Instances of his own partymen praising Gandhi’s assassin and still not facing any disciplinary actions show that Mr Modi’s love for Gandhi is feeble and transactional.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 3-day visit to the United States came to an end with his speech yesterday at the United Nations General Assembly. It was for the first time that he spoke live at the UNGA after the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in late 2019.
However, what attracted attention of Mr Modi’s critics at home and abroad, was the invoking of Mahatma Gandhi during his interaction with the US President Joe Biden.
As he welcomed PM Modi in the Oval Office of the White House, Joe Biden said: “The world celebrates Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday next week. We’re all reminded that his message of non-violence, respect, tolerance, matters today maybe more than ever.”
In his remarks, PM Modi also remembered the revered freedom fighter. “President Joe Biden mentioned Gandhi ji’s Jayanti (birth anniversary). Gandhi Ji spoke about trusteeship, a concept which is very important for our planet in the times to come,” the prime minister said.
Social media reacts
Many on social media platforms pointed out that though PM Modi invokes Mahatma Gandhi whenever he visits other countries like the USA, his own followers and partymen praise and idolise the assassin of the freedom fighter.
Modi is Gandhi's when abroad.
In India he returns to Godse's fold.
Jai Shri Ram.
— Rajeev Matta (@RajeevMatta) September 26, 2021
Bhakts love Godse but Modi preaches about Gandhi.
Bhakts still follow Modi because his words may be Gandhi, but his actions are all Godse.
— Narundar (@NarundarM) September 25, 2021
Youth Congress President Srinivas BV, taking a swipe at PM Modi, said: “Gandhi on the face – Godse in the heart!! This was the strength of ‘Bapu’, is and will remain so. It has always been making the ideology of his killers ‘bow’ before him and will continue do so.”
मुँह पर गांधी – दिल में गोडसे !!
'बापू' की यही ताकत थी, है और रहेगी,
उन्हें मारने वाली सोच को हर कदम पर
यूं ही सदा 'झुकाती' रही है और रहेगी.. pic.twitter.com/9OfDi6LaCJ
— Srinivas BV (@srinivasiyc) September 25, 2021
The criticism, however, is not entirely exaggerated. The BJP leaders, along with those in the right-wing organisations having links with the saffron party’s mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have on multiple occasions hailed Nathuram Godse, the man responsible for Gandhi’s assassination.
In an incident as recent as last week, an office-bearer of the Hindu Mahasabha accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of backstabbing Hindus, saying even “Mahatma Gandhi was not spared in a bid to protect Hindus”.
“We didn’t spare Gandhi ji, what do you amount to then? If Gandhi ji could be assassinated to condemn atrocities on Hindus, do you think we won’t consider the same for you? Please remember it will become very difficult for you Basavaraj Bommai, B.S. Yediyurappa and Endowments minister Shashikala Jolle,” General Secretary of Hindu Mahasabha’s Karnataka unit Dharmendra threatened.
"When we didn't spare Mahatma Gandhi & killed him to safeguard attack on Hindus, what makes u think we will spare you?".This provocative speech was made by Akhila bhartiya Hindu Mahasabha leader Dharmendra to @BSBommai @BSYBJP & @ShashikalaJolle over temple demolitions in K'taka. pic.twitter.com/ss5f6jNOng
— Deepak Bopanna (@dpkBopanna) September 18, 2021
The Hindutva activist was later arrested on Sunday after his statement. However, it should be understood that the reason behind the arrest could have been his threat to the sitting Chief Minister and cabinet ministers, rather than his utter disregard for the father of the nation. What emboldened this Hindutva leader to openly brag about killing Mahatma Gandhi? It’s because similar things have been said earlier by even mainstream politicians of the BJP, and no action was taken against them by Mr Modi, who invokes Gandhi in foreign countries on every given opportunity.
BJP leaders’ love for Godse
The BJP’s member of parliament (MP) Pragya Thakur, in November 2019, referred to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse as a “deshbhakt” during a debate in Lok Sabha, triggering a protest by opposition members.
However, this was not the only time when Thakur batted for Godse. In 2019, before general elections, when she was asked for her response to Makkal Needhi Maiam chief Kamal Haasan’s speech where he had described Godse as ‘India’s first extremist’, Thakur had said: “Nathuram Godse was a patriot, is a patriot and will remain a patriot. People calling him a terrorist should look within. Such people will be given a befitting reply in these elections.”
The BJP’s top leadership did give her a rap in the knuckles when PM Narendra Modi said he would never forgive her, but didn’t drop her as a candidate. This was one step towards making Godse mainstream.
An Andhra Pradesh BJP leader in 2020 triggered massive outrage with his tweet paying tribute to Nathuram Godse on the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s killer.
In a tribute to Godse, Andhra BJP leader Rameshnaidu Nagothu said, “Today, on his death anniversary, I salute #Nathuram_Godse with outmost gratitude. The true and one of the greatest patriot ever born in bharatbhoomi!”
In another such instance, during a debate aired on India Today TV, BJP leader Amitabh Sinha sais that he was not opposed to Nathuram Godse.
During the debate, when the show’s host Rajdeep Sardesai asked Sinha whether he was “anti-Hitler”, he said: “I am a patriot”. Following this, Kanhaiya Kumar exhorted Sinha to say whether he was “anti-Godse”. “No, we are not,” Sinha responded.
In a run up to 2019 general elections, apart from Pragya Thakur, the BJP initiated disciplinary actions against two more leaders for their remarks on Godse.
One of the two leaders, BJP’s MP from Karnataka Nalin Kumar Kateel, had compared Godse with former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
“Godse killed one, Kasab killed 72, Rajiv Gandhi killed 17,000. You judge who is more cruel in this??” Kateel had tweeted, equating Godse with 26/11 Mumbai terror attack convict Ajmal Kasab, and Rajiv Gandhi.
The second leader was then union minister Anant Kumar Hegde, who tweeted in support of the Gandhi’s assassin, however, only to later claim that his account was hacked.
Another BJP MLA in 2019 claimed that Godse committed a mistake but he was not a terrorist.
“Godse was not a terrorist. Those who are involved in anti-national activities are terrorists,” Ballia MLA Surendra Singh told reporters.
The Mhow legislator said that Godse was concerned about the nation throughout his life. In response to a question from a reporter asking if she thinks Godse is a nationalist, Thakur is heard saying in the video that he was a “nationalist surely”.
The ultimate connection
On Godse’s death anniversary last year on November 15, ‘Nathuram Godse Amar Rahe’ (Long live Nathuram Godse)/ ‘Nathuram Godse Zindabad’ (All Hail Nathuram Godse) were the two top trends on Twitter.
The New York Times, in an article in 2020, documented the efforts to mainstream Godse, and the resulting rise in his approval among masses through Godse statues, Godse temples and even a proposal to rename an Uttar Pradesh city in memory of Godse.
Rashtiya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’S ideological mentor, has long maintained a distance from Nathuram Godse after he assassinated Gandhi. The opposition Congress however continues to target the Sangh for its involvement in killing the Mahatma.
The Caravan, in its report, had highlighted historical records that Godse had not given up the membership of the RSS.
Modi appropriating Gandhi
Mr Modi, since he became the prime minister in 2014, has been seen promoting the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. Mr Modi’s love for Gandhi is so much that he has launched his government’s flagship Swachh Bharat (Clean India) initiative on Gandhi Jayanti in 2014. Mr Modi also showed his affinity towards Khadi, something that Gandhi himself actively promoted. He also celebrated the year of the 150th anniversary of the Mahatma.
However, the instances of his own partymen praising Gandhi’s assassin and still not facing any disciplinary actions, show that Mr Modi’s love for Gandhi is feeble and transactional. Mr Modi appropriates Gandhi because criticising or disrespecting him may have adverse electoral consequences. No matter how much Gandhi hatred is sowed through the concerted efforts of infamous IT cell, Gandhi inspires millions of Indians till date and will continue do so in the future. That, perhaps, is the reason why Mr Modi, who happens to be a hard-core RSS man, has to bow down before the Mahatma.
On international platform, where India is recognised for Gandhi, who not only inspired the freedom movement in South Africa but also the racial equality movement in the US, Mr Modi has no choice rather than appropriating the freedom fighter.
He, however, should realise that walking on this narrow string of centrism, trying to strike balance between Gandhi’s followers, and those who follow his assassin, is not always going to be an unchallenging task. And once he fumbles on the path, the fall from the top would hurt only him, and not Gandhi.
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