I remember once we were sitting talking about something in the office of an institution working for social and political education. We were seized with the question: who in Maharashtra was well qualified to officially talk on Gandhian thought? Some names were suggested. We were struck by a strange fact: there were not many commentators who could ably speak on the subject in the state. The office-bearers of the Congress and their ministers, sitting or former, were conspicuous by their inability to carry out this task. We zeroed in on some Sarvodaya persons and somehow carried the day. It was a disturbing thought. How much of Gandhism had survived? Where to look for it, exactly? If it could not be found anywhere, why was it so? This, in fact, is a subject of a separate and deep study. But that is another matter.

It is not some followers in Sarvodaya or scarce ones in the Congress who are claiming his legacy. Some new elements have come forward to it. It sounds strange, but one must understand this phenomenon.

When Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a thirteen-day Prime Minister and the one who was to later stake his claim to the post after the next general election, was the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the party had officially declared “Gandhian Socialism” to be its ideology. Another leader of the party, an expert in organising dubious yatras on sundry issues, Lal Krishna Advani, too displayed a massive poster of Mahatma Gandhi on the stage when he organised another yatra, this time to commemorate the golden jubilee of Indian independence. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has compiled a list of "venerable" persons who qualify to be "remembered" in their morning prayers. The RSS deigned to include, though as an afterthought, the Mahatma’s name in that list. Apparently, these are the new inheritors of Gandhi’s legacy.

Sangh Parivar

The Sarsanghachalak, and other leaders of the RSS, were never tired of claiming ad nauseam for years that the RSS was a cultural organisation and had nothing to do with politics. The RSS was banned after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. The organisation, in a letter to the then Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, assured him that the Sangh did not dabble in politics. Having procured this letter of assurance, and other assurances, the ban on the RSS was lifted.

However, in the recent mahashibir (Great Camp) at Nagpur, its chief, Rajendrasingh or Rajju Bhaiyya, issued a firman to the swayamsevaks to do everything for the success of the BJP in the forthcoming elections. Moreover, he pronounced utterances that no cultured person would find fit to say about women about Sonia Gandhi’s complexion. Well, this RSS is now claiming Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy. It is more than clear now that the RSS is the mother organisation and the BJP, BMS, ABVP, VHP, BJYM, Bajrang Dal and Patit Pavan Sanghatana are its affiliates or masks, mukhaute.

It is the Sangh which decides who speaks what and when. The Sangh is the boss, the rest subsidiaries. The Sangh determines the policy, others merely implement it. One cannot forget what Govindacharya said recently, “Atal Bihari Vajpayee too is a mukhauta. The real leader is Advani.” Such is the Sangh with its mukhauta. It is now donning another mukhauta, of Mahatma Gandhi. Well, why not, one might ask.

Murderers and inheritors

Nathuram Godse, a Savarkarite activist of the RSS working in the Hindu Mahasabha, murdered Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948. Nathuram, his brother Gopal, also a Sangh activist and a co-accused in the conspiracy, and in fact all RSS activists justified the Mahatma’s murder, and still do. The self-proclaimed Hindu Hridaya Samrat, Bal Thackeray, declared that statues of Mahatma Gandhi should be brought down and in their place should be erected statues of Nathuram Godse, "the true martyr". On the day of Gandhi’s murder, sweets (pedhas and sugar) were distributed in Pune and other places. Nathuram was hanged on November 15, so the Sangh people, sometime clandestinely and sometime openly, observe this day. For the whole of the country, January 30 is Martyr’s Day. For the Sangh, it is November 15. It’s a weird thing; on the one hand, murder someone, justify the dastardly act, treat the murderer as a martyr, celebrate the murder and, on the other, proclaim support for “Gandhian Socialism”, display his posters, and remember the man in prayers every morning. How to explain this riddle?

Various acts, one objective

These acts, apparently contradictory, are in fact different acts to accomplish one objective. Acts are different, mukhautas different, the language different but the goal is one. Gandhi was not murdered for any personal motive. It was not a crime based on personal vendetta. Those who did not like his ideology, his views murdered Gandhi. Those who killed him had their own ideology.

They killed him for the success of their ideology. Those who murdered him were neither ignorant persons nor paid assassins. They were well educated, highly aware persons, belonging to families with good educational backgrounds. Vallabhbhai Patel himself has recorded, in a letter to Nehru on February 27, 1948, that the conspiracy to murder Gandhi was hatched by a group operating under the leadership of VD Savarkar. Those who are curious to know more may study the sixth volume of Vallabhbhai Patel’s published letters. Gandhi’s murder was not occasioned by any contemporary event or incitement. It was not a case of Gandhi angering someone and paying the price for it. He was not murdered in anger. It was a well-planned and executed conspiracy. The time was decided. A weapon was obtained. The murderers were aware of the consequences.

Equality vs Inequality

Except one, all the murderers belong to Maharashtra. The RSS was founded in Maharashtra. Its headquarters are in Maharashtra. Its work also began in Maharashtra. All those taking pride in the progressive tradition of Maharashtra should take note of this tradition as well.

All suspects were Brahmins; all Brahmins proud of their “Brahmanya”, Brahminism. When the persons belonging to the castes known as "convict castes" resort to murder or act of robbery, the headlines scream out their castes. The caste identity of upper-caste criminals (Brahmins, Marathas, Jains, Gujaratis) is concealed. Perpetrators in most scandals, especially financial scams, are mainly upper caste people, because it is they who have the opportune positions. But nobody declares their caste. There is a reason why the caste of Mahatma Gandhi’s murderers should be made public. Of course, they were all Brahmins. But, moreover, they believed in the superiority of the Brahmins. They practiced Brahminical culture. “However debased, a Brahmin is superior in all the three worlds,” they held. Gandhi was against Brahminism. He was against inequality. He not only believed in equality, he followed it in actual practice. He was murdered for it.

Hindu–Muslim unity Vs hatred of muslims

Mahatma Gandhi’s murderers were Hindu. They were not only Hindu, but held that Hinduism was superior to all religions. More than love for Hinduism, it was the hatred for other religions, especially Islam, that was a strong passion among them, both in thought and practice.

Mahatma Gandhi was born a Hindu. He believed in God and religion. But he did not believe that only Hinduism was good and other religions were worth disdaining. He believed in Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava. This reflected in the bhajan that he always sang, “Allah tero naam, Ishwar tero naam”. He believed that true religion was to serve the poor and weak. This reflected in the bhajan, “Vaishnav jina to tene kahiye”. One who understands the suffering of others is a true worshipper of God, Gandhi held. His views on religion and those of his murderers were diametrically opposed to each other. Gandhi was murdered for his view of religion. His Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava was about treating Muslims with more favour, the murderers contended. This was why he was murdered.

Murder and false praise: Two sides of the coin

Now, the reasons for which the RSS is praising Gandhi are also the reasons why he was murdered. When those taking pride in the ideological legacy of the murderers begin praising Gandhi, their intentions are very clear.

What they wanted to achieve by murdering him, they are now doing by falsely praising him. The murder was committed for ideology – both his and theirs. Now this false praise is also for their own ideology and murdering Gandhi’s ideology. Those who killed Gandhi 50 years ago have set themselves to finishing Gandhism. One way of doing this is by displaying his images, remembering him in prayers and canvassing views that are against his views in actual fact. We have seen some shop owners who displayed his photograph on the wall but indulged in black marketeering. They happily go about their "business." These worshippers of Gandhi and the new worshippers who praise him but spread hatred about other religions and murder and cause communal riots as proof of love for their own faith are no different from each other.

False spins to the Mahatma's murder

Gandhi was killed because he was responsible for the creation of Pakistan, he forced the Indian Government to pay Rs 55 crores to Pakistan”.

These are two of the most favourite, and patently false, reasons forwarded to justify Gandhi’s murder. It is a shrewd conspiracy. There were seven attempts made on Gandhi’s life. Before the last and successful attempt of January 30, he had said in a prayer meeting a few days ago, “I have survived, by God’s blessing, seven attempts made on me.”

The first attempt was made in 1934. There was no question of Pakistan or Rs 55 crores then. Nathuram Godse himself had tried to assault Gandhi with a knife in hand at Panchgani in Maharashtra in 1944. Nathuram also tried to assassinate Gandhi with a knife at Sevagram in 1946. “I had brought the knife to puncture the tyre of Gandhi’s car,” Nathuram had admitted. A bomb was hurled at a library in the centre of Pune city. NR Athawale, a Hindu Mahasabha activist, was arrested for the act. All these details have been recorded in the testimonies given to the Kapur Commission.

Save Gandhi

Those opposing Gandhi’s ideas were around then as they are now. But except for the extreme Hindutva elements who spread hatred against Muslims and support overtly or covertly the ideas of inequality propounded by the Manusmruti, none of his opponents ever tried to murder Gandhi. None tried to display his photograph on the wall and kill his thoughts. Gandhism, or whatever is left of it, is in danger from these elements, which include his name in their morning prayers to hoodwink people.

India today needs Gandhi’s ideas of Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava, religious tolerance and social equality. It is our duty to safeguard the remaining part of Gandhism and further develop it. The forces that hate other religious faiths and support the ideas of inequality are much stronger today than they were in Gandhi’s time. We, therefore, need to work more. We also need a broader unity and more intense struggle.

Translated from Marathi by Uday Narkar.