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  • Writer's picturePritika Chowdhry

Mahatma Gandhi's assassination and the RSS connection

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

Today is Mahatma Gandhi's 74th death anniversary. On January 30, 1948 Nathuram Vinayak Godse shot and killed Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in the Birla House in New Delhi, India.

Mahatma Gandhi standing
Mahatma Gandhi

Godse and those who supported him were reportedly members of the right-wing Hindu parliamentary group Hindu Mahasabha, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh RSS, the militant arms of the Bharatiya Janata Party BJP, a political party with a right-wing Hindu supremacist agenda. India was being governed by the Indian Congress government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru.

Mahatma Gandhi with Jawahar Lal Nehru, both smiling and laughing
Mahatma Gandhi with Jawahar Lal Nehru

In the ensuing investigation, it was found that Godse had planned Gandhi's assassination with seven other Hindu Mahasabha members - Narayan Apte, Digambar Badge, Shankar Kistaiya, Dattatraya Parchure, Vishnu Karkare, Madanlal Pahwa, and Gopal Godse, the younger brother of Nathuram Vinayak Godse.

After a trial that lasted over a year, Godse was sentenced to death on 8 November 1949, and executed at the Ambala Central Jail on 15 November 1949.

Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the deputy Prime Minister of India, or Sardar Patel, as he was called, banned the RSS when it was established that Nathuram and his seven co-conspirators were members of the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, and were responsible for Gandhi's murder.

RSS, BJP and Hindu Mahasabha

The BJP and its political leaders were also members of the RSS. At the time of the assassination, as the the nation grieved, the RSS, BJP and Mahasabha Party started distancing themselves from Nathuram Godse. The inter-relationships between RSS, BJP, and the Mahasabha Party are historically complicated, but they are largely recognized as close affiliates united in their anti-Muslim, Hindu-supremacist ideologies.

The mystery surrounding Mahatma Gandhi's killer

In the aftermath of Gandhi's assassination, the RSS tried to distance itself from Godse, and claimed that Godse had left the RSS in 1946. And Godse himself made conflicting statements that perpetrated the belief that Godse was acting by himself in his assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

The RSS has consistently denied any connection with Godse. It has maintained that Godse "left RSS in the mid-1930s". However, Nathuram Godse's brother Gopal Godse stated that all the Godse brothers were members of the RSS at the time of the assassination and blamed the RSS for disowning them. The other members of the Godse family too have denied that he ever left the RSS " and stated that he remained a boudhik karyawah till his death.

Godse never left the RSS

The new book, "Gandhi's Assassin: The making of Nathuram Godse and His Idea of India" by author Dhirendra K Jha shows that Mahatma Gandhi's murderer Nathuram Godse was part of the Hindu supremacist organization RSS. Jha states, "Despite the myth that Godse left RSS and joined Mahasabha, papers seized from the RSS headquarters in Nagpur clearly refute those claims."

In 1946, Godse claimed to have left the RSS and moved to the Hindu Mahasabha over the issue of the Partition of India. However investigations revealed that up until his final days, Godse was listed as a member in the records kept by RSS of meetings that took place well after 1946.

His family has also said that he had never left the RSS, highlighting that he held membership at the RSS as well as the Hindu Mahasabha. Godse's 1946 claim is also refuted by his first deposition in Marathi after he assassinated Gandhi, where he says that while he did join the Hindu Mahasabha, "I remained active in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh."

Early life of Nathuram Godse

Nathuram Vinayak Godse was born on 19 May 1910 in a Maharashtrian Chitpavan Brahmin family. His father Vinayak Rao Godse was a postal worker; his mother was named Lakshmi .

He was called Ramachandra when born. Nathuram received his name due to an unfortunate event. His father had 3 sons and 1 daughter before Nathuram, but each of the three sons died at birth. Fearing a curse which targets male children, his father was advised to raise the next boy child as a girl.

So, Nathuram in his early years as Ramachandra wore nose-rings (nath in Marathi), and got the nick-name Nathuram (literally "Ram with a nose-ring"). After his younger brother was born, his parent switched to dressing him as a boy but the name stuck.

Political career and beliefs

As an impressionable teenager, Godse dropped out of high school and became an activist with Hindu nationalist organizations, the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, although the exact dates of his membership are uncertain. The Hindu Mahasabha was led by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar who preached Hindu supremacists ideologies.

RSS, BJP and Hindu Mahasabha were anti-Gandhi

The Mahatma at work
The Mahatma at work

The BJP had accused then Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru of being softer towards Pakistan. They even blamed him for the bloodshed that marked Partition, when India and Pakistan became established in 1947.

Godse considered Gandhi to have been too accommodating to Muslims during the Partition of India of the previous year. The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS had refused to join Gandhi's Quit India movement, and helped the British to weaken Gandhi's supporter base.

Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi

Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi at 17:17 on 30 January 1948, as Gandhi made his way to a prayer meeting in the lawn behind Birla House in Delhi. Godse stepped out of the crowd flanking his path to the dais. He fired three bullets into Gandhi's chest. Gandhi fell and uttered his immortal words, "Hey, Ram."

Gandhi's funeral service
Gandhi's funeral service

Trial and execution

Nathuram Godse at his trial
Nathuram Godse at his trial

Godse was put on trial for Gandhi's murder at the Punjab High Court, at Peterhoff, Shimla. On 8 November 1949, he was sentenced to death.

It is noteworthy that both the sons of Mahatma Gandhi, Manilal Gandhi and Ramdas Gandhi, appealed to repeal his death sentence.

India's prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, deputy prime minister Vallabhbhai Patel and the Governor-General Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, all denied their appeals, and Godse was hanged at Ambala Central Jail on 15 November 1949.

Aftermath of Gandhi's assassination

Millions of Indians mourned Gandhi's assassination; the Hindu Mahasabha was vilified and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was temporarily banned. Congress leaders condemned the BJP, RSS, and the Hindu Mahasabha.

Attempts at Godse's image rehabilitation

In 2014, following the Bharatiya Janata Party's rise to power, the Hindu Mahasabha began attempts to rehabilitate Godse and portray him as a patriot. It requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to install a memorial bust of Godse. It created a documentary film Desh Bhakt Nathuram Godse (Patriot Nathuram Godse) for release on the death anniversary of Gandhi on 30 January 2015. There were even attempts to build a temple for Godse and to celebrate 30 January as a Shaurya Diwas ("Bravery Day"). A civil suit was filed in Pune Court asking for a ban on the documentary film.

Hindu Nationalism in India

It is a sad and unfortunate sign of the widespread rise of Hindu nationalism in India, that Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi is being recast as a patriot and brave man. Hindu society as a whole can do better. The vision of a Hindu nation is at best a fantasy, and at worst, a travesty of the secular ideals of Hindu-Muslim unity that India was founded on.

Gandhi Smriti (Gandhi Memorial and Museum)

Gandhi Smriti (Gandhi Memorial and Museum)
Gandhi Smriti (Gandhi Memorial and Museum)

Gandhi Smriti, formerly known as Birla House or Birla Bhavan, is a museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, situated on Tees January Road, formerly Albuquerque Road, in New Delhi, India. It is the location where Mahatma Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life and was assassinated on 30 January 1948. It is now home to the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum, which was established in 2005.

1 Comment

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