Happy Father’s Day to you.
Today, I miss you even more than the years when I first came to know about you, growing up as a kid in India.
I don’t mind calling you Bapu, even though many of my friends might be outraged for ideological reasons. So be it. After all, I have been taught in school that you are the father of the nation, and brought freedom to the country without shedding blood. In our culture, that’s how we treat elders.
Although I do not agree with everything you said and did, that also applies to my late biological father, whom I loved in spite of many differences.
I still remember how we used to stand up in the classrooms at the sound of a distant siren, to mark your martyrdom for a moment of silence in your memory every January 30th, the day of your murder at the hands of Hindu extremist Nathuram Godse.
Since then I became curious to understand why someone would kill a saintly figure like you, who had led a passive resistance movement against British occupation of our country. This helped generate in me an interest for reading. I even got a copy of Godse’s confession and read it.
I was convinced that you were a voice of reason, crucified for merely standing up for Hindu-Muslim unity, keeping India united and opposing the religious partition of the nation that led to the formation of a separate Muslim Pakistan. That Godse was a bigot became clear to me.
I continued to read more about your assassination, going into depth of the issue which I found wasn’t discussed much in school or in public spaces. I mostly came across two kinds of people: those who loved you for being a messiah of peace or those who hated you. The fact that you laid down your life for the sake of secularism and diversity was hardly discussed passionately, except in a very limited circle of friends who care.
What pained me more was that you were killed by a self proclaimed defender of Hinduism. Godse believed in Hindu supremacy, but he could not digest your brand of tolerant Hinduism. It was unacceptable that a practicing Hindu like yourself fell to the bullets of Godse.
I gradually learnt from several books I read over the years that you had been a target of constant hate from the Hindu Right, which was bothered by your opposition against anything promoted by ultra Hindu nationalists, including untouchability to bar Dalits from entering temples.
There had been several attempts on your life much before 1948, the year of your murder. So it’s all lies that they punished you on the spur of the moment for asking for peace with Pakistan following the partition.
You survived the very first attack in 1934, followed by a few more before the fatal one in 1948, showing that they were always after your life. It’s rather sad that this story has largely remained untold. Only a superficial version of the saga of your murder has been popularized, especially by supporters of the right wing Hindu groups. So much so, Godse’s followers continue to glorify him and celebrate your death until today.
The argument given by them in defence has blinded many Hindus, who actually think that you were soft on Muslims and pro-Pakistan, and that was the reason behind your death. They conveniently overlook the fact that during the partition, you were also fasting for peace in the Muslim-dominated areas where the Hindu minority became the target of violence.
I have come to the conclusion that Godse alone wasn’t responsible for your demise. He represented an ideology that still lives and is thriving, particularly under the current BJP government in New Delhi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been trying to fool the world by paying tributes to you, reveres VD Savarkar, the man who was also involved in your murder. Though he was acquitted by the mortal courts, he remains guilty in the eyes of those who follow Indian history. If this is not enough, some of his party colleagues have shamelessly praised Godse. Among them is Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, who has been involved in terrorism and bombings targeting Muslims. Due to Modi’s blessings, she sits in the parliament, while others like her remain off the hook, in spite of being involved in activities, such as the one Godse and his gang were responsible for.
In 2002, Modi’s government allowed anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat, your home state, bringing disrepute to the place known for your legacy of love and brotherhood.
Attacks on religious minorities have grown across India ever since Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014. The India that you envisioned is lost, and we are dealing with an oppressive Hindu nation in the making. Anyone who questions this is made to face imprisonments and sedition laws, which you had to endure during the British rule.
But let’s face it, Bapu, the party that was closer to you must also take the blame for Modi’s ascendance to power.
The Congress claims to be secular, but also indulged in divisive politics in the past, emboldening Modi and the BJP. Following your murder, there was no orchestrated violence against Maharashtrian Brahmins, the community Godse belonged to, but the Sikh minority became the victim of a state sponsored massacre by Congress-led goons in the aftermath of the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984.
This encouraged Modi to repeat history in Gujarat against Muslims in 2002 to polarize the Hindu majority.
You could not be naïve, Bapu. The Congress was never sincere to the cause that was so close to your heart. They abandoned you when you were opposing the partition. The police lapse which led to your murder, despite previous attempts, only reveals the truth of anti-Muslim prejudices within the police force under Congress administrations. Similar prejudices against Sikhs and Muslims within the police ranks showed up in 1984 and 2002 respectively. Not only did the police incite the mobs, they looked away when they came after the unarmed members of these communities.
Hindu majoritarianism took your life, and its continued growth shows that this country has gone to Godse’s Children. If more is needed to prove this point, films rationalising Godse’s crime are being produced and distributed brazenly in the current environment. It’s not just fringe Hindu groups who consider him a hero.
The last time I visited the Birla House where you were shot to death I was shocked to see very few people coming in to pay homage, while Indira Gandhi’s official residence has been turned into a museum which attracts bus loads of tourists from all over India. That explains why global leaders who often praise your commitment to non-violence remain indifferent to the case of your dastardly murder and its relationship with the present government. If the Indian state itself honestly acknowledged and addressed majoritarian terrorism, that wouldn’t have been the case.
With due respect, Bapu, you could have also prevented this from happening had you avoided mixing religion and politics. By advocating for cow protection and Hindu spiritualism, and by not questioning the caste-system and only challenging untouchability, you gave people like Modi an excuse to use religion in more extreme manners. While your intentions were good, the consequences are before us.
Rest in Peace
Concerned Canadian of Indian origin