India’s oldest Hindu political organisation, the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, has said it will contest in the forthcoming assembly elections in Karnataka from 150 seats. State president N Subrahmanya Raju has said that the organisation does not consider the BJP as either its ideological or political ally since the powerful saffron party had abandoned its Hindutva ideology. On Mahatma Gandhi’s 70th death anniversary, Firstpost reports from the Hindu Mahasabha office in Gwalior, where a statue of his killer, Nathuram Godse, was installed and subsequently removed by the police.
Torn carpets lie crumpled on an untiled floor. Paintings of Bhagat Singh, Parshuram (Ram with an axe), Chandra Shekhar Azad and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar adorn the peach walls. The air is heavy with dust as men in saffron caps pull the covers off a garlanded poster depicting Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse alongside his accomplice Narayan Apte. They put tilak on their foreheads and say a prayer. Inscribed below the poster is the date the two were hanged on: 15 November, 1949. To emphasise the supreme sacrifice the duo made, the title of hutatma(martyr) has been prefixed to their names.
On a weekday, this is the scene inside the karyalaya (office) of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha in Daulatganj, Gwalior. On its website, the organisation calls itself ‘a hindusangathan movement and politics of Hindutva. Hindu Mahasabha is a non-secular party, established for safeguarding issues of Hindus.’
In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires, the word public is ‘used with reference to a building or place, signifies that such building or place, whether or not acquired, constructed and maintained by or at the expense of some specified persons or body of persons is not the private and personal property of such person or body of persons and is open to the use and enjoyment of the public in general or of a particular class or section thereof for the purpose, if any, for which it may have been set apart’. Godse’s bust may be hidden from the public eye, locked up by the police, but a bitter taste of betrayal lingers on in those who ascribe sanctity to it.
Dr Jayveer Bharadwaj, Rashtriya Upadhyaksh (national vice-chairman) of the Hindu Mahasabha spoke to Firstpost about what he feels is a misappropriation of democratic principles. If this is a democracy, then why aren’t we allowed to practice and preach our ideology within our office, he asked at least twice. Bharadwaj brought up Gandhi’s 1942 statement where he equated the country to a living being and rejected the idea of a splitting it up. The segment of the statement is: ‘Vivisect me before you vivisect India. I hold it to be utterly wrong to divide man from man by reason of religion which is liable to change. If one can divide a living body into two parts, you may divide India into two parts.” Bharadwaj defined the partition as the reason for the loss of 11 lakh Hindu lives.
A closer look at the time period in which Bharadwaj’s present-day problems are situated would take you to 1946, when Gandhi expressed public concern at the rise of hatred sparked by communal tensions. On receiving the news of Muslims vandalising Hindu temples and committing atrocities against Hindu women, a 77-year-old Gandhi left for Noakhali in East Pakistan and walked over a hundred miles from one village to another trying to bring peace between the communities. Gandhi then moved westward to Bihar, where Hindus had retaliated against Muslims to seek revenge for Noakhali. Meanwhile, in the corridors of Lutyens’ Delhi, partition was becoming inevitable.
Members of the Hindu Mahasabha say they aren’t against Gandhi, but against his siding with the forces that wanted partition. “Hamari ladai Gandhi se nahi hai, unki vichaardhara se hai. Savarkar bhi ek vichaar dhaara hai, (Our fight isn’t against Gandhi but his ideology. Savarkar represents another school of thought),” clarified Kapil Bharadwaj, who was the only one arrested during the scuffle between the members of the Hindu Mahasabha with the police in Gwalior where the organisation has over 1,500 members.
Savarkar was elected president of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937. During World War 2, he gave the slogan ‘Hinduize all politics and militarise Hindudom’. He asked for the rejection of idol worship and the invoking of the martial spirit buried in the history of the Hindu race. A letter written by Godse, another advocate of the Hindu cause, to Savarkar in 1938 suggested that he held the latter in high regard. ‘A divine fire has kindled in the minds of those groups who profess that Hindustan is for Hindus,’ the letter stated. The members at the mahasabha repeatedly assert that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) under the leadership of KB Hedgewar, maintained an ideological and organisational relationship with the Hindu Mahasabha.
The Kapur Commission’s report of Commission of Inquiry into Conspiracy to Murder Mahatma Gandhi said: ‘There is no proof that any of the ministers or any of the members of the Government were patronising or attending RSS rallies and this charge made against them, on the evidence which has been put before the Commission, is not established. Mr RN Bannerjee, Secretary of the Home Ministry, stated that the RSS as a body were not, in his opinion, responsible for the bomb throwing on Gandhiji or for his murder, nor did the conspirators act in their capacity as members of the RSS but the activities of that association were so anti-social and objectionable that in his opinion Government was rather tardy in not dealing with that organisation.’
The RSS and the BJP have repeatedly condemned the glorification of Godse by the Hindu Mahasabha. Though the two are rightwing Hindu organisations, they have different approaches towards Gandhi and his assassination. The unprecedented rise in RSS’ economic and political prowess seems to be making the Hindu Mahasabha insecure about its position as India’s prime Hindu force. Shortly after the Gwalior incident on 1 December, nearly 300 members of the Hindu Mahasabha conducted a bhoomi poojan for the construction of a Godse temple on Hospital Road in Satna, after which 70 members were arrested.
Today, 70 years after Gandhi’s assassination, Godse’s ashes lie in a silver urn in Pune’s Shaniwar Peth. Hindu Mahasabha members in Gwalior say they’ll be immersed in the Indus only when their slain hero’s dream of akhand bharat is fulfilled. Anchoring its identity to that unfulfilled desire, a new saffron tide seems to have arisen.