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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 January 2008, 11:18 GMT
Ambivalent views over Gandhi killer
By Rajesh Joshi
BBC Hindi service

Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi was killed by a Hindu nationalist
As India observes the 60th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's death, Hindu nationalist groups still grapple with the question whether to reject or appreciate his killer.

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse on 30 January, 1948 in Delhi's Birla House.

In the communally charged atmosphere during India's Partition in August 1947, Godse and his accomplices held Mahatma Gandhi responsible for the miseries of the Hindus and accused him of appeasing Muslims.

Right-wing Hindu nationalist organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, (Nationalist Volunteers' Organisation) were banned and many of its leaders were sent to jail following the assassination of Gandhi.

The RSS is the ideological fountainhead of India's main opposition party BJP.

'Selfless act'

Nathuram Godse was later tried and hanged but the RSS was exonerated and the government decided to lift the ban on its activities.

Even though the RSS publicly rejects Nathuram Godse, its leaders don't hide their appreciation for what they call his "selfless act".

"We will have to accept that Nathuram Godse acted with selfless spirit; he did not have any self-interest in it. He must also have been aware that he would be hanged for what he was going to do. This spirit cannot be denied," RSS ideologue Devendra Swaroop told the BBC.

"But he was wrong if he thought that Gandhiji was taking history in a wrong direction and by killing him he could correct the course of history," adds Mr Swaroop.

"RSS firmly believes that Godse acted at the spur of the moment and it was quite detrimental for the Hindu society. Gandhi dead proved to be stronger than Gandhi alive."

Mahatma Gandhi
Some Hindu leaders have condemned Gandhi's policy of non-violence

Leaders of the Bajrang Dal, another affiliate of the RSS, believe that Godse's role in history needs to be reassessed.

"People may object to his method but I don't believe that he committed such an act (of killing Gandhi) with some personal animosity," says Prakash Sharma, head of the Bajrang Dal.

"He was concerned for the country and at that time he did what he thought was right."

Gandhi and his thoughts have more than once posed a challenge to the ideology of Hindu nationalists.

Some Hindu leaders openly condemned Gandhi's policy of non-violence and friendship between Hindus and Muslims during the anti-Muslim riots that broke out in India's western state Gujarat in February 2002.

'Abandon Gandhi'

Pravin Togadia of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) said in a public gathering: "Until the day we give up Gandhi's ideology of non violence and the ideology of surrendering before the Muslims, terrorism cannot be defeated."

"My brothers, we will have to abandon Gandhi."

However, RSS spokesman Ram Madhav denies that his organisation faces a dilemma about Godse.

Gujarat riots, 2001
The 2002 Gujarat riots left many Muslims isolated
"This issue had been resolved decades ago that he (Godse) had nothing to do with RSS and Gandhiji's assassination had nothing to do with RSS," he said.

But Mahatma Gandhi's great grandson Tushar Gandhi is not impressed - he accuses the RSS of doublespeak.

"Whenever an organisation uses a weapon to achieve its agenda, it abandons the weapon after using it. They use and throw it like a condom," he said.

"I have seen a deep feeling of devotion in the Sangh Parivar (or the RSS family) for Nathuram Godse and I know how they cherish him. But they do it secretly because they lack the courage."

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