Like Rajiv Gandhi, Rahul has no knowledge of history

Chandan Mitra
It is an established fact that Nathuram Godse was not a member of the RSS at least when he killed the Mahatma. So has Rahul Gandhi helped or harmed his party by making this indefensible charge?
On his first visit to the US after becoming Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi was stumped by a historical question posed by an American journalist. When his reply was proved to be historically inaccurate, the young Indian Prime Minister’s quick witted repartee was “It’s better to make history than read it!” But at least Rajiv Gandhi did not try to invent history, which his son Rahul seems set to do.
The same disdain for the knowledge of history seems to run in the family’s genes as evident from Rahul Gandhi’s verbal skirmish with the RSS on the killing of Mahatma Gandhi. A pointless controversy raked up by the Congress Vice-President has even caused wastage of valuable time of the Supreme Court. And the protagonists are still quibbling over words.
Rahul Gandhi was widely reported to have directly blamed the RSS for the assassination of the Mahatma in 1948. The Sangh has been at the receiving end of this unfounded charge for decades although the matter had come to a closure during the trial of the Mahatma’s killer, Nathuram Godse. He had admitted going solo in committing this dastardly act. This time, the Sangh decided to set the canard at rest once for all and, in an uncharacteristic move, filed a defamation suit against Rahul Gandhi. After insisting he would stand by his statement despite the Supreme Court telling him to either apologise or face trial, the Congress leader developed cold feet earlier this week when the matter came up in court. His lawyer, Kapil Sibal, argued that his client had not blamed the RSS as an institution but “RSS people” for the crime. When the media went to town proclaiming Rahul had done a U-turn, the Congress leader volubly asserted that he stood by his stand.
The question immediately arose: Which stand? His original claim at a public meeting or his lawyer’s statement in the Supreme Court? Stung by the perception that he had backtracked, Rahul Gandhi has again asserted that he would continue to battle RSS’s “hateful” ideology.
The issue, however, is not whether the Congress leader hates or loves the Sangh’s ideology, but whether he holds the organization responsible for murdering the Mahatma. And saying that “RSS people” not the RSS was responsible for the act does not make Rahul Gandhi any less culpable. Had Mr Gandhi or his speech-writers bothered to delve into history, they would have discovered that Nathuram Godse was not a member of the RSS, at least at the time he went solo to assassinate Gandhiji. There are conflicting versions of whether he was a member of the RSS in the first place; some accounts suggest he was at one stage, but had resigned from the Sangh sometime in the 1930s. Others say that he was associated with the Hindu Mahasabha and like many Mahasabha people, took part in Sangh activities. It is widely known that the RSS never had a register of its members and to that extent, Nathuram’s alleged association with the RSS can never be established.
Possibly the basis of Rahul Gandhi’s accusation is the fact that the RSS was banned in the wake of the assassination by none other than then Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. But this was done, by the Sardar’s own admission, only because there were some “celebrations” by hard line Hindu groups (not specifically RSS) upon the Mahatma’s death because these groups faulted Gandhiji of being soft towards Pakistan at a time of the exodus of Hindus and Sikhs from the newly created Muslim “homeland”. The ban was lifted very soon and the RSS was subsequently praised by successive Prime Ministers for its nation-building role. RSS members joined the ceremonial march past down Delhi’s Rajpath in recognition of their relief work to help refugees from East Pakistan prior to the Bangladesh war. The patriotic role of the Sangh has never been in dispute from any quarter. In fact, it was at the forefront of fighting for the restoration of democracy during the Emergency for which it was banned again. The RSS came out in flying colours in the Emergency’s aftermath.
The question of the RSS’s involvement in the Gandhi murder was settled during the trial of Nathuram Godse and his associates, whereupon only the maverick Nathuram was sentenced to death. No organization was held responsible even for the conspiracy that preceded the assassination. Perhaps his ignorance of how ideologically-oriented organizations function has led Rahul Gandhi to persist with his flawed charge against the RSS. In the 1940s, thousands of young men, particularly from the Nagpur region, came under the influence of the RSS on account of its staunch nationalist outlook and opposition to the Congress’s soft policy towards Pakistan. Many of them stayed on to constitute the RSS core, but many left to pursue their own careers, political or otherwise. Assuming that Godse came under the RSS’s ideological influence, it does not mean he took directions from the Sangh leadership to carry out the killing.
Rahul Gandhi, therefore, is standing on a slippery slope of history when he charges the RSS with murdering the Mahatma, an allegation disproved over and over again. During the freedom struggle, many Congress activists took to the gun in a misplaced attempt to bring a speedy end to British Raj. That did not make the Congress a terrorist organization. A distinction always needs to be made between an individual and an organization. In this case, Nathuram was not even directly associated with the Sangh. Furthermore, the Sangh has always been opposed to violence as a means to achieve ends. Its ideology is moored in Hindu philosophy which abjures violence. The Sangh, being a non-political organization, did not advocate any particular type of agitation to achieve political ends. In any case, political assassination was farthest from its ideology.
So on all counts, ideological as well as personal, Rahul Gandhi’s charges are ridiculous. Like several past instances, this is yet another case of the Gandhi scion putting his foot in his mouth or jumping into the unknown first and repenting later. If anything, it is the RSS which gains from his ill-informed diatribe.
No matter how much he repudiates his U-turn, the perception prevails that faced with the prospect of a prolonged, unwinnable legal confrontation, Rahul Gandhi chose to be pragmatic and watered down his charge to the point where it ceased to be a charge at all. He will keep damaging the Congress by such off-the-cuff, indefensible statements unless he makes it a point to study Indian history seriously during his next sabbatical abroad!
(Dr. Chandan Mitra is a journalist, currently Editor of The Pioneer Group of Publications. He is also BJP MP of the Rajya Sabha.)

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