It has been almost seven decades since Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated, and yet an Indian court will once again ask the question: Who killed him?
Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi is all set to face trial in a defamation case after he said at a rally in Mumbai two years ago that people from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were responsible for the Mahatma's death.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave the Congress leader until July 27 to submit arguments in a defamation case filed by an RSS member against his remarks.
In March 2014, addressing a campaign rally in Thane, Rahul Gandhi had said:
“RSS people killed Gandhiji and today their people talk of him… They opposed Sardar Patel and Gandhiji.”
The Supreme Court, in oral observations, said that it would have been one thing if the Congress vice president had only referred to Nathuram Godse – a Hindutva fanatic who joined the RSS and later left it for the Hindu Mahasabha – when talking about Gandhi's assassination.
"To say Godse killed Gandhi is one thing but to say RSS killed Gandhi is different… you have gone way ahead in making the statement," the Indian Express quoted the Supreme Court bench as saying. "You cannot make collective denunciation."
Gandhi and the Congress have remained firm, however. The Congress vice president is unwilling to apologise for his remarks, and now appears set to go to trial and make the case for why his remarks were not defamatory. Almost 70 years after Mahatma Gandhi was killed we are still arguing over his murder.
As we await that trial, rare footage from 1948 takes us right into the courtroom where Godse and seven co-conspirators were tried. Godse, along with Narayan Apte, would eventually be convicted, sentenced to death and hanged on November 15, 1949.
Gopal Godse, Nathuram's younger brother who was also one of the co-conspirators, would later write many books about the assassination and the motivation behind it.
Arvind Rajagopal examined some of what Gopal said in an article in Frontline in 1994 (later published in Beyond Doubt: A Dossier on Gandhi's Assassination).
[Nathuram's] statement at the murder trial (originally published in 1977, in a volume entitled May It Please Your Honour) says, “I am one of those volunteers who joined the Sangha in its initial stage" (p. 142). He says he left it to do more directly political work in the Hindu Mahasabha (he does not say when). But his brother Gopal Godse suggests that he never really left the RSS, and that the statement at his trial was meant to alleviate the pressure on the Sangh, which was banned following Gandhiji’s murder. A leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, went on to found the Jana Sangh, forerunner of the BJP.
Gopal Godse was also interviewed on camera, months before his death in 2005, detailing the three attempts to assassinate the Mahatma.
In fact, the historical record goes beyond the brother back to the man himself. Nathuram Godse was an angry, but eloquent man, who chose not to have legal representation and instead fought his own case. Aakar Patel looks at the reasons that Godse himself gave for why he killed the man now known as the father of the Indian nation.
"Godse contends that Gandhi helped create Pakistan: "When top leaders of Congress, with the consent of Gandhi, divided and tore the country – which we consider a deity of worship – my mind was filled with direful anger. I bear no ill will towards anyone individually but I do say that I had no respect for the present government owing to their policy which was unfairly favourable towards the Muslims. But at the same time, I could clearly see that the policy was entirely due to the presence of Gandhi."
Ajaz Ashraf looked closer still at Nathuram's motivations, insisting that to understand the Hindutva fanatic we also need to examine his confusion about sexuality and his views on religion and power.
"In assassinating Gandhi, Nathuram gave his otherwise ordinary life a new meaning. This was perhaps the reason why he pleaded with the government not to show him mercy and send him to the gallows. His masculinity had been asserted. He had sacrificed himself for promoting the idea of militant Hinduism. He had killed the man who was sacrilegiously turning Hindus effeminate."
The RSS was banned soon after Gandhi's murder. A commission of enquiry would later conclude that the organisation could not directly be held responsible for the assassination, and the ban was lifted, but the connections between the Sangh and those who killed Gandhi are innumerate.
As slain rationalist Govind Pansare wrote, the Sangh that once celebrated Godse – and has more vocally done so in patches over the last two years – has also tried to appropriate the man that he killed.
"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."
But the blame doesn't just lie on Godse or even the RSS. As Makarand Paranjape writes, those who can be held complicit extends beyond them, and even the Congress, which chose to neglect the Mahatma.
"Who really killed Gandhi? Are we not, all of us, in one way or another, responsible for his death? Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi’s chosen heir and successor admitted as much when he said, in speech at Jalandhar on 24 February 1948, ‘We are all responsible for this unprecedented tragedy’ and ‘It is a disgrace that [the] people of India could not save Mahatma Gandhi.'"