SIX Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha activists have been arrested for celebrating the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse at the Suryamukhi Hanuman temple in Limbayat area of Surat on Sunday.
The event was allegedly organised by Hiren Sumra alias Hiren Mashru, a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha who is also a priest at the temple. About 15 youths are reported to have attended it. The organisers had invited a cameraperson of a local television channel. They lit about 100 lamps and distributed sweets as part of the celebration. The television channel aired the event, and video clips were circulated on social media.
The Surat police then picked up Sumra and five others — Wala Bharwad, Viral Malvi, Hitesh Sonar, Yogesh Patel, Manish Kalal, all residents of Sanjay Nagar in Limbayat — from the temple. They were later arrested and booked under IPC Sections 153 (provocation with an intent to cause riot), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups, doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and 153B (making assertions prejudicial to national integration).
“Mahatma Gandhi is the father of the nation, and people have respect for him. If somebody incites people by celebrating the birthday of Nathuram Godse, we cannot, and will not, tolerate it. We will take strict action. I appeal to the people to not get incited by rumours, and to remain calm,” said Surat Police Commissioner Satish Sharma.
Speaking to The Indian Express before he was arrested, Sumra said: “We have celebrated the birthday of Nathuram Godse, we have done nothing wrong. Like other people’s feelings are attached to Mahatma Gandhi, our feelings are attached to Godse, and we have shown this by celebrating his birthday. This is the first time that we celebrated his birthday.”
Condemning the celebration, the Congress demanded strict action against the accused. In a memorandum to the district administration, Babubhai Rayka, president of the Surat Congress unit, said the event was “intentionally” held at a temple, a public place, “to divide society and incite those who are followers of Gandhi”. “Our demand is that such people have no right to stay in a peaceful city like Surat. They should be driven out from the city,” he said.
Responding to a question on the issue, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said: “The ideology of our party and our leaders is very clear… Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed his feelings very clearly… BJP does not believe in any criticism of Gandhi, his works or thoughts… So, if anybody acts like this, we strictly condemn it. Neither our party nor our leaders will tolerate any criticism of Gandhi.”
Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja, in his statement, said: “With prompt action and strict instructions of the state government, an FIR has been registered against the elements who celebrated (Godse’s birthday) and all have been arrested… The state government is committed to ensure that Gujarat’s peace is not violated in the name of Godse”.
“When Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, is a revered figure for the people of the country, celebration of his murderer’s birthday is an insult to the people of India. Therefore, such incidents cannot be tolerated. Gujarat is the ‘janmabhoomi’ and ‘karmabhoomi’ of Bapu, so the feelings of Gujaratis are hurt,” he said.