Not everyone in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet differs with Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s view that men associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
Like Rahul Gandhi, prominent Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar has also blamed men linked to the RSS, not once but at least twice, for the murder of the Mahatma.
In two of his books – India: The Siege Within (Penguin Books, 1985) and Nehru: The Making of India (Viking, 1988) – Akbar has taken a position that is no different from the one that has led the RSS, the BJP’s ideological parent, to file a case of criminal defamation against Rahul Gandhi.
On page 307 of India: The Siege Within, journalist-turned-politician Akbar explains Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel’s decision to ban the RSS in the aftermath of the murder of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948. He writes: “The RSS suffered a set-back in 1948; even Sardar Patel could not overlook a crime it had inspired – the assassination of the Mahatma.”
On the previous page, Akbar talks of the deep hatred the RSS had for Gandhi: “The RSS kept away from the Independence struggle because it had only contempt and hatred for the man leading it: Gandhi. In fact, some people have suspected the RSS of helping the British against Gandhi.”
In Nehru: The Making of India, Akbar refers to a secret meeting in Pune on January 12, 1948 – the day Gandhi announced he would sit on yet another fast unto death, the last of his exercises using moral force to make his point, this time to bring back sanity in a country brutalised by Partition and widespread communal riots. Akbar writes:
“That same day, four men met in Pune: Madanlal Pahwa, aged twenty, a refugee from Punjab whose horoscope said he would be famous one day throughout India; Vishnu Karkare, thirty-seven, owner of the run-down Deccan Guest House and leader of the local RSS; Narayan Apte, thirty-four, handsome, flashy, charming, the well-groomed chairman of Hindu Rashtra [a right-wing newspaper]; and Nathuram Godse, thirty-seven, homosexual, fanatic, ascetic (addicted only to coffee), follower of Veer Savarkar, editor of Hindu Rashtra and a tailor by craft. Their decision: to kill Gandhi.”
A headache for the RSS?
About a week later, on January 20, the first attempt to kill Gandhi was made. It failed, however, as Pahwa accidentally ignited the guncotton slab about 75 feet away from the spot where the Mahatma was addressing a prayer meeting. The second attempt was executed with precision 10 days later when Godse pumped bullets in Gandhi’s chest, killing him instantly.
After the trial, Godse and Apte were hanged on November 15, 1949.
Vishnu Karkare, whom Akbar describes as “leader of the local RSS” in Pune, turned out to be one of the key conspirators in the assassination. Together with Pahwa and Gopal Godse (the younger brother of Nathuram Godse), he was sentenced to life.
On its part, the RSS never owned up to Karkare, maintaining constantly that he as well as Godse, Apte and Pahwa were associated with the All India Hindu Mahasabha, which was headed by Hindutva ideologue VD Savarkar.
The conspiracy to kill Gandhi could not remain hidden for long even though the trial, held immediately after the assassination, failed to uncover its extent. If Karkare – a key conspirator – was indeed a “leader of the local RSS”, as claimed by Akbar, the Sangh may well be in for a shock when the trial in its defamation case against Rahul Gandhi starts on November 16.
Below are the full excerpts from the books from the portions relating to Gandhi's assassination.
From India: The Siege Within, pages 306-7:
“The RSS anger was well-focused: the greatest danger to Hindu nationalism came from the ‘snakes’, Hedgewar’s terms for the Muslims. An official publication of the RSS, Sri Guruji, the Man and his Mission, explains: ‘It became evident that Hindus were the nation in Bharat and that Hindutva was Rashtriyatva [that is, ‘Hinduism’ was ‘nationalism’; incidentally, Jinnah agreed that Hindus were a separate nation]... The agony of the great soul [of Hedgewar] expressed itself in the formation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. With four friends he started the day-to-day programme of the RSS. The great day was the auspicious Vijay Dashami day of 1925.’
The five friends who started the RSS were Dr BS Moonje, DR LV Paranjpe, Dr Tholkar, Babarao Savarkar and Dr Hedgewar himself. There was an initial hitch about the name. In 1921 the Congress had begun an organisation by a similar name; it had become defunct, but the idea of any shadow of the hated Congress falling on this new, pure effort was anathema. ‘Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh’ was suggested as an alternative, but Hedgewar insisted on the concept of nationalism being included in the title, and so the RSS it was. Inevitably the RSS first acquired a public reputation as the ‘saviour’ of the Hindus after its role in the Hindu – Muslim riots in Nagpur, in September 1927.
The RSS kept away from the independence struggle because it had only contempt and hatred for the man leading it: Gandhi. In fact, some people have suspected the RSS of helping the British against Gandhi. But the RSS came into its own during the communal riots. By 1945 it had 10,000 cadres and was rich enough to build its headquarters, the Hedgewar Bhawawn, in less than a year. In the madness of the pre-partition phase there was even an RSS wing within the highest echelons of government, in the Imperial Civil Service, most of whose Indian recruits were Oxbridge graduates. The RSS actually believed that power was within its grasp, not through conventional democracy, but through its control of the ruling system. Levers, not numbers, were its target. And the RSS could not believe that the Brits would actually surrender power to the khadi-clad Congressmen. Des Raj Goyal, an ex-RSS man, recalls in his informative book RSS (Radha Krishna Prakashan, New Delhi) that he was present at a cadre meeting addressed by Hedgewar’s successor, Guru Golwalkar. When asked what would be the RSS role after the British left India, Golwalkar replied with an ironic laugh. ‘Do you believe that the British will quit? The nincompoops into whose hands they are giving the reins of government will not be able to hold on even for two months.’
In 1939, the RSS formally introduced a Sanskrit prayer for its members:
O affectionate Motherland I bow to you eternally
O land of the Hindus you have reared in comfort
O sacred, good land, I dedicate my being to you
I bow before you again and again
Mighty God, we the integral members of the Hindu Rashtra salute you reverently
Before a member is admitted to the sacred fold of the RSS he must take this oath: ‘In the name of the omnipotent God and my forefathers I solemnly swear that I am becoming a member of the RSS to promote the Hindu religion, Hindu society and Hindu culture and thereby achieve the true greatness of the country of Bharat. I shall do the work of the Sangh honestly, without thought of gain, with my body, mind and soul, and never break this oath all my life. Glory to Mother Bharat.’
The RSS suffered a set-back in 1948; even Sardar Patel could not overlook a crime it had inspired – the assassination of the Mahatma. Home Minister Sardar Patel banned the RSS as ‘in practice members of the RSS have not adhered to their professed ideals. The objectionable and even harmful activities of the Sangh have however continued unabated and the cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the activities of the Sangh has claimed many victims. The latest and most precious to fall was Gandhiji himself.’
From Nehru: The Making of India, page 428:
"Nehru worked without pause, sleeping five or less hours each night. Indira bravely entered Muslim areas where no Hindus ventured, alone or with Dr Sushila Nayar, to organize relief. But outside Gandhi’s residence, each day RSS-inspired groups gathered to chant hostile slogans: ‘Gandhi murdabad’ (‘Death to Gandhi’). The weeks passed and other enormous problems seized the first government of free India. Gandhi concentrated on his one-point mission – to bring peace. But for once the Mahatma’s crusade did not seem to be working. The circulation of the Urdu edition of his paper, The Harijan, aimed at the Punjabi Hindu as much as the Urdu-speaking Muslim, had dwindled to a point where he wanted to stop it. On 12 January he told a friend [quoted in Tendulkar, Vol 8]: ‘We are steadily losing hold on Delhi. If it goes, India goes, and with that goes the last hope of world peace.’ He had made up his mind to resort once more to a saint’s blackmail: do or die. A few hours before his prayer-meeting on 12 January 1948 he met Nehru and Patel but gave them no inkling of what he wanted to do. He disclosed his intentions at his prayer-meeting that evening; as in Calcutta, he would fast, and to his death, unless brother stopped killing brother. ‘No man, if he is pure, has anything more precious to give than his life,’ he said. Today he had no answer to give to his Muslim friends. ‘My impotence is gnawing at me of late. It will go immediately if the fast is undertaken.’
That same day, four men met in Pune, Madanlal Pahwa, aged twenty, a refugee from Punjab whose horoscope said he would be famous one day throughout India; Vishnu Karkare, thirty-seven, owner of the run-down Deccan Guest House and leader of the local RSS; Narayan Apte, thirty-four, handsome flashy, charming, the well-groomed chairman of Hindu Rashtra; and Nathuram Godse, thirty-seven, homosexual, fanatic, ascetic (addicted only to coffee), follower of Veer Savarkar, editor of Hindu Rashtra and a tailor by craft. Their decision: to kill Gandhi.”