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Rohit Dhankar

Pragya Thakur again gave an indication in the Lok Sabha that she considers Nathuram Godse a patriot. As a result, a twitter storm started and she lost her new membership of a defence committee. Let’s have a look at what some of the opinion makers in India twitted.

Barkha Dutt demands Pragya Thakur’s removal from BJP because she, according to her, “blotted Gandhi’s memory”: “Removing Pragya Thakur from the parliamentary panel on Defence is hardly enough. Remove her from the party. She blotted the memory of Gandhi. Slandered the reputation of 26/11 hero Hemant Karkare. In the age of muscular Nationalism, if this ain’t anti national, what is.” Twitter on 28th November 2019.

Rana Ayyub laments slide into right-wing majoritarianism: “In the Indian Parliament this afternoon, Pragya Thakur, a terror accused now on the defence panel of the country hailed Gandhi’s assasin Nathuram Godse, a true pariot. Thanks to Modi, Our irreversible slide into right-wing majoritarianism is now complete. What a SHAME.” Twitter, 27 Nov. 2019

Siddharth Varadarajan declares “Godse and Savarkar, Both Must Be Rejected” on authority of Apoorvanand in a video https://youtu.be/LkBKlZMa6eE . Apoorvanand argues that Godse might have been a patriot of a Hindu Rashtra, but not of a democratic India which safeguards equal rights of all irrespective of their caste and creed. He also claims that Nathuram Godse’s Rashtra gave more rights to Hindus and upper caste Hindus, in particular. We will examine these claims.

I have quoted these three persons as representatives of a large group which has made up their minds, are closed to examine their beliefs rationally; and therefore, are not important, however famous they might be.

But there are other people who should be taken more seriously, and whom one expects to be open to challenge and defending their position rationally. This article is addressed these later ones.

Praveen Swami on twitter (27th Nov. 2019) says “Pragya Thakur is entitled to consider Nathuram Godse a patriot—plenty of Indians do. The question is whether the Prime Minister also considers Godse a patriot: every hour that passes without her being expelled from the BJP suggests that he does.” Clearly indicating that even if Pragya Thakur considers Godse a patriot, Prime Minister Modi should not and instead should expel her from BJP.

Ramachadra Guha writes “A Member of Parliament (MP) in the last House, Sakshi Maharaj, praised Godse, and was yet renominated by the BJP. In this election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from Bhopal, Pragya Thakur, praised Godse. Although the prime minister later distanced himself from her remarks, her sentiments were spontaneously endorsed by several other BJP candidates across the country. Notably, all these Godse bhakts won their seats, and by very large margins.” Guha, https://www.hindustantimes.com/columns/godse-worship-goes-mainstream-in-india/story-ixWFJrSz39AQ2yMWrMpheI.html

Note his dubbing those who consider Godse a patriot as his “bhakts” while whose who consider Nehru, Gandhi, Patel, Azad etc. patriots are never labelled as their “Bhakts” or worshippers.

My questions below are to serious political analysis like the last two, and I will start by quoting something copied from Praveen Swami’s Twitter:

“That, if gold rust, what shall poor iron do?

For if the priest be foul, in whom we trust,

What wonder if a layman yield to lust?

And shame it is, if priest take thought for keep,

A shitty shepherd, shepherding clean sheep.”

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales”

As I don’t care about the first three, I directly ask people like Swami and Guha: Sirs, For if the priest be foul, in whom we trust? You have been championing freedom of speech and thoughtful analysis in politics, if you side with those demanding punishment for people speaking their mind, are you not guilty of curbing freedom of thought? I am not talking of criticising people like Sadhvi and Sakshi Maharaj. That is everyone’s right. I am talking of demand for removing such people from a party because of considering Godse a patriot. (There might be other legitimate reasons for their removal, not under analysis here.)

Before I go on, I would like to make a few things clear. I am no supporter of BJP, or of any party for that matter. I find Pragya Thakur and Sakshi Maharaj positively unfit for politics and wish that people had defeated them, pushed them out of politics. But I do not think they should be punished for speaking their mind in a democracy, in this particular case. Because, I do believe in the principle attributed to Voltaire (perhaps not entirely correctly attributed): “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

I believe this is a good principle to remember in a democracy, because: “If you deny to anyone else the right to say what you think is wrong, it will not be long before you will lose the right to say what you think is right. Defense of the freedom of others is self-defense.” And to my mind calling Godse a patriot is not even wrong.

I wrote a blog piece on 8th October 2019, titles “Who is a patriot?” and was hesitant to say that Godse was a patriot, precisely for the same reasons as Apoorvanand mentions, that is: he wanted a Hindu Rashtra in which Muslims and Christians were not supposed to have equal rights. That was on the basis of writings of the people like ones I have mentioned above and a drastically shortened version of Godse’s statement in the court. This time I found the full statement that Godse made in the court and read it carefully. I take this statement as expressing Godse’s convictions about the nation, politics and beliefs about Gandhi. And am not concerned about his testimony regarding who was involved in the conspiracy and who was not. Because what matters in this affair is what Godse thought and what his motivations were. On the basis of his statement in court I have no hesitation in saying that Godse was a patriot and actually he assassinated Gandhi precisely because he was patriot. That however, does not mean that he could not have been wrong in coming to his conclusion regarding Gandhi. Nor does it mean that he was not a murderer or his crime was not heinous.

In my article “Who is a patriot?” I used the following definition of a patriot:

“A patriot is a person who has

  1. Special affection for one’s own country
  2. A sense of personal identification with the country
  3. Special concern for the well-being of the country
  4. Willingness to sacrifice to promote the country’s good.”

[For details refer to https://rohitdhankar.com/2019/10/08/who-is-a-patriot/]

And here I will again examine whether Godse was a patriot on these criteria. Paragraph 49 of the above-mentioned statement of Godse begins: The territory bounded by the North Western Frontier in North and Cape Comorin in the South and the areas between Karachi and Assam that is the whole of pre-partition India has always been to me my mother-land. In this vast area live people of various faiths and I hold that these creeds should have full and equal freedom for following their ideals and beliefs.” (Emphasis added)

There are plenty of paragraphs like this in his statement. Note that this is directly related to criteria one and two in the above definition of a patriot. Those who are interested in more can read Godse’s full statement here. We can safely say that Godse had a personal identification as well as special affection for his country.

In paragraph 50 he writes: Indian National Congress which was started with the object of winning power for the people in the governance of the country had from the beginning kept before it the ideal of complete nationalism which implies that all Indians should enjoy equal rights and complete equality on the basis of democracy. This ideal of removing the foreign rule and replacing it by the democratic power and authority of the people appealed to me most from the very start of my public career.” Further in para 51: “In my writings and speeches I have always advocated that the religious and communal consideration should be entirely eschewed in the public affairs of the country, at elections, inside and,’ outside the legislatures and in the making and unmaking of Cabinets. I have throughout stood for a secular State with joint electorates and to my mind this is the only sensible thing to do.” (Here I read parts of the resolutions passed at the Bilaspur Session of the Hindu Mahasabha held in December, 1944. Annexture Pages 12 and 13).

The relevant points from The Hindu Mahasabha resolution are:

(i) Basic principles of Constitution of independent Hindusthan: which will be styled as “Constitution of Hindusthan Free State.”

(ii) Historically, politically, ethnologically and culturally Hindusthan is one, whole and indivisible and so she shall remain.

(iii) The Government to be democratic and federal in character.

(iv) The Federal Legislature to be bi-cameral in structure.

(v) Election to be on adult franchise on one man one vote basis. The electorates to be joint with reservation of seats for minorities on population basis.

(vi) Fundamental Rights: All citizens to be equal in and before law. There shall be no law, civil or criminal, substantive or procedural, of a discriminative nature.

(vii) No citizen by reason of his color, caste or creed to be prejudiced in any way in regard to public employment, office or power or honor or exercise of any profession, trade of calling.

(viii) All citizens shall, subject to public order or morality, enjoy freedom of conscience and profession and practice of religion and protection of culture and language and no law shall be made directly or indirectly to endow any religion or prohibit or restrict the free exercise thereof or give any preference or impose disability on account of religious belief of religious status.” (Emphasis added)

This to my mind shows concern for well-being of people of the country without discrimination. One does not know why Godse is accused of ‘India for upper caste Hindus’. Actually, he actively worked for eradication of caste, therefore, the upper caste tag seems to be unjustifiable.

What was Godse’s problem then? Why did he assassinate the most respected leader of the freedom movement, who was considered a Mahatma and father of the nation?

One should read the whole statement to understand Godse’s mind, but first must free oneself from the propaganda unleased by so called liberals.

Godse’s charges on Gandhi are numerous. But basically, he thought that Gandhi somehow got enamoured by Hindu-Muslim unity, and had a deep wish that Muslims recognise him their leader, which they never did. Godse argues that to chase his dream of becoming a leader of all Muslims, exactly as he was a leader of all Hindus, Gandhi started developing a tilt to appease Muslims, giving them concessions, which finally went against Hindus and added to massacre of Hindus by Muslims, as well as partition and creation of Pakistan.

The argument that Gandhi was assassinated only for the last fast is not true. Godse gives an alternative history of freedom movement from 1914, and accuses Gandhi of Muslim appeasement right from Khalafat movement. In his last fast, mentioned above, Gandhi had seven demands all against Hindus, according to Godse. They included release of 55 crore of rupees to Pakistan which was withheld by a government decision and expelling the refugees taking shelter in Mosques in Delhi. Godse describes the wet chilly weather and refugees being thrown out of whatever shelter against the weather they had in Mosques. Some of them walked to Gandhi living in Birla House then, but no one listened to them. He accuses Gandhi that while he demanded that refugees be expelled from Mosques, he never even mentioned that some arrangement to protect them from chilly weather needs to be done. He thinks that in his partiality to Muslims Gandhi was capable of overturning a practical government decision. And Godse thought that this was very dangerous.

After giving a long list of blunders committed due to Muslim appeasement, it seemed that even after partition the national politics will be dominated by Gandhi and Hindus will be at the receiving end of this appeasement. The Razakar movement of Hyderabad where Hindus were being killed was on his mind and he thought that as long as Gandhi was there, the government will not be allowed to interfere to protect Hindus because the Hyderabad ruler was a Muslim. He gives numerous examples of this nature.

The trigger according to Godse was The accumulating provocation of 32 years culminating in his last pro-Muslim fast at last goaded me to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhiji should be brought to an end immediately.”

Godse was aware of the result of his act: “Briefly speaking, I thought to myself and foresaw that I shall be totally ruined and the only thing that I could expect from the people would be nothing but hatred and that I shall have lost my entire honor even more valuable than my life, if I were for kill Gandhiji. But at the same time I felt that the Indian politics in the absence of Gandhiji would surely be practical, able to retaliate, and would be powerful with armed forces. No doubt my own future would be totally ruined but the nation would be saved from the inroads of Pakistan. People may even call me and dub me as devoid of any sense or foolish, but the nation would be free to follow the course founded on reason which I consider to be necessary for sound nation building. After having fully considered the question, I took the final decision in the matter but I did not speak about it to any one whatsoever. I took courage in my both hands and I did fire the shots at Gandhiji on 30th January, 1948 on the prayer grounds in Birla House.”

He considered himself a patriot: “If devotion to one’s country amounts to a sin, I admit I have committed that sin, If it is meritorious, I humbly claim the merit thereof. I fully and confidently believe that if there be any other court of justice beyond the one founded by the mortals, my act will not be taken as unjust. If after the death there be no such place to reach or to go, there is nothing to be said. I have resorted to the action I did purely for the benefit of the humanity. I do say that my shots were fired at the person whose policy and action had brought rack and ruin and destruction to lakhs of Hindus.”

He claims that he wanted a secular state, not preferences to Hindus. That what he was angry about was not that Hindus do not have more rights than Muslims, but that Gandhi always gave more preference to Muslims at the devastating cost to Hindus. “I do say that I had no respect for the present Government owing to their policy which was unfairly favorable towards the Muslims. But at the same time I could clearly see that the policy was entirely due to the presence of Gandhiji in that behalf. But in the absence of such pressure the way is now open for the establishment of a secular State in the true sense of that word.”

One can argue that Godse was mistaken in his interpretation of Gandhi’s politics, that he was wrong in killing Gandhi, that his crime is unpardonable. But I don’t understand how one can deny that he acted out of patriotic sentiment. That his act of killing Gandhi was simultaneously his most heinous crime as well as his supreme sacrifice for the country he loved.

The second question is: if someone thinks on these grounds that Godse was a patriot, how that person becomes a bhakt? Why his or her right to speak his/her mind should be curtained on the pain of punushment? I repeat, criticising and giving augments against such a position is fine. But when liberals want such people to be punished are not they indulging in stifling rational debate on issues of national importance? Are not they declaring that the question of Gandhi’s, Congress’ and Indian State’s appeasement of Muslims cannot be raised, cannot be debated? That no one can advance arguments on that front? That the standard narrative has to be accepted without a murmur?

A bigot is a prejudiced person who is intolerant of any opinions differing from his own. By demanding punishment for expression of opinions differing from them, are not the liberals proving themselves to be bigots?

Guha claims that in the Mahatma’s lifetime, the Hindutva people “opposed his asking for equal rights for Muslims.” The Hindutva and writings of Savarkar have become convenient handles stifle inconvenient questions in Indian politics. Whatever Savarkar may have written, in what sense are the points in Hindu Mahasabha resolution quoted above discriminatory against Muslims? Would any one argue that Gandhi’s philosophy was the Congress policy? If not why Savarkar’s thesis should be considered more important that the publicly passed resolution of Hindu Mahasabha?

So, Sirs, if the priest be foul, in whom we trust?

  1. On what grounds you deny that Godse was a patriot?
  2. On grounds you recommend that any one saying that he was a patriot be punished?

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29th November 2019