The Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha (ABHM), a right-wing Hindu nationalist outfit, landed itself in a fresh controversy after a video of its members purportedly recreating the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and garlanding Nathuram Godse surfaced on Gandhi’s 71st death anniversary. The video showed national secretary of ABHM, Puja Shakun Pandey, purportedly shooting thrice at Gandhi’s effigy with an air pistol and the effigy being burnt later at their office in Gandhi Park.
Established in 1915, the Mahasabha (known previously as the Sarvadeshak Hindu Sabha) has been struggling to stay politically and socially relevant. Local forerunners to the Mahasabha had been sprouting across the country since the early decades of the 20th century when the All India Muslim League was formed in 1906 and the British announced separate electorates for Muslims under the Morley Minto Reforms. As a result of these developments, Hindu leaders realised the need to come together to form an organisation that would safeguard their interests. Over the years several small Hindu sabhas were formed in Punjab, United Provinces, Bihar, and Bombay Presidency. In April 1925 the Sarvadeshak (all India) Hindu Mahasabha was formally established and all the regional organisations brought under it. In April 1921 it changed its name to Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha.
Ever since its inception, the Mahasabha’s role in the freedom struggle has been read as rather controversial. While not supportive of British rule, the Mahasabha did not offer its full support to the nationalist movement either, abstaining from participating in the Civil Disobedience movement of 1930 and the Quit India movement of 1942.
Under the stewardship of V D Savarkar, the Mahasabha was opposed to Gandhi’s overtures to hold parleys with Muslim League president Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Congress’ efforts to integrate Muslims. It was evidently demonstrated when it did not actively support the Indian freedom movement against British rule and boycotted the Quit India Movement officially.
On January 30, 1948, Godse shot Gandhi three times at point-blank range and killed him in Delhi. Godse and his accomplices’ decision to kill Gandhi was determined by the circumstances of Partition and the death of Hindus in the course of the communal violence of 1947.
The involvement of the Mahasabha in Gandhi’s murder led to a severe backlash against Savarkar, Godse and other members of the outfit, pushing it to get further marginalised. Though active as an organisation, its presence is negligible across the country.
Emboldened by the political rise of the BJP following the landslide victory in the 2014 general elections, the Mahasabha pressed ahead with its reckless agenda. Of late, Godse has been glorified publicly. In 2014, BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj hailed him as a “patriot”, though he apologised later.
Appearing on TV, Acharya Madan, a senior functionary of Hindu Mahasabha, had argued that while Gandhi was responsible for the death of 10 lakh Hindus — the victims of Partition, a catastrophe he attributed to the Mahatma — Godse had killed “for a cause”.
The Mahasabha celebrates January 30, the day Gandhi was assassinated, as Shaurya Diwas. The outfit believes that the day should celebrate the courage demonstrated by Godse. In early 2015, the Mahasabha had decided to unveil a bust of Godse on its office premises in Meerut after the police cordoned off the area where it had earlier planned to install the statue. However, police personnel in large numbers foiled the saffron activists plan.
In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks against self-styled cow vigilantes did not go down well with the Mahasabha, and the outfit termed him as “anti-Hindu”. Staging protest against the PM, Pandey said: “Modi should tell people who run shops in the name of cow protection? He had lured people in the name of cow protection to get votes.”
A year later, the Mahasabha had installed a bust of Godse and consecrated it at its Gwalior office, provoking demand by the Congress for booking the outfit for sedition. However, the Gwalior district administration had removed the bust the outfit’s office in Daulatgaj area and sealed the premises.