A Godse book and the oldest question on its RSS link. But the Delhi event yielded no response

New Delhi: Curious intellectuals huddled in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi at the India International Center on Thursday night to find an answer to the oldest question in Indian politics: Was Nathuram Godse a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh when he assassinated MP Gandhi ?

Did they find the answer? Dhirendra K. Jha promised his book, Gandhi’s assassin: the creation of Nathuram Godse and his idea of ​​India, Is it that. It was released in January of this year. He called it the “big disinfection game” made by the RSS to distance itself from the assassin. Balbir Punj of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called it a “fishing expedition” that relies too much on police documents. And Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar came away saying the discussion left a lot to be desired.

The panel discussion included speakers such as Pawan Khera, Chairman of the Media and Publicity Department of the All India Congress Committee, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, Journalist and Biographer of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Balbir Punj. It was moderated by veteran journalist Hartosh Singh Bal. A group of incoming Legislative Assistants to Members of Parliament (LAMP) has brought down the average age of the largely liberal rally. The round table setup allowed some people to escape the gaze of the panelists – noting the occasional raised eyebrow and nod.

No question of Godse’s RSS link

Jha kicked off the discussion by describing how his book challenges the sanitization of Gandhi’s assassination. The prevailing narrative, framed by Godse’s court documents, is that he was no longer a member of the RSS at the time of the assassination.

Jha’s primary research led him to dig up documents in Nagpur to find an interrogation statement in the National Archives of India. The statement shows him as a protege of VD Savarkar and Kashinath Bhaskar Limaye – a statement that directly contradicts what Godse said during his trial. Mukhopadhyay then spoke, emphasizing the importance of a definitive answer as to whether Gandhi’s assassination was a coordinated conspiracy or not.

Punj, seated between Bal and Jha, then spoke as the only panelist with “the other point of view”. Calling the book a “fishing expedition” to prove Jha’s own findings, Punj said he disagreed with most of what Jha wrote, but conceded the book was readable. He also admitted that he hadn’t completely finished reading the book. Jha, sitting next to him, suppressed a smile.

“Whether Godse is a member of the RSS or not is irrelevant,” Punj said. “Nothing was black or white at that time,” he added, pointing to the fluidity between the Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha and the free exchange of ideas and support across the ideological spectrum during colonial India. . “Divisions happened after 1969 – and the Communists are responsible for it!” Punj said, then pointed to Mani Shankar Aiyar across the round table, reminding the audience that the latter once removed a plaque commemorating Savarkar.

Pawan Khera spoke after Punj, immediately bringing up the 2018 defamation case against Rahul Gandhi for alleging the RSS was behind Gandhi’s assassination. Whether Godse was a member of the RSS or not, Khera said, is still relevant.

“You always invoke Nehrui when you want to certify the RSS,” Khera said, speaking to Punj, who referred to the close ties between Gandhi, Nehru and Hindu ideologues like Madan Mohan Malviya and Lala Lajpat Rai. “Dhirendra Jha is a major obstacle for this government, which is trying to whitewash its dark past,” he added.

In fact, the issue is such a hot topic that the author, Jha, wrote a column in Caravan earlier this month, challenging historian Vinay Sitapati’s claim in a recent podcast episode that Godse had left the RSS at the time of the assassination. Writing that he was “rooted in hollow claims”, Jha goes on to say that Sitapati allows “a free pass for the Sangh’s false claims about Godse”.

Sitapati replied, “Mr. Jha and the editors of The Caravan have falsely asserted that my ‘glib disagreement with Godse remaining a member of the RSS is rooted in hollow assertions.’ But nowhere in the podcast (the widely listened to Seen and Unseen with Amit Varma) did I claim that Godse left the RSS member when he killed Gandhi. On the contrary, in my book (page 33 of Jugalbandi: The BJP before Modi) I point out an ambivalence on this question. I quote historian Ram Guha and LK Advani who said that Godse left the RSS at the time he killed Gandhi, but I also provide a counter quote from Godse’s own brother who I wrote “said that his brother had never officially left the RSS”. RSS”. What I’m saying, both in the book and in the podcast, is that the RSS was not institutionally involved in Gandhi’s death (which is a very different claim than whether Godse was a permanent member of the RSS). I also say that the fabricated accusations that the RSS killed Gandhi have distracted from real criticism (such as their unacceptable treatment of Muslims).

Read also : Long before Gandhi, Godse took out a knife to stab the leader of Mahasabha for allying himself with Nehru

Round trip through the round table

After all the panelists had finished speaking, Jha said Godse was an ordinary, insecure man who had been influenced by Savarkar to divert his energies from fighting the British to fighting ‘internal enemies’. – Muslims. His book, he said, is found in archives and primary sources before the assassination, thus proving the ideological motivation behind Godse’s actions.

Bal then posed a question to Punj whether Savarkar’s Hindutva had indeed influenced the nationalists to divert their energy from fighting the British to fighting internally. He took the opportunity to contradict some of Khera’s earlier points, stating that the RSS is a registered organization that files IT statements. He also underlined his surprise that “people like Dhirendra Jha” would trust the police documents – the interrogation statement on which Jha based his case.

The digression was met with confused looks, raised eyebrows and sneers. An audience member in the room, who said he worked with Punj, firmly continued to record only Punj’s contributions to the roundtable. Bal said he wanted the current dispensation to be as suspicious of police statements as Punj. He then gave the floor to Khera, who returned to the question of registration and the tax status of the RSS.

Two audience members chime in here, accompanied by general murmurs of agreement asking the panelists to discuss the book and not make the conversation about Congress vs. RSS or RSS vs. Gandhi. But the audience was reminded that Gandhi and the RSS are an integral part of the book and cannot be divorced from the discussion.

“The problem is that a lot of us who have trouble with the book haven’t read it,” Jha said. Punj smiled in response.

Read also : When Gandhi’s murder investigator got into the same taxi that Godse and others took

Questions from the audience

As the hour drew to a close, Bal asked two quick questions.

The first, posed by a retired former bureaucrat, who describes himself as a “follower of Gandhi”, asked who Godse’s co-conspirators might have been. Jha replied that the book was more about Godse’s life than the assassination and added that murder plots were not investigated then in the same way as they are today.

The second question from a retired Delhi University history professor pointed out the inaccuracies in Punj’s remarks on the relationship between the Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha between the 1920s and 1940s. Mukhopadhyay pointed out the fact that Punj focused on the synergy between the two and not on the points of difference.

“I leave the division work to others,” Punj said.

This article has been updated with Vinay Sitapati’s rebuttal to The Caravan article cited here.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

Harry D. Gonzalez