Should we really have a problem if somebody considers Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, a nationalist? I am not as surprised by BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj praising him as by his subsequent apology under pressure.
Amid reports of a controversial ceremony organised by theright-wing groups in Maharashtra on Thursday to honour Mahatma Gandhi's killer,Nathuram Godse, BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj said, "Godse was a nationalist.Gandhiji also did a lot for the nation." As a row emerged, the BJP leaderquickly backtracked. "If I said something by mistake I take it back. Idon't consider Nathuram Godse a patriot," Maharaj said.
What is the objection to? By making the MP do a volte face,will it alter the way the Hindutva groups think? Besides, if we are given tosaying things like “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”, thenshould not the same principle apply to Godse? This would not have been thefirst time he was celebrated. Every year the Godse fan club holds a memorialservice. The rightwing mouthing Gandhian homilies is just that. They are merelyappeasing what most Indians deify.
And just how are we to define nationalism? Is a critique ofthe system anti-national? However reprehensible it was, for Godse killing theMahatma was an ideological act as well a nationalistic one because he believedthe nation had to be rid of those appeasing the Muslims. We are now governed bya party and its acolyte groups that believe as much. By getting a SakshiMaharaj to apologise we only put one messenger on the mat, not the message.
Godse chose a Hindu target, instead of killing Muslims. Why? This from my earlier piece:
“Before I fired the shots I actually wished him well andbowed to him in reverence,” he said. He did not go on a rampage against a group(an earlier attempt of his to kill Gandhi was unsuccessful because he wasafraid that the bystanders would get hurt) for that would have not made him aloyal soldier, a man who would do or die.
His brother, Gopal, said in an interview: “Gandhi used toclaim the Partition would be over his dead body. So after Partition when hedidn’t die, we killed him.” It was as simple as that.
A little less than two years after he had killed the Fatherof the Nation, Nathuram was sentenced to death by hanging. Before the noosewent round his neck, he spent five hours justifying his act. It was not to getclemency, but to declare that he was not a lowly gun-happy cad. His was not arevolution of the moment. In fact, it had the same fervor as the Gandhianethos. By killing one man, his legacy proves that his 90-page testimony wasrevealing the spirit and the undercurrents running through the public mind thatcould not be articulated.
It can be safely assumed that Godse was possessed of adesire to further a cause. The cause has had a cumulative effect. Just watchhow the RSS and its acolytes operate and see how they are likeunderworld/terrorist outfits.
Godse was irreligious, but communal. He rodeon the back of cultural regression, impersonating a renaissance to posthumouslybecome a figure in national politics. He may make us uncomfortable, but it wasthe bullet he fired soon after Independence that set in motion a legion ofexperiments with different kinds of truth.
The lesson the rightwing should learn from the Sakshi Maharaj and related episodes is that nationalism is a nuanced word and idea. If they are free to define it to suit their thought process, then so would the others, even if they might not deem Hindutvawadis to be nationalists in a liberal sense.