What makes Pragya Thakur admire Nathuram Godse
For Pragya Thakur, as for Godse, nationalism is about Hindu hegemony and even supremacy. And, so, the killing of Mahatma Gandhi, the bridge between Hindus and Muslims in trying times, is not an act of treason. For those who value India as a nation belonging to all citizens, it remains treason.
The last two days witnessed quite a political storm over BJP MP Pragya Thakur's statement in Parliament that Mahatma Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse was a patriot.
As the opposition condemned the statement, the BJP swung into damage control mode, with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh making it clear that considering Godse a patriot was condemnable. Pragya was removed from the Consultative Committee on Defence days after her elevation and was also barred from attending Parliamentary Party meetings.
There is little doubt that Pragya is a fringe element who was surprisingly offered a BJP ticket for the Lok Sabha polls. Equally surprisingly, people in Bhopal voted for her with open hearts despite her being a terror accused out on bail, thus suggesting that the fringe was coming closer to becoming mainstream.
Why exactly has Pragya repeated that Godse was a patriot? It is true that some conservative BJP leaders of the Vajpayee mould – Rajnath Singh himself being an example – would be deeply uneasy with open praise for Godse. They would perhaps want that he not be discussed at all. But there is something about Godse that endears him to radical right-wing opinion in India.
Godse lay at the fringe of Hindu nationalism, an idea that is more than a century old. And he most brutally stood for what the fringe meant – it was primarily a strain of thought that saw India as foundationally Hindu and viewed Muslims with deep suspicion as people who took pride in “medieval invaders” of India.
And from here sprang the Hindu nationalist fringe’s deep hatred for the Congress. As early as 1908, Lal Chand, the person who was seen as some kind of inspiration for the early Hindu Sabhas in Punjab, attacked the Congress for trying to forge Hindu-Muslim unity. In a collection of essays titled ‘Self-Abnegation in Politics’, he argued that while Muslims were thinking of themselves as a community and bargaining with the British to secure their interests – he saw the foundation of the Muslim League in 1906 as an example of this – the Congress despite being a Hindu-heavy organisation was an instrument of Hindu “self-abnegation” in as much as it was chasing a utopian, cross-community, Indian ideal. Lal Chand accused the Congress of making Hindus swamp their “communal individuality” into an Indian ideal.
The Lal Chand tradition continued in Col UN Mookerjee’s book seeing Hindus as “a dying race”, Bhai Parmanand’s writings – he suggested that the Partition of Punjab on religious lines as early as 1907 in his notes seized by the police -- and VD Savarkar’s Hindutva, which defined Hinduness as including those who saw India as both their holy land and “fatherland”, thus marking out a sharp distinction between religions born in India and outside it.
Mahatma Gandhi emerged as the prime obstacle in the path of the radical Hindu nationalist vision. For, he was more of a practising and devout Hindu than perhaps any of them and yet committed to Hindu-Muslim unity and protection of minorities like none other.
In the 1940s, when the demand for Pakistan had picked up, with the constitutionalist Jinnah being a new convert to it, Muslim separatists demanding Pakistan and Hindu nationalists -- who saw Muslims as the Other and the Pakistan demand as a reinforcement of their core ideological belief that Muslims could not be trusted -- were issuing acrimonious statements and counter-statements.
In 1946, Jinnah’s Direct Action call pushed things to the brink and sparked riots. The situation went so much out of control that Partition became a fait accompli, something the Congress had to finally accept.
Muslim-majority Bengal was engulfed in riots, with Noakhali in East Bengal being the worst-hit place. And the Bengal riots sparked off riots in Hindu-majority Bihar too. It was in this context that the Mahatma – the tallest leader of India’s freedom struggle by a distance – decided to boycott the transfer of power negotiations and even independence celebrations to embark on a heroic tour of riot-hit regions at 77.
He toured Noakhali almost alone, a broken man immersed in a sense of national guilt and with almost a wish to die a “beautiful death” for the country he had devoted his entire life to. The riots in Noakhali stopped within three days of the noblest of Gandhi’s fasts, prompting Lord Mountbatten to acknowledge that one unarmed man had done in Bengal what thousands of mounted troops could not in Punjab.
Gandhi in his last days – called his “finest hour” by historian Sumit Sarkar – emerged as the bridge between Hindus and Muslims, who were torn apart by hatred. He had been that since 1920, but this time the bridge was braving a tempest.
Gandhi was to Muslims a living repudiation of the Muslim League claim that Muslims would not be safe in a united India. And for Hindus, he was a beacon of light in days when reason had been thrown to the winds by hatred.
This made Gandhi a difficult man both for Hindu and Muslim bigots. At a time when India was Partitioned amid bloodshed and massive displacement, he was trying to ensure that hearts were not partitioned. And he was fighting a losing battle, but with the indomitable courage of a non-violent warrior.
Godse saw all this as Gandhi’s softness towards Muslims. He, in a rather puerile manner, asked himself why Gandhi, who had said Partition would be like the vivisection of his self, was still alive despite it. And the last straw was Gandhi’s fast to ensure that India pay Pakistan Rs. 55-crore, its share in the assets of the British empire, something Nehru and Patel were reluctant to do at the time of hostilities in Kashmir. For Gandhi, however, fairness and truth were more important than anything else.
The news of Gandhi’s fast for India to pay Pakistan its share made Godse – as per his own admission – decide to assassinate him. And he finally did, on January 30, 1948, at the time of Gandhi’s prayer meeting.
Godse and many others like him claimed to believe in the impossible – they wanted Akhand Bharat (United India) but did not want to conciliate Muslims and offer them confidence that they would be just to them. This fringe gave Jinnah the “evidence” that he was looking for to push his two-nation theory. Gandhi was a repudiation of Godse and many like him. He did not just talk about Hindu-Muslim unity and united India but lived and died for it.
The clash between Hindu nationalists and those who believed in an India with justice for all wasn’t new.
For Pragya Thakur, as for Godse, nationalism is about Hindu hegemony and even supremacy. And, so, the killing of Mahatma Gandhi, the bridge between Hindus and Muslims in trying times, is not an act of treason.
For those who value India as a nation belonging to all citizens, it remains treason.
This is what has placed Pragya in trouble more than once. And this is what makes MPs shocked each time she praises Godse.