Gandhi’s Assassins : Understanding the Danger of Fascism

3:11 pm or February 6, 2015
Godse Gandhi

—Subhash Gatade—

‘It is far too early to dismiss the possibility of a future Hindu State in India. However, the possibility does not appear a strong one. The secular state has far more than an even chance of survival in India’ (India as Secular State, Princeton, 1963, p.501)

It was early sixties when American political scientist Donald Eugene Smith had commented about the ‘possibility of a Hindu state in India’. Today even to a layperson – fifty years after this statement was made – the secular state in India seems to be standing on very weak foundation and the possibility of a Hindu State is far stronger than it was in 1963.

Perhaps a pertinent expression of this transformation of India is the metamorphosis of what we witness in the image of Nathuram Godse, who assasinated Mahatma Gandhi, as part of a conspiracy which was hatched by many bigwigs of the Hindutva Supremacist movement. The makeover in the image is for eveyone to see : from a murderer, a conspirator, terrorist  to a ‘martyr’ who  supposedly ‘deserves’ a temple in his name everywhere. We also learn that ‘successful’ run of a drama in Marathi called ‘Me Nathuram Boltoy’ ( I Nathuram Speak) since last few years,  plans are afoot to have a movie made on him supposedly to communicate his ‘viewpoint’. And with the changed political situation where even the censor board of the country is populated by rightwing people, one can guess that it won’t have any difficulty in release. And with an ambience which is more prone to illiberal ideas  one can as well prophesise that it will have a good run.

Not very many people have noted it but attempts have always been on to rationalise the killing, to justify it in convoluted terms, blame it on the issue of ‘Rs 55 crore’ which Gandhi had insisted to be given to Pakistan after partition, making it appear as a spontaneous reaction of a ‘patriot’. It tried to obfuscate the fact that there have been five ( according to Chunnibhai Vaidya, a Gandhian from Gujarat, total six) attempts on Gandhi’s life since mid thirties which involved the Hindutva Supremacists. ( For details interested persons may refer to the piece http://kafila.org/2013/11/15/first-terrorist-of-independent-india/) It has always involved obliterating the fact that the conspiracy to assasinate the Mahatma was hatched by what Justice Kapoor had concluded: “All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.”(http://www.sacw.net/article2611.html, 1969 Report of Jeevan Lal Kapur Commission of Inquiry in to Conspiracy to Murder Mahatma Gandhi (Part 1 and Part 2)) The selective amnesia which one witnesses vis-a-vis Godse also misses the fact that he was associated with the RSS at the time of assasination also but tactically avoided mentioning his allegiance to it at the time of his trial. Gopal Godse, his younger brother and part of the terror module which had hatched the conspiracy, has in a detailed interview to ‘Frontline’ – a few years before his death – has shared all these aspects.

One can see that the continued ‘glorification of Godse’ and the government’s turning a blind eye towards these attempts supposedly by ‘lunatic fringe’ of the Hindutva brigade serves a double purpose : one, it creates a legitimacy for the ‘ideals’ of Hindu Rashtra, which Godse espoused and worked for and secondly, it communicates a message to the core constituency which wants to carve out Hindu Rashtra from a Secular-Democratic India, that they should not get confused by the ‘democratic pretensions’ of the new regime and all talk of ‘Constitution as the most sacred book’ or the call for ‘moratorium on any anti-minority violence’ from the ramparts of the Red Fort made by the elected Premier of the country – a man who still carries the baggage of the 2002 genocide in his homestate Gujarat when he happened to be the Chief Minister of the state and justice has still not been done to its victims.

Hindutva Right’s ambuigity vis-a-vis Gandhi’s assasination – their poor attempts to co-opt him and its continued silence over the conspiracy to kill him- also facilitates sanitisation of the great leader. It would not be surprising if tomorrow we witness selective, out of context or at times even dressed up quotes from his volume of writings being presented before the gullible masses where it may appear that Gandhi have had no qualms about the Hindutva project or is legitimising the exclucivist agenda of the Parivar. During its ir

Prof Eizaz Ahmad has written somewhere that ‘Every country gets the fascism it deserves’. Coming to India one feels that we can call it ‘Communal Fascism’. If the Jews were the ‘other’ under Nazism today we have the ‘Muslim’ as the new other here.

Perhaps as the characterisation of this phase itself implies it will be essentially walking on two legs. The growing neoliberal offensive couched in the language of ‘development’ would be accompanied by (as and when necessary) communal tensions supposedly to further drive a wedge between different sections of the toiling masses, so that the broader issues of deprivation and pauperisation do not get raised at any level. It is really a strange coincidence that while we are debating ascendance of Hindutva Right here, situation in this part of South Asia looks very similar where majoritarian forces owing allegiance to a particular religion or ethnicity seem to be on the upswing.

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Coming to the situation of the secular forces – who are opposed to politics of the Hindutva Right one feels that there is a need and an urgency to take a radical rupture from the beaten track we have been following all these years, as it has led us to this pathetic situation we find ourselves in.

If we take 1992 – demolition of the Babri Mosque – as a benchmark, then we will have to admit that it has been more than two decades that the anti-communal/secular movement in this country, has suffered setbacks one after the other. One cannot deny that there were intermittent periods of revival where we could put them on the defensive but as we look back one gets a feeling that they were mere holding operations.

Neither the ‘anti-communal struggle’ could be taken beyond what can be called as the Sarva Dharma Sambhav (All Religion Equal) discourse in this interregnum nor the communal and majoritarian construction of society and polity could be brought on the agenda then. It was rightly prophesised by a scholar then that without any perceptible change in the ‘majoritarian middle ground’ in Indian politics – which is marked by popularity of majoritarian viewpoint, high expression of religiosity, emphasis on maintaining group boundaries, lack of awareness about blatantly communal events, less approval of minority interests etc- the material basis for the emergence of communal forces with a new vengeance would always remain. Our predicament today rather vindicates this prophesy.

And thus despite the finest brains we have with us, despite the tremendous work done by individuals, groups, formations, with lot of risk to themselves at various levels or despite the fact that parties owing allegiance to secularism far outnumber parties which follow exclusivist politics or despite the presence of a vibrant left movement – albeit divided in many streams – at the national level, we will have to admit that all our efforts put together we could not stop the advance of the Hindutva right to the centre stage of Indian politics.

Today, as we look back, it clearly indicates the lack of a social foundation for secularism. Question arises why more than sixty years after we embarked on a secular path, it has remained so weak.

It can be observed that here the emphasis has always been on maintaining secularity of the state and forgetting or neglecting the important aspect of secularisation of society. Perhaps it has to do with the emphasis of the progressive/transformative movements on political-economic struggles and their neglect of intervention in social-cultural arena.

One discovers that forces like RSS/Jamaat-e-Islami or other status quoist or reactionary organisations have been very clear about their ‘anti-secular’ agenda which they tried to bolster through intervention in culture in a startegic manner. They tried to enhance their ‘religious viewpoint’ by institutionalising it through n number of affiliated organisations. These activities have helped them ‘in transforming the cultural consciousness of the people from the secular to the religious’ (P 169,History as a Site of Struggle, Three Essays Collective) According to him

‘This is qualitatively different effort from that of the secular forces who mainly focus on cultural intervention, the impact of which is limited and transient. The difference between cultural intervention and intervention in culture distinguishes the cultural engagement of the communal and the secular and their relative success’. (do)

Secondly, the secular movement, has always emphasised what Harsh Mander has described in his recent article (Learning from Ambedkar, http://kafila.org/2014/08/23/learning-from-babasaheb-harsh-mander/#more-23461)   an image of India which has been ‘through most of its long history, a diverse, pluralist and tolerant civilization – the land of Buddha, Kabir and Nanak, of Ashoka, Akbar and Gandhi. ‘ as a counter to a narrow, intolerant, exclucivist, monolithic interpretation of Indian culture done by the Hindutva right, which Romila Thapar describes ‘as the right-wing Semitisation of Hinduism‘. It has celebrated the existing culture here which has provided space and freedom for every major faith to flourish, where ‘persecuted faiths have received refuge’ and ‘where heterodox and sceptical traditions thrived alongside spiritual and mystical traditions’.

Basing itself on this understanding it has tried to interrogate, question and challenge Hindutva Supremacist forces. But this understanding as anyone can notice seems to be a partial description of our society which invisibilises the stark reality of caste – the hierarchial division of society – an integral part of Indian social fabric based on the age old doctrine of exclusion legitimised and sanctified by the Brahminical ideology. This sociological blindness towards such an age-old structure has impacted its task of secularization.

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The secular movement also needs to revisit its understanding and practice vis-a-vis the question of minority communalism.

One knows that when it comes to the situation of Muslims – the biggest religious minority here – seculars find ourselves in a particular bind. While we are aware that a large section of the community faces deprivation, dispossession, pauperisation – brought in by the nature of socio-economic development followed here which gets accentuated because of the prejudice/bias prevalent against them in all the organs of the state and ‘civil society’. Thanks to the report of the Sachar commission, many of the myths perpetuated by the majoritarian forces like ‘appeasement of Muslims’ lie shattered and their ‘majority going for Madarasa education’ stand exposed.

There have been thousands of riots in post-independence times, where they have been at the receiving end of administrative apathy and connivance and the combined might of the majoritarian forces. None of the real planners/masterminds of the riots have been caught or people leading riots have been arrested and despite reports by various judicial commissions rarely one notices prosecution of anyone from the administrative side or people supposed to maintain law and order for their complicity in the pogroms. And as rightly put by Paul R Brass, there have developed what he terms as ‘institutionalised riot systems’ which are in a position to engineer riot at any moment.

We are also becoming aware – post 2002 riots – how the state has slowly abdicated the role of providing relief and rehabilitation to riot affected people and victims of communal violence and the vacuum has been filled by different community organisations. And this one witnessed not only in Gujarat but even in a state like Assam – ruled by the Congress consecutively for three terms- when there was violence in BTAD areas. According to a journalist most of the relief camps set up for the internally displaced people were run either by Jamaat-e-Islami or Jamiat-Ulema-i-Hind making the victims and other affected people more amenable to their agendas.

But what does one think about the community leadership – the dominant politics there – which is undemocratic to say the least. In fact, one can cite many examples which go to show the growing disjunction between the leadership and the Muslim masses which is neither ready to take up issues of internal divisions, asymmetries nor does it want to move beyond ‘community interests’ while taking highly problematic stands on various issues of concern. e.g. Neither it has bothered to take up the issue of rights of Muslim women nor it has ever acknowledged the issue of discrimination based on caste in the community. Despite the existence of a nascent Pasmanda (backward) Muslim movement in the community it is yet to acknowledge its significance. Much on the lines of Pakistan, which happens to be the only country in the world which has declared ‘Ahmadiyas/Qadianis’ as unIslamic, one witnesses similar forces on the ascendance in the community here as well.

It has also exhibited its myopic nature by not coming clean on anti-human actions undertaken by Islamist groups/formations elsewhere. It is high time that seculars move beyond the bind in which they find themselves on various ‘sensitive’ sounding issues. While they should fight against deprivations of the Muslim masses they should not remain silent over depradations of its leadership. Their fight against targeting of Muslims in general and Muslim youth in particular should not mean that they remain silent when some Popular Front issues diktats to Muslim women to wear this or that dress or has no qualms in attacking a Professor and cutting his hand just for the fact that the question he put in a question paper ‘hurt their sentiments’.

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It is really a strange coincidence that while we are debating ascendance of Hindutva Right here, situation in this part of South Asia looks very similar where majoritarian forces owing allegiance to a particular religion or ethnicity seem to be on the upswing. Mynamar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Pakistan, you name a country and find democratic forces being pushed to the margins and majoritarian voices gaining new voice and strength.

What is noticeable in this picture is perpetrator community changes as you cross the national borders. In Burma, Buddhist seem to be the perpetrators and Muslims seem to be at the receiving end, in B’desh there is reversal of roles and likewise in other countries of the region. It is disturbing to note in such a volatile situation one type of fanaticism feeds on the other. Buddhist extremists in Mynamar strengthen Islamists in B’desh and they further add strenght to the Hindutva supremacists here. If the first half of 20 th century this area has been witness to anti-colonial struggles which had strengthened each others emancipatory aspirations, in the first quarter of 21 st century we all have been witness to explosion of majoritarian movements trying to put all the achievements of democracy and secularism on the backburner.

And if we move out of the theatre of South Asia, situation looks equally grim. One definitely perceives a global context which is much more favourable to the ascendance of rightwing, chauvinist movements everywhere. Barring few countries the general decline of the left movement – which acted as a bulwark against Fascist reaction in the 20s and 30s of the 20 th century – has further complicated the picture.

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