Vinay Lal

On 30 January 1948, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known around the world as Mahatma Gandhi, and to his countrymen and women as Bapu, the “Father of the Nation”, was shot dead by Nathuram Vinayak Godse, a Chitpavan Brahmin from Pune. Much ink has been spilled on determining whether Godse was, at that time, a member of the RSS, or indeed of the Hindu Mahasabha, or perhaps of neither organization. Though Godse single-handedly carried out the execution of Gandhi, others were implicated in the assassination plot, and among those against whom the Indian government filed charges was Veer Savarkar. Godse, as investigations after Gandhi’s murder were to reveal, appears to have been close to Savarkar, a prominent leader of the Hindu Mahasabha. Godse was certainly a frequent visitor to Savarkar’s residence, and he did not, in the time that intervened between his arrest on January 30 and his execution upon conviction of the charge of murder nearly two years later, ever disown his association with the Mahasabha.

The general consensus appears to be that Nathuram, who saw himself as a passionate and ardent defender of the Hindu motherland against the depredations of Muslims, was at one point active in the RSS but resigned his membership in the early 1930s. This mere fact, if fact it be, has been pounced upon by the RSS in the five decades following Gandhi’s assassination to argue that Godse had no association with the RSS, and curiously Nathuram’s younger brother, Gopal Godse, who was convicted of partaking in the conspiracy to murder Gandhi and served a fifteen-year jail term and still speaks in the most bitter terms of Gandhi as the betrayer of India, has himself on more than one occasion had to issue a strong rejoinder to the RSS, with whose ideological outlook he is otherwise in complete sympathy, for attempting to disguise his brother’s long-term association with the RSS. Thus, shortly after releasing Nathuram’s book, Why I Assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, in December 1993, Gopal Godse in an interview with Frontline magazine stated: “All the [Godse] brothers were in the RSS. Nathuram, Dattatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our home. It was like a family to us. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah [intellectual worker] in the RSS. He has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because [Madhav Sadashiv] Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS.” [See issue of 28 January 1994]

Whether Godse formally remained a member of the RSS is much less important than the fact that though the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS had some ideological differences, both organizations were united in their extreme hostility to Gandhi as well as to Muslims. Golwalkar and Savarkar shared a platform in Pune in 1952, as Sitaram Yechury’s What Is This Hindu Rashtra (Madras: Frontline Publications, 1993) has recently documented, and it is a little-known fact that at one point the RSS, eager to foment the impression that it did not stand by the virulently anti-Muslim sentiments expressed in Golwalkar’s influential book, We or Our Nationhood Defined (1938), claimed that the author of the book was Babarao Savarkar, the brother of Veer Savarkar. Sardar Patel, the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister in Nehru’s Cabinet, was himself inclined to view the Mahasabha and the RSS as organizations that had together created an atmosphere in which, as he wrote on 18 July 1948 to the Hindu Mahasabha leader, Shyam Prasad Mookerjee, “such a ghastly tragedy [Gandhi’s assassination] became possible. There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in this conspiracy.” Yet, as Patel added, in terms that leave no room to doubt that from his standpoint the RSS also stood implicated in Gandhi’s assassination, “The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of Government and the State. Our reports show that those activities, despite the ban, have not died down. Indeed, as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure.” Two months later, on September 11th, Patel was again unequivocal in his denunciation of the role played by the RSS in Gandhi’s assassination: addressing Golwalkar, Patel spoke about the “poison” spread by the RSS. Following Gandhi’s murder, “Even an iota of the sympathy of the Government or of the people no more remained for the RSS. In fact opposition grew. Opposition turned more severe, when the RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death.”

It scarcely matters, then, whether Nathuram Godse retained membership in the RSS when he shot Gandhi dead. Godse was involved in Hindu extremist organizations, including the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, his entire adult life, and the continuing attempts by RSS to evade responsibility for Gandhi’s assassination are characteristic of that extreme pusillanimity and tendency to falsehood which have always been the signal trademarks of an organization that is determined to bring the idea of Hindu Rashtra to fruition.

See also on MANAS website:

Mahatma Gandhi Home Page

“Hey Ram! The Politics of Gandhi’s Last Words”