Bhopal BJP candidate Pragya Singh Thakur’s praise of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse has left the BJP squirming, more so because both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah have justified the decision to field her in the Lok Sabha polls despite the terror charges against her.
This has given the Opposition more ammunition to attack the BJP and its idea of nationalism. Between the cultural nationalism of the BJP and the secular nationalism of the Congress, Godse has been a sore point from which the BJP and its parent Sangh have always tried to dissociate. The RSS was banned after the Mahatma’s assassination.
Latent admiration for Godse among a section of Hindutva hardliners has kept spilling out with the actions of some among them. This, in turn, has had rivals running down the BJP and its politics.
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Thakur’s remarks come in the wake of the BJP picking on actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan for his remark that Godse was the “first Hindu terrorist” in independent India. Targeting Haasan, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said he did not know the difference between an assassin and a terrorist.
Thakur is not the first BJP leader to praise Godse.
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Seven months after Modi led BJP to a stunning victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP MP from Unnao, Sakshi Maharaj, told the media outside Parliament House: “I believe Nathuram Godse was also a nationalist and Mahatma Gandhiji also did a lot for the nation. Godse was an aggrieved person. He may have done something by mistake but was not an anti-national. He was a patriot.”
The remarks led to an uproar in both Houses with the Congress-led Opposition demanding an apology. Sakshi Maharaj had to express regret before Lok Sabha: “I express regret before the House and the country… I do not consider him a rashtrabhakt (patriot). I might have said something by mistake.”
Incidentally, he made the remarks about Godse at a time when Modi had just launched the Swachh Bharat Mission, exhorting people to fulfil the Mahatma’s dream of a clean and hygienic India. In every speech, the PM started eulogising the Mahatma. His critics had seen it as an attempt to appropriate Gandhi to gain legitimacy for the RSS ideology and occupy the space vacated by the Congress.
But the controversy did not affect Sakshi Maharaj’s political prospects within the party. He is contesting again from the same constituency.
For the BJP and RSS, any attempt to link them to Godse is upsetting. The RSS has pointed out that the day after the Mahatma’s assassination by Godse, “Guruji” (M S Golwalkar) had written to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, saying a “thoughtless and perverted soul” had committed “the heinous act”. After the assassination, the RSS was banned and Golwalkar arrested.
Many Hindu hardliners have never appreciated Gandhi or his actions — they consider him the opposite to the ideology they represent — but RSS leaders have praised him publicly. The RSS claims that Godse, who was once its member, quit the organisation long before the assassination.
The RSS move to file a defamation case against Congress president Rahul Gandhi over his allegation that the RSS was behind the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi was also an indicator of its discomfort over attempts to link Godse to the Sangh.
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