long revolutionary tradition means that Godse’s entry into political discussion will only help Mamata.
BJP's Bhopal candidate and terror accused 'Sadhvi' Pragya Singh Thakur's praise for Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse as a 'deshbhakt' (patriot) has brought the spotlight to the history of India's freedom struggle – something that clearly discomfits the Hindutva brigade.
The discomfort was evident when Prime Minister Narendra Modi publicly rebuked the motormouth 'Sadhvi' (‘I will not forgive her’). Thakur has been courting controversy in one way or the other ever since she became a BJP candidate.
Godse, found guilty and hanged for Gandhi's assassination, was believed to have been mentored by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, one of the first to propound the ideology of 'Hindu Rashtra' (Hindu state) in India.
Savarkar was acquitted of charges of masterminding Gandhi's assassination, for lack of evidence, and his legacy was honoured when the Vajpayee government named the airport of Andaman capital Port Blair after him.
When that happened, Savarkar's detractors, including some surviving Bengal revolutionaries opposed to his 'Hindu Rashtra' ideology, were quick to focus on a letter he had written to the British on 14 November 1913, two years after he had been moved to Andaman's infamous Cellular Jail.
The letter is a mercy petition that promised the British that if he was released, Savarkar would be the ‘staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English government which is the foremost condition of that progress’.
Two paragraphs in the long letter, that begins with Savarkar's efforts to get better treatment in jail, smacks of 'outright surrender':
"As long as we are in jails, there cannot be real happiness and joy in hundreds and thousands of homes of His Majesty’s loyal subjects in India, for blood is thicker than water; but if we be released, the people will instinctively raise a shout of joy and gratitude to the government, who knows how to forgive and correct, more than how to chastise and avenge.
“Moreover my conversion to the constitutional line would bring back all those misled young men in India and abroad who were once looking up to me as their guide. I am ready to serve the Government in any capacity they like, for as my conversion is conscientious, so I hope my future conduct would be. By keeping me in jail nothing can be got in comparison to what would be otherwise.”
Savarkar was finally released in 1924, after which he desisted from any anti-British activity and only worked to give political shape to the 'Hindu identity' that endears him to India's current ruling dispensation.
Bengal’s Revolutionary Tradition VS Savarkar’s Mercy Petition
Most of the Indian revolutionaries consigned to Andaman's notorious Cellular Jail were from Bengal and Punjab.
They faced horrible torture including the brutal waterboarding, some committed suicide when they could take it no more and many were hanged when they were caught trying to escape – but none of these bravehearts, whom Savarkar had audaciously described as ‘misled’, begged the British for mercy.
Years later, the great Punjab revolutionary Bhagat Singh wrote a letter to the British, asking them to send a military firing squad to execute him and his comrades. The Bengal revolutionaries remained silently defiant in the face of brutal torture that led Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam to pen his famous poem ‘Dipantarer Andaman' (Exile in Andamans).
One of the scores of Bengal revolutionaries in Andaman Cellular Jail was my maternal grandfather Sushil Kumar Dasgupta, my mother’s uncle. Born in Barisal, now in Bangladesh, Sushil escaped with his fellow prisoners Dinesh Majumder and Sachin Kar Gupta from Midnapore jail.
Dinesh was later arrested and hanged, while Sachin and Sushil were sent to the Andamans. When they learnt of Savarkar's ‘surrender’, they circulated a letter in Bengali to fellow prisoners from the province, denouncing Savarkar in the strongest of terms (Dalal is the word used in the letter) that ended with a clear message, "Come what may, we will not surrender to the British or beg for anything."
Since Sushil Dadu (grandpa) died in 1947 and the family was uprooted by the Partition, the letter only became available when another fellow revolutionary who returned from Kala Pani brought it with him after release, when India became free.
Bengal’s long revolutionary tradition has come in handy for the state’s present ruling Trinamool Congress and its leader, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has emerged as the toughest opponent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this no-holds-barred election battle.
No Campaigning? No Problem
With the Election Commission cutting down electioneering in West Bengal by a full day on law and order concerns, Banerjee and her leaders could not hit the streets or organise rallies on the day the Pragya remark hit national headlines.
But from noisy ‘addas’ (roadside or tea stall gossip sessions) that Bengal is famous for, to social media churning in Bengali, to counterfeit Whatsapp messaging that allows for mass transfer of messages, the Trinamool propoganda machinery harped on the contrast of Bengal’s uncompromising bravehearts with Savarkar who ‘surrendered’ to the British and Godse who killed ‘the Mahatma’ .
One social media message went as far as this: "We fought the British, they only fought brother Indians."
Some even talked about how the Hindu Mahasabha joined the Muslim League ministry in undivided Bengal and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, another revered Hindutva figure, held the position of a Cabinet minister in the Fazlul Haq ministry.
With the desecration of the statue of Bengal's greatest social reformer Vidyasagar being blamed on the saffron brigade during Amit Shah's roadshow, and the powerful Bengali print media including the widely circulated Ananda Bazar Patrika hitting out at 'the need to stop saffron terror' (one popular columnist Jagori Bandopadhyay even saying "Bengal just cannot afford any communal outbreaks"), Pragya Thakur has provided an useful card to Mamata Banerjee, helping her pitch ‘Bengali pride’ against "divisive Hindutva."
(The writer is a veteran BBC journalist and an author. He can be reached @SubirBhowmik. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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