Freedom Struggle


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Gandhi and Godse : Freedom Struggle and Hindutva - P. R. Ram

Pradeep Dalvi's play, Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy, has now been banned by
the government of Maharashtra on the advice of the Union Home Minister
Lal Krishna Advani. The play was reportedly drawing packed houses. A
section of audience gave enthusiastic applause to the dialogues of
However, protest against the play led to some scuffle. The writer of the
play, Pradeep Dalvi, claimed to present Godse's views accurately without
any value judgements from his side. Many of those opposing the ban on
theplay were the local Shiv Sainiks, earlier actively involved in
the house of artist M F Hussain for his 20 years old painting Sita
Rescued. On the grounds of freedom of expression a large section of
liberal opinion, as reflected in letters column also opposed the ban and
called for a debate on the issue rather than a blanket ban.
It is worth noting that there was a big section in the audience which
appreciative of the ideas being spelt out by the character of Godse,
years after the murder of the Mahatma. It is painful to realise that
there is a large section of people who support the ideas propounded by
Godse and his ilk. Godse, as we will see below, was a part of the
spectrum of Hindutva politics, which blamed the Mahatma for the
partition of the country and murdered him apparently as he was
pressurising the government of India to release Pakistan's share of
Rs. 55 crores from the treasury. But these reasons are only the visible
tip of the iceberg and the real reasons had more to do with the
contrasting, opposing notions of nationalism, which prompted one of the
votaries of Hindutva politics to murder the Mahatma. In the current
context what is more worrying is not just that some of the supporters
Gandhi's murder are openly saying so, but the unfolding multi-pronged
strategy of the Hindu Right. On the one hand it is trying to
the mantle of Mahatma Gandhi, and on the other is refusing to
him as the 'Father of the Nation '. And yet on the other, is openly
out with its justification of the murder.
This complex strategy is a part of a well thought out plan. When
on assuming the office of Prime Minister in April 98, addressed the
on TV, a portrait of Gandhi formed a part of the backdrop . During
Ayodhya campaign leading to Babri - demolition, many of the Sangh
(SP) leaders were telling that even Mahatma Gandhi, while dying uttered
'Hay Ram,' so is it not in the fitness of things that we have a grand
Temple at the place of his (Ram's) birth? L K Advani in one of his
interviews to Hindi daily Jansatta (June 7, 1998) claimed that BJP is
only inheritor of the ideology of cultural nationalism which was
represented in Indian National Congress by Gandhi and others, who
Congress were propagators of cultural nationalism, the one which is
spearheaded by BJP today. In a similar but more serious sounding tone
R. Malkani (The Soul of India, "Times of India, Mumbai, June 9, '98)
states that Congress has lost out in electoral politics because it has
abandoned the desh (country) and dharma (religious duty) and that India
returning to its original sources. He approvingly quotes French writer
Amaury de-Riencourt, "Indian masses will give their heartfelt allegiance
to that party that appears to be true emanation of some aspects of or
other of timeless Hinduism, and that it was Gandhism yesterday, and it
only be redoubtable RSS tomorrow". Thus here this is a serious claim not
only to inherit the mantle of Gandhi but also being the sole
representative of politics represented by Gandhi. However, the followers
of the SP never address Gandhi as the Father of the Nation, which he is.
Pramod Mahajan, a top leader of the BJP averred that they don't
Mahatma Gandhi as the Father of the Nation, as a 5000 year old nation
does not need any father (Times of India Jan 14, 1997. They (SP
and leaders) will at the most recognise his contribution in the freedom
struggle and stop at that . Most of them go on to support the ideas of
Godse but none of the prominent and established leadership will do it
openly. Through their well developed technique of `word of mouth',
`legend' of Nathuram is sustained and is backed up by statements like,
`Godse's intention was good.' ( Rajendra Singh, RSS Chief, in Outlook
19, 1998).
In this multi-pronged approach what is clear is that the question is not
just of Godse's means, not just of whether to call the Mahatma as the
'Father of the Nation' or not, but the question pertains to two
contrasting notions of Nationalism, the Indian Nationalism vis--vis
communal politics, the question pertains to Secular India vis--vis Hindu
Rashtra.In this article we will examine the role of Hindutva politics in
freedom struggle and the factors which led to Gandhi's murder by
Godse.There are claims that the Swaymsevaks(volunteers) of
RSS,participated in various struggles for freedom, that Savarkar was a
great anti-British revolutionary,that Hindutva combine (Hindu Mahasasbha
and RSS) is the biggest patriotic force,that this combine is also the
which has greatly contributed to 'nation building',that the present
Minister Atal Bihari Vajpeyee participated in the Quit India Movement
was jailed for that..Most of these claims and assertions are taken here
for critical examination.
Struggle for Indian Nationalism
India's release from the clutches of the British imperialists has been
result of numerous amovements and forces. The foremost amongst these,
in a way embodying the struggle for Indian nationalism, has been the
Indian National Congress. The tallest person who represented this
nationalism was Mahatma Gandhi, who in his own life time not only became
legend due to his towering contribution to the freedom struggle but was
the one to innovate the methods of struggle against the mightiest of the
empires. The struggles unleashed by Gandhi and the Indian National
Congress (INC) were prolonged and popular. It successfully exploited
constitutional space provided by the British without getting co-opted by
it. "It did not completely reject this space, as such a rejection in
democratic societies entails heavy costs in terms of hegemonic influence
and often leads to isolation-but entered it and used it effectively in
combination with non- constitutional struggle to over throw the existing
structure" ( India's Struggle for Independence, Bipan Chandra -1988).
was a broad movement incorporating different shades. This movement was
based on a democratic, civil libertarian and secular vision of the
state. Over a period of time Congress came to become a broad platform in
which on one side of spectrum were socialists, and on the other side of
spectrum were conservative pro-Hindu elements. But over all it was
dominated by the politics of secular nationalism. Its main focus was on
industrialisation , land reforms and secular democracy. But as even the
other shades of conservative elements were part of this broad platform
none of these could be implemented in full. It went on to popularise
ideas of democratic institutions in India, for introduction of
representative government, based on elections which in turn were to be
based on adult franchise. This was in contrast to the communal
organization based on dictatorial principles (e.g. ek chalak
single decision maker in the RSS). This movement was based on the
understanding of developing the country through industrialisation. Later
agrarian reforms also became part of its agenda (contrasting with the
agenda of Muslim League (ML) or Hindu Mahasabha (HM) who were opposed to
such reforms). To top it all and as a logical accompaniment of this
of these policies were to be based on the religious consideration (again
contrasted with ML and HM, whose primary consideration was the
community based on religion). The major draw back of this movement was
relegating of the class and caste issues to a secondary position,
secondary to the anti-imperialist struggle.
We will have a brief look at the characteristics of Indian freedom
movement. This movement can be divided in to the mainstream movement
by INC, in later periods this relied heavily on the leadership of
Gandhi. This movement despite the partition of India and the
accompanying communal holocaust, did succeed in enshrining secularism in
constitution of free India . This drew into its fold different sections
society - emerging industrialists, modern businessman, section of
middle class and vast mass of peasants. Succeeding the phase of
politics, Gandhi's arrival on the scene transformed it into a big mass
movement and different agitation's were launched, culminating in the
independence from the clutches of British. Supplementing this mass
movement were other movements which were eroding the social base of
colonial rule. These were, the anti-landlord agitations, for the rights
of untouchables and other efforts of Dr. Ambedkar, which weakened the
material base of colonial rule. On similar ground were the workers
movements, led by, to begin with Narayan Meghaji Lokhande, Com.
Singarvelu, and later on by, Communist party. These movements also
the very roots of British empire. The revolutionaries of the ilk of
Singh (Hindustan Socialist Republicans Army) like Chandrashekhar Azad,
Ashfaqulla, Surya Sen and others also contributed to freedom by
challenging the hegemony of the British. Role of Netaji Subhash Chandra
Bose's army in freedom struggle also cannot be under rated. On the
side of the fence was the British might, aided by the Muslim and Hindu
Communalists whose main 'role' in history of independent struggle was to
provide reliable allies to the British rule. Whose main 'contribution'
the struggle had been to ridicule and oppose it at all stages.
It need not be elaborated in detail that Gandhi was at the center of
nationalist movement and he galvanized the movement in a big way. He
adopted unique and novel ways to ensure that vast masses of peasantry
other people became a part of it. It was towards this end that one
should see the importance of his methods. He was quick enough to
the state of society: deeply in the grip of religion of orthodox
To ensure that the people are to come out from this orthodox paralysis
gave a unique interpretation to religion, emphasizing more on the
humanistic aspects of religion which could transcend the boundaries of a
single religion, and in the process he got overwhelming response from
people. His dispute with the practitioners of communal politics (Muslim
League, Hindu Mahasabha & RSS) can be located precisely at this spot.
These communalists were themselves mostly 'non religious' but were using
religion for narrow ends of consolidating their communities against the
other. They perceived serious threat from Gandhi's deep set religious
humanism. It is for this reason that both Hindu and Muslim communalists
spewed poison on him, (holding him responsible for the 'mess' which in a
way was the outcome of communal politics itself), it is precisely for
reason that one votary of Hindu communal politics murdered him and in
process won overt and covert kudos from the supporters of the politics
religion based nationalism, Hindu Rashtra, from the practitioners of the
politics of Hindutva.
Iitially Hinduism was vaguely being made the base of the politics of the
Hindu elite and revivalists. With return of Savarkar from Andamans a
and more focussed political Hinduism emerged. Savarkar's work
Who is a Hindu' (1923) became and remains the basic text defining this
political concept. With the simultaneous rise of Muslim communalism,
Muslim nationalism, in due course, most of the Hindu consolidations
place by showing the fear of Muslims. This nationalism consolidated
on the ground of the threatening other, but this threatening other was
the British imperialist colonisers whose rule the country was suffering
but was the 'Muslim'. As an aside we should note here that Savarkar's
anti-British struggles and anti British activities totally ceased after
his release by the British, and from then on all his guns were to be
targeted against the Muslims presented in most threatening way by him.
Savarkar argued (later on this became the ideological base of most of
Hindutva organisations) " the Aryans who settled in India at the dawn of
history already formed a nation, now embodied in the Hindus ......
are bound together not only by the tie of the love they bear to a common
fatherland and by the common blood that courses through their veins and
keeps our hearts throbbing and our affection warm but also by the tie of
the common homage we pay to our great civilization, our Hindu culture."
(Savarkar; quoted in Hindu Nationalist Movement in India, Christophe
Jaffrelot,1993) Hindutva according to him rests on three pillars:
geographical unity, racial features and common culture. He further went
on to elaborate the criterion for who is a Hindu? According to him all
those who regard this land as their fatherland and holy land are the
ones who are Hindu and thereby the people to whom this land belongs.
This led to the automatic interpretations that the Christians and the
Muslims, whose holy places are in Jerusalem and Mecca are not on par
the 'Hindus' who own this country. Initiating the theorising of the
'doubting of patriotism of Muslim's, Savarkar posits, "but besides
the tie of common holy land has at times proved stronger than the chains
of a motherland. Look at Mohammedans: Mecca to them is a sterner
than Delhi or Agra" (Savarkar 1923). This development of the concept
Hindutva comes in succession to the construction of brahminism as
and this Brahminical Hinduism then forming the base for Hindutva
Savarkar began to articulate the ideology of Hindu elite (zamindars,
brahmins, kings) by integrating Brahminical Hinduism with nationalism,
calling it Hindutva which further showed the way for building the Hindu
Rashtra. His key sentence was 'Hinduise all politics and militarize all
These concepts were further refined and given the parallel projection by
M. S. Golwalkar the second supremo (Sarsanghchalak) of RSS, an
organisation formed in 1925, ostensibly aimed to train young boys in
'Hindu Culture'. Its ideology was based on Brahminical Hinduism;
Hindutva,and it aspired for the formation of Hindu Rashtra. This body
which began as exclusively upper caste Hindu male organisation (and
continues to be so despite some sprinkling of low castes and a rare show
piece in the form of a Muslim or a Christian) concentrated in
indoctrinating adolescent boys in the 'hate other' (Muslim) ideology
began slowly consolidating in different parts of cow belt to begin with
.Golwalkar drawing heavily from Nazi ideology went on to elaborate the
ideas on Nation, Hindu Rashtra, in his book 'We or our Nationhood
and 'Bunch of Thoughts'. He was forthright in his criticism of
Nationalism of Congress, and its 'amazing' theory "that the nation is
composed of all those who for one reason or the other happen to live at
the time in a country" (Golwalkar,Bunch of Thoughts. 1968). For
racial factor in nationhood is crucial and he goes on to propound, "To
keep up the purity of Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world
her purging the country of Semitic races, the Jews. Race pride at its
highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well nigh
impossible it is for races and cultures having differences going to the
root, to be assimilated in to one united whole, a good lesson for us in
Hindustan to learn and profit by." (Golwalkar,WE or Our Nationhood
defined 1938). He is very candid in showing the other races and those
belonging to 'foreign' religions their place, "The foreign races in
Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn
respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas
those of glorification of the Hindu race and culture or may stay in the
country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation claiming nothing,
deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even
citizens rights." (Golwalkar 1938)
The fundamentals of Hindu Rashtra are located in these ideologies.
was some further refinement of these in Deendayal Upadhyay's Integral
Humanism. But the core concepts of Hindu, Hinduism, Hindutva and Hindu
Rashtra are contributed mainly by Savarkar and then by Golwalkar. We
not go in to elaboration of these concepts here, but suffice it to say
that today when we are witnessing these forces in the seats of power off
and on, their politics shows important similarities with fascism and
fundamentalism both. Hindutva politics in current time became strong
the threat perceived by the elite from the potential assertion of low
caste in the post-Mandal period. It projects (Hindu) National interests
over the interests of the people, has seeds of expansionism (Akhand
Bharat) akin to fascist (German) attempt to expand its boundaries to
earlier German empire, it targets Muslims as the traitors, brands them
cause of misery of the country (akin to Jews in Germany), is oppressive
workers ('national' interest above your own), aspirations of Dalits
side tracked (in response to Mandal Commission, Rath Yatra was
Ram Janmabhoomi campaign is brought to the fore,) to the women
they should mothers, wives) and wants to abolish the liberal space,
which is necessary accompaniment of democracy. It has some
with fundamentalism also. It attempts to impose retrograde values
selectively culled out from the past (religions or traditions), is built
around holy books (Ramayan, Mahabharata, Geeta), holy deity (Ram) and
clergy (Acharyas and Mahants), is strong proponent of culture based on
Brahminical norms, creates hysteria against 'internal enemies' Muslims;
Christians, imposes a code for women's dress and life style.
Hindu Rashtra is not a religious state, it is a 'modern' phenomenon to
impose pre-modern social hierarchies on all sections of society. It is
the goal of a section of society which is the major beneficiary of
social privileges, the section of society which have gained in the
of development of last few decades. It was the goal of section of
which was threatened by the social changes in pre independence times
(zamindar-brahmins) and who were champions of status quo and were
of British at economic and political level. The Hindu Rashtra which is
threatening to engulf the society from last two decades is the battle
of section who again are upholder of a status quo vis-a -vis social
position of women, workers, dalits and adivasis. It is the offense of
section of society which has benefited maximum by proliferation of small
industries, petty business and agriculture of the 'Green revolution'
type. Indian Nationalism as an all encompassing concept based itself on
secular grounds,and attempts to strive for formal Liberty, Equality and
Fraternity supplemented by the liberal space,where struggle to attempt
convert these formal concepts in to reality can be under taken by the
struggling masses. Indian Nationalism is a positive concept,
different religions, ethnicities and cultures and is an integral part of
world economy and emerging global village
Freedom struggle and Hindutva Politics :
We will take up the role of Hindu communalists, the proponents
Hindu Raj or Hindu Rashtra in detail here. A number of Indian
nationalists were tainted by communal ideology and different shades of
these Hindu communalists of minor variety thrived in INC as well. Hindu
communal politics took stronger postures from 1920's, especially after
taking over of Congress leadership by Gandhi for whom religious identity
was based on 'love other' in contrast to 'hate other' ideology of
communalists and his long term success in ability to bring into its fold
different communities. Disgruntled by the gradually deepening shade of
secularism in Congress, the votaries of Hindu communal politics went on
strengthen Hindu Mahasabha and later R.S.S.
>From 1923 Hindu Mahasabha's politics was guided mainly by Savarkar who, as
pointed above contributed to this politics by his activities and
ideological contributions. In England Savarkar formed 'Free Indian
Society' committed to overthrowing British rule in India. He at that
had gone to study law, in London and for his anti-British stance he was
denied the barrister ship. He at that time rejected the British
to give the undertaking not to participate in politics. His group
the art of bomb making from a Russian revolutionary in Paris. One member
of the group killed a top ranking official in India office (London). He
was sentenced to death. For this and for another charge on him in
courts Savarkar was arrested and was to undergo life imprisonment. He
deported from England. The ship carrying him stopped at Marseilles,
he jumped into the sea and swam to the shore to claim asylum on French
soil. He was captured and was transported to Andamans for life
imprisonment. The conditions of jail life broke his spirits. From 1920
INC was asking for his unconditional release, but due to reasons best
known to himself Savarkar preferred to give a written undertaking,
in a way was the total surrender. "I hereby acknowledge that I had a
trial and just sentence. I heartily abhor methods of violence resorted
in days gone by and I feel myself duty bound to uphold law and
constitution (British, added) to the best of my powers and am willing
make the reform a success in so far as I may be allowed to do so in
future" (from facsimile of Savarkar's letter to British authorities,
Frontline, April 7, 1995. Pg 94). The reforms he is referring to here
the Montague Chelmsford proposals of 1919 which did not satisfy the
nationalist movements demands.
In response to this, as a trade off the British Government released him
under the condition that he will stay in the Ratnagiri district in
province and will seek permission of the government to leave the
district. Also that he will not engage in any public or private
activities without the consent of the government. The period of
conditions lasted till 1937, when the Congress ministry was sworn in and
subsequent to this he assumed the office of the President of Hindu
This aspect of his total surrender is totally hidden by the Hindutva
forces, they confer on him the epithet of 'Veer (brave) Savarkar'. Why
did British government release him ? How is it that after his release
tract of his politics totally changed and he came to adorn the
of ideologue Hindu Rashtra? How is it that later he never undertook any
anti British agitation ? How is it that he never joined and supported
major movements of those times like Quit India movement? How is it that
instead of being the part of freedom struggle, he chose to help the
British in recruiting Indians for their army? One can have ones' own
inferences. But he did emerge as the undisputed leader of Hindu
Mahasabha. The calculations of British in releasing him stood
by his pro-British and anti-Gandhi stance, and he became the willing
accomplice of the divide and rule policy of British colonialists. Dube
and Ramkrishanan (Frontline - ibid) have this to say "Is it possible
the British Government was using Savarkar to create an anti Congress
outfit, discovering in him Hindu Jinnah, to help them effectively
implement their divide and rule policy ? No body had ridiculed and
castigated Mahatma Gandhi, the unquestioned leader of the Congress and
Indian in masses, in the 1920s and 1930s, Savarkar did."
In most of the times, post-1937, his politics was the polar opposite of
National movement led by Gandhi and 'no support to Congress move' was
basic dictum. This can be best exemplified in the 1942 Quit India
movement, when Gandhi gave the call for the people to leave the
government, but Savarkar issued the edict "I issue this definite
instruction to all Hindu Sanghathanists in general holding any post or
position of vantage in the government services, should stick to them
continue to perform their regular duties". (Quoted in A G Noorani
Frontline, Dec. 1, 1995). Also working committee had passed a resolution
on August 31, 1942 asking all Mahasabhaites to remain at their jobs.
Coming to RSS, the Sangh Parivar claims to have contributed
in the process of 'nation building'. Whatever that means the, history
text books introduced in schools wherever BJP governments have come to
power delve at great length about the contribution of their ideologues
National movement claiming that Dr. Hedgewar was himself imprisoned
the freedom struggle. Fact of the matter is that Hedgewar himself
the satyagraha movement only briefly and was imprisoned for a short
,but overall the struggles leading to national independence are non
events for R.S.S.
According to Lajpat Rai, a Columnist RSS as an organization was never a
part of Anti British movement and even Hedgewar dissociated himself from
it from 1931 onwards and never again he was part of any National
movement. From then on Dr. Hedgewar's ideological break up with the
national movement was complete and he abstained from the freedom
(letter in Times Of India, 18 Jan 94). This non participation was
ideologically formulated by MS Golwalkar, the Guruji of RSS as per whom
fighting against British is reactionary and he accused the Congress for
reducing the national struggle to 'mere' anti British movement.
writes, "Being anti British was equated with patriotism and
This reactionary view had disastrous effect upon the entire course of
independence struggle, its leaders and the common people" (Golwalkar,
1966). Obviously, with this ideological formulation the Sangh Parivar
did not and could not fight against the British. The RSS equated its
nationalism with being against Muslims and hence its constant harp
the national leadership for 'appeasement of Muslims'." The Hindu
Mahasabha and Sangh Parivar kept away even from Naval revolt because
(mutineers) used guns against the British and the Sangh Parivar
fighting against British as "disastrous" and "reactionary". (Lajpat
Anderson and Damle (Brotherhood in Saffron) point out "Golwalkar
that the British not be given any excuse to ban the RSS. On April 29,
1943 Golwalkar distributed a circular that 'We discontinue practice
included in the governments order on military drill and uniforms to keep
our work clearly within bounds of law, as every law abiding institution
should' .." ( Quoted in A G Noorani, Frontline, Dec. 1, 1995).
The description of RSS and freedom struggle is necessarily brief as one
cannot describe a absent phenomenon beyond a point. RSS in nutshell
not only consciously absent as for as freedom movement was concerned, if
at all it was acting from the opposite angle by opposing various
(especially Quit India movement) and also by being active as a
body, boosting the impact of Muslim communalism and participating in
process of mutual supplementation of Hindu and Muslim communalism.
Much is also made of 'participation' of current BJP led coalition's
Minister, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in Quit India movement. This was
time when young Vajpayee was a recruit of RSS. In a article put on the
net (this article also appeared in newspapers) "The Sangh is my soul"
the consumption of NRIs and for soliciting their support for Sangh
Parivar, he says, "When I wrote 'Hindu Tan Man Hindu Jeevan' I was a
student of class X. Till 1947 I did the RSS work at shakha level .. I
also participated in the Quit India movement in 1942 and was jailed
(italics added) I was then studying for my Intermediate examination. I
was arrested from my native village Bateshwar in Agra district". This
claim of his has been investigated in detail and findings published in
Frontline Feb 20 ,1998. (Manini Chatterjee and V K Ramchandran.) This
investigation nails the lie of his participation in Quit India Movement
1942. The controversy around his role in the Bateshwar incident comes
very well here. He had given a confessional statement in the court
helped in his release from the jail for his being just the onlooker and
part of the assembly which went of to damage the government property.
pointed out above he was a dedicated and active member of RSS. He did
participate in the movement according to his own confession, (Frontline,
Feb. 20, 1998) and for a brief while was part of the crowd which went to
break the forest law. He could have been prosecuted under section 149
IPC but for his confession, as the approach of the government was very
harsh against the protestors. In his confession he


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Last updated: February 23, 2000 .