By Dushyant Shekhawat Jan. 30, 2019
Before I got on social media, I used to think that there were a few things most, if not all, Indians could agree on. Chief among those was the idea that everybody knew that the man who killed Mahatma Gandhi was a Bad Guy. Once you come online though, you realise that Nathuram Godse is a polarising figure who still commands a vocal following.
One of the most significant events of this decade was the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US forces in 2011. Each year, the anniversary of the mission is marked by news coverage and chatter on social media. But bizarrely, bin Laden’s execution has also become linked with the Hindu nationalist narrative of present times, because of another annual trend linked with this occasion – one where Hindu fundamentalists spam Twitter with a lazily copy-pasted comparison that has been doing the rounds since Seal Team 6 stormed into that Abbottabad mansion in Pakistan.
It says, “Ram ne Ravan ko mara (R-R), Krishna ne Kans ko (K-K), Godse ne Gandhi ko (G-G), aur Obama ne Osama ko (O-O).” Let’s ignore that this statement accepts both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as real events in history, and focus on the absurdity of putting Nathuram Godse on the same pedestal as literal gods. What the actual fuck?
Before I got on social media, I used to think that there were a few things most, if not all, Indians could agree on. Chief among those mistakenly held beliefs was the idea that everybody knew that the man who killed Mahatma Gandhi was a Bad Guy. If the Indian independence struggle is viewed as a narrative, Godse’s assassination of Gandhi is the twist ending nobody wanted. Or at least, I thought so, back when I got my history from textbooks and not shouting matches on Twitter and Reddit.
Clearly, a cult of Godse exists, whose acolytes have myriad reasons to worship the man who killed the Father of the Nation.
Once you come online though, you realise that far from being the de facto villain in the story of Indian history, Nathuram Godse is a polarising figure who still commands a vocal following. Today, January 30, the anniversary of the day Godse pumped three bullets into Gandhi’s chest, is observed as Martyrs Day in India, but there are those who strongly believe the date should be shifted to November 15, the day that Godse was hanged for committing murder, as this Twitter account shows.
In fact, a simple search for #Godse on social media platforms throws up a number of posts that celebrate Godse as a divine exemplar, declaring that he was sent “God se” to rid India of Gandhi.
There are Twitter handles with more than 56,000 followers, which call for January 30 to be celebrated as “Godse Divas”. These examples are all from last week, and I’ve been seeing such posts since I first joined Twitter and came across the ham-fisted Ram-Ravan and Krishna-Kans comparisons.
Clearly, a cult of Godse exists, whose acolytes have myriad reasons to worship the man who killed the Father of the Nation. There’s no real way to prevent people from being attracted to Godse, especially in the present socio-political atmosphere. Hindu fundamentalist groups promote the “Hindu khatre mein hain” narrative, exploiting the same fears that prompted Godse to take the extreme step of killing Gandhi. But just like history proved Godse could not erase Gandhi’s legacy with violence, the spate of violence carried out by Hindu extremists across the country – the rising cow vigilantism, for instance – in the last few years suggests that it might not be Hindus, but democratic ideals jo khatre mein hai.
And the voices raised in Godse’s support have gotten louder over the past few years. On Facebook too, several groups and pages are dedicated to the man, including one that goes by the name Nathuram Godse Vichar Manch. The page is liked by 17.6K people, and is, unsurprisingly, committed to putting up anti-Congress memes. Bad photoshop and pro-BJP is agenda is common to several of these Facebook gatherings, including one that is called Swargiya Shree Nathuram Godse FAN CLUB.
This valorisation of Godse got to the point where in 2016, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh directed state governments to take action against those eulogising Godse. Singh’s statements came on the heels of Sakshi Maharaj, a member of Singh’s own BJP, referring to Godse as a nationalist. But apparently, Singh’s instructions fell on deaf ears. The following year, the Hindu Mahasabha, an organisation to which Godse belonged, laid the foundation stone for a temple in his honour in Gwalior, and garlanded his bust in their office. And just a few months ago, in November last year, as the BJP went wild renaming cities and districts across the country, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha in UP presented its own demand that Meerut be renamed Godse Nagar.
We now live in an India where Martyrs Day is marked not by sober remembrance of the sacrifices of our freedom fighters, but by debate over the legacy of Nathuram Godse.
Perhaps this was bound to happen. No figure from history, no matter how drastic their actions, is immune to revision. There are those who deny the existence of the Holocaust, and even more shockingly, those who believe it did happen, and that Hitler was justified in his genocidal actions. Globally, the resurgence of far-right politics has seen views once considered extreme creep back into the mainstream. Take for example Brazil’s newly elected president Jair Bolsonaro, who coasted to office despite publicly stating regressive stances on equal rights for LGBTQ communities, or the Russian state’s cruel oppression of the same people, or the entire sentiment that led to Brexit. Viewed in this context, the recent re-evaluation of Nathuram Godse as a nationalist hero isn’t too surprising.
It’s water under the bridge now, and we have to accept that we now live in an India where patriotism is celebrated not by sober remembrance of the sacrifices of our freedom fighters, but by debate over the legacy of Nathuram Godse. Interesting times indeed.