The appalling hashtag of 'Nathuram Godse Zindabad' on Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary this year on Twitter, is not the first time that pro-Hindutva elements valorised the Father of the Nation's assassin. But, what made this effort at deifying the fanatic more worrisome was the fact that the hashtag trended for several hours, making it the second consecutive year that Godse was glorified on a day that is solemnly commemorated not just in India, but also in other parts of the world as remembrance for the apostle of peace.
Last year on this day, rightwing forces floated the hashtag, #GodseAmarRahe (Long live Godse) and it also trended, albeit not on the scale of this year. In hindsight, it appears that last year's hashtag was a trial balloon. A Vishwa Hindu Parishad worker had also tweeted a ramble: ‘If Godse had done the wrong thing by killing Gandhi, what would Gandhi have done? He would have allowed one more Partition. Godse committed only one murder and was also sentenced to death, but because of Gandhi, there was a massacre of Hindus in Partition, should not Gandhi have been punished for that?’ His viewpoint articulated Right-wing sentiment that held Gandhi guilty of Partition.
A media report, on the basis of two analytics tools, claimed that while last year, on October 2, by 8 pm, there were about 15,000 tweets with the Godse hashtag, this year the number of such tweets went up to 1,13,000 by the same time. If this was not enough, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha on October 3 launched a YouTube channel dedicated to the "good work" done by Godse. A spokesperson was quoted by the media as saying that the channel was launched with an eye on the "younger generation". One of the primary objectives is to explain to viewers "the reasons behind Gandhi's assassination".
The concerted campaign of one section of the Hindu nationalistic ecosystem to idolise Godse stands in contrast to efforts of the section of sangh parivar that is now the dominant political group in Indian polity. Be it Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the RSS, the appropriation of Gandhi's legacy is a major project. The Modi government expropriated imagery linked with Gandhi in its flagship programme, Swachh Bharat. The same symbol is used in post-demonetisation currency notes.
Besides Modi paying the ritualistic visit to Rajghat and tweeting eulogies to the Mahatma, the RSS too has steadily been swearing in the name of Gandhi despite having being banned and probed in the aftermath of his assassination. On October 2 this year, the Gujarat chapter of Vishwa Samvad Kendra, one of the RSS affiliates and which styles itself as a "media centre with a difference", launched a book titled 'Mahatma Gandhi - Ek Shashwat Vichar'.
That Gandhi and Godse are conflicting pursuits, is evident from repeated instances of romanticising Godse's act. In January 2019, a Mahasabha office bearer enacted Godse's assassination by shooting at a Gandhi effigy. Puja Shakun Pandey, the Mahasabha secretary, was blasé in her subsequent assertion that the act was no different from what is done every year during Dussehra when the effigy of Ravana is burnt.
From when the idea of Hindu nationalism reared its head in the late nineteenth century, there was an effort at reversing the colonial thesis of Hindus being “feminine” in contrast to the “masculine” Muslims. Romanticising the image of Shivaji and juxtaposing him as an adversary who stood up to Mughal (Muslim) might, is part of the effort construct the image of Hindus as a valorous community. When the British sought VD Savarkar's support during the Second World War, he was all for Hindus enlisting in the British because, he reasoned, this would militarise Hindus.
From Shivaji to Godse, to the current positioning of Hindu gods in public imagination solely with their weaponry, Parashuram's axe, Ram's bow, Krishna's Sudarshan Chakra and Durga's imagination chiefly as Shakti, are all part of efforts for almost 150 years to project the “masculine” dimension of Hindus. Even the latest of the angry Hanuman, used as wall posters and car stickers, is to underscore the end of Hindu effeminacy. The killing of Gandhi and its romanticising is proof of this, just as the demolition of Babri Masjid or other similar actions are.
The image of Gandhi that is consistently appropriated by the wing of sangh parivar which is engaged in statecraft, is sexless. In contrast, the inclusive Gandhi, the person who constantly referred to India's pluralism and emphasised that responsibility lay with Hindus to make Muslims who stayed behind, comfortable and lead a life with sense of security, is depicted as the archetypal effeminate Hindu who bowed to Muslims. 'This' Gandhi could not be the role model and thus the need to glorify Godse as a counter to Gandhi.
Public denigration of Gandhi, however, had a political cost from the dawn of the Republic. With time, the section of the Hindu nationalists engaged in power politics, modified its posture towards Gandhi and began eulogising him too. In the course of several decades, many other nationalist leaders have been appropriated by the sangh parivar just as its leaders now speak glowingly about the national movement in which they had a negligible role.
While securing a place for Savarkar in the pantheon of national icons was started by the Vajpayee regime, the final phase started in 2014. From when Modi made floral offerings to his portrait in Central Hall, to Savarkar being referred to as 'Veer' and a patriotic freedom fighter, Savarkar's position has been secured. It may not be so simple with Godse as his elevation can be completed only if Gandhi is dislodged from the pedestal.
While this was always the intention from 1948 and Godse was hero-worshipped, diffidence of those holding this viewpoint has been shed and now public embrace of Godse is not a matter of shame. Although driven by extreme ideological hatred for Gandhi, Godse's decision to assassinate Gandhi was driven by deep-seated search for the “masculine” within himself.
Godse was plagued from childhood by despondency that emerged from fear of rejection and failure. His failures in life were rooted in a dysfunctional childhood. Partially, this stemmed from his nose – pierced to allow a ring to effeminately hang as adornment, not an ornament for young boys or men in any community in India. Additionally, he had two names – one before his nose was pierced and the other after. Ramchandra, the first, is forgotten to all except biographers. Only the first part - Ram - was extracted from this and used as a suffix to what gave him his identity - the ‘nath’ or nose ring, with the 'u' sound being used to merely link the two parts.
Godse's identity as a male child was hidden by his parents and he struggled to escape effeminacy in later life, certainly not with great success. Using him as a symbol of lost or misplaced “masculinity” of Hindus is indeed paradoxical. This possibly explains why activities like creating a hashtag or shooting a video will remain shadow activities. But these clandestine shoot and scoot missions shall remain integral in Hindu nationalistic political strategy for not every action of its affiliates can be conducted under public glare. Conspiracy is symbiotically linked with the Indian Right wing.
The writer is a journalist and author. His last book is The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right and is currently working on his next, on the Ayodhya issue and how it altered Indian politics. He Tweets @NilanjanUdwin.
Also read: From Muzaffarnagar, Dadri to Hathras: An Anatomy of Dominant Castes in Western UP