The Supreme Court, Gandhi and the RSS

Oh what a tangled web we weave
when first we practice to deceive
Sir Walter Scott

The Supreme Court recently took up a PIL challenging a statement made by Rahul Gandhi alleging that the RSS killed Mahatma Gandhi. (Rahul Gandhi was then reported to have amended his statement, and the RSS demanded an apology. A comment sent to me by a friend indicates that Rahul Gandhi did not amend his statement although the media tried to present it as such. It appears that he had said "RSS people" killed Gandhi and he stuck to that statement throughout. It seems the SC assumed that he had held the RSS collectively responsible. They asked him to apologise. When the Court record showed the original statement to be different, the SC backtracked. By then the media had taken off with its sensationalism).

With due respect, I think the Court erred in admitting this PIL. Was it a cognisable offence for Mr Modi in 2014 to have held the Congress responsible for the partition of India? Historical debates are not matters for courts to decide. Nor is the so-called Sangh Parivar facing a criminal trial. The trial is taking place in the minds of the people of India - and the world. We will never have forensic evidence of such crimes. Hitler never left a paper trail for the Holocaust but is there any doubt as to his responsibility for it? These matters must be left to public debate. Some may prefer to make sweeping accusations; but thoughtful persons need to reflect on the likelihood of these accusations. We can weigh the circumstantial evidence, and come to our own conclusions, but historical debates cannot be adjudicated in court. 

Let us begin with the latest interventions to the debate on what the SC calls 'collective denunciation'. The BJP has asked whether the Congress Vice President would accept the allegation that the grand old party was involved in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. “If Rahul Gandhi’s logic is taken to a logical conclusion, then can we say that the Congress is responsible for the massacre of Sikhs in this country? In 1984, we are aware that Congress leaders were involved in massacre of Sikhs. But if we say that the Congress was responsible and it was a part of the Congress’ conspiracy, will Rahul Gandhi accept this?” said BJP leader Sudesh Verma. (See: RSS distributed sweets...Congress)

(Perhaps the spokesman didn't realise that his comparision of the hooligans of 1984 with Godse and his co-conspirators is an admission that the latter were indeed part of the 'Sangh Parivar'. It's also a thinly disguised gesture of complicity.) It is typical of Indian ideologues to reduce all serious matters to a partisan dimension. All of us are not camp-followers of a party. The short answer to this question is yes, the Congress was indeed responsible for the 1984 carnage. Not only by virtue of the principle of command responsibility, but by virtue of the involvement of top leaders, and acts of omission and dereliction of duty. If there is any room for doubt as regards the question of 'conspiracy' or deliberate policy, this can and should be debated; and there are many pieces of evidence that indicate that the national political leadership allowed the carnage to take place.

Is it a secret that the BJP itself has harped on about Congress responsibility ever since 1984?

Howsoever we understand the creeping criminalisation of the Indian political system, would it not be sheer idiocy to assume that that the decisions that result in massacres and assassinations are recorded in forensic evidence prior to their being carried out? Is it not a well-known fact that whereas lesser functionaries may get caught (and they often do their work with the assurance of being protected) - the criminals at higher levels are rarely even indicted, let alone punished? And is it not true that in the aftermath both of the violence in 1984 and 2002, (not to mention a host of other incidents) the criminal justice system was grievously compromised in matters of the registration of FIRs, the recording of evidence and the decision to prosecute persons holding executive authority in the state?

On the matter of the PIL, here are some of the Supreme Courts' reported observations: “To say Godse killed Gandhi is one thing but to say RSS killed Gandhi is different…you have gone way ahead in making the statement…you cannot make collective denunciation,” said the bench… (it) said freedom of speech is not crippled by upholding the validity of the criminal defamation law, but it had to be ensured that there is not anarchy. “We have upheld the defamation law. The purpose of the law is to obey law so that there is harmony rather than anarchy…your freedom is not crippled or cut. Everyday a writer, a politician will say something and you must have great magnitude to swallow. The purpose of the law is not to turn people into litigants. Purpose of law is that people obey law. Peace and harmony should prevail rather than chaos,” the bench said.

The bench also asked (RG's lawyer) Raval to show how Rahul’s statement served any public good and how it was not a matter of trial since his act was immune under the law on criminal defamation. “History is the greatest enemy of privacy. Over the years, attempts have been made to enter the lives of historically eminent personalities to give a new dimension…criticism of government is one thing and criticism of a historical figure is another thing. Your statement has to meet the test of public good,” said the bench.

Some of these observations are unexceptionable. But are these standards symmetrically applied? Collective denunciation is exemplified by epithets such as 'Babar ki aulaad' and references to Muslims as 'haraamzade'. Defamation is also involved in the frequently aired allegation that Nehru was responsible for the death of S.P. Mukherjee. During the 2014 electoral campaign, Narendra Modi attacked the Congress for 'the sin of partitioning India'. Was this not collective denunciation? 

The RSS is now taking umbrage at being accused of Gandhi's assassination. Why so?
कुमार प्रशांत - तो राष्ट्रीय स्वंयसेवक संघ ने एक बार फिर गांधी से दो-दो हाथ करने का मन बनाया है 

Is our memory so short that we have forgotten how its votaries were speaking just 2 years ago? In 2014, many members of the Hindutva family (some in the BJP/ RSS) in sheer joy at the BJP's electoral victory let the cat out of the bag by deifying Godse. In fact its Kerala mouthpiece carried an article wishing that Godse had killed Nehru. Here are some of their statements:

Read more about the deification of Godse here The Abolition of truth सत्य की हत्या

And when it comes to objectionable utterances, are there not innumerable statements by persons associated with the "parivar' (and others) that do not 'meet the test of public good'? A recent article cites some historians on this matter, their view being that the RSS did not kill Gandhi but created an ideology against him. The certitude with which they make this claim is in my view, unhistorical. The article also cites the RSS efforts to cleanse itself of this long-standing accusation. The 'Sangh Parivar' has never been sure of what public stance to take on Mahatma Gandhi. Amongst their own flock, they are vitriolic, but in deference to the global admiration of the man, they want to 'claim' him - if even as a symbol for the Swachh Bharat campaign. 

As for their attitude towards historical truth, here are details regarding the Parivars attempt to censor Gandhi's collected works under the the first NDA government (1998): Brazen attempt to 'revise' Gandhi's Collected Works. Hundreds of deletions and changes were noticed by scholars and Gandhians in India and around the world, who viewed them as an insult to scholarship, and demanded an end to attempts to play with historical documents. Read the history of the controversy. Tridip Suhrud, director of Sabarmati Ashram, wrote a detailed analysis of this shameless behaviour in EPW in November 2004. It was only after the defeat of the NDA that the fraudulently 'revised' edition was withdrawn, in 2005.

Historians are not judges in a court of law. Nor is the so-called Sangh Parivar on trial, save in the minds of the people of India - and the world, for that matter, because Gandhi remains a popular figure the world over. (A BBC poll in 2000 put Gandhi at the most popular man in the millenium - not once but twice, and that too before Leonardo da Vinci and Jesus Christ). Its a battle of the spirit that is unfolding. The courts are not the proper place for these issues. They should be left to public debate, as should the historical assessment of say, the partition of Palestine; Irish republicanism, the Stalinist era; or the policies of Mao Zedong.

Criminal deeds are not planned nor minuted in formal meetings - the very idea of committing a crime entails (most of the time) a desire to get away with it. Since the RSS is not under trial, and we have no way of either punishing the organisation (if it were to be found guilty) nor compensating it for the bad press they have received (if it was not), we are left with historical judgement, that is all. Such judgements can serve only the purpose of sharpening public awareness. People are free to debate, criticise and reject them. It all depends on memory, available evidence and methods of reasoning.

It will never be settled in court.

As for the evidence available, here is an extract from a CID 'source' report dated 27 Dec 1947 of a secret meeting of RSS members in Delhi on December 8, 1947, addressed by 'Guruji' Golwalkar. Golwalkar is quoted by him as saying: "The Sangh will not rest until it had finished Pakistan. If anyone stood in our way we will have to finish him too, whether it was Nehru government or any other government. The Sangh could not be won over. They should carry on their work. Referring to Muslims he said that no power on earth could keep them in Hindusthan. They shall have to quit this country. Mahatma Gandhi wanted to keep the Muslims in India so that the Congress (may) profit by their votes at the time of election. But, by that time, no a single muslim will be left in India. If they were made to stay here, the responsibility would be Government’s, and the Hindu community would not be responsible. Mahatma Gandhi could not mislead them any longer. We have the means whereby such men can be immediately silenced, but it is our tradition not to be inimical to Hindus. If we are compelled, we will have to resort to that course also." 

Bharat Bhushan - RSS chief Golwalkar threatened to kill Gandhi - 1947 CID report)
Delhi Police Archive on RSS activity in October-December 1947

Six weeks after this sinister meeting, there took place the January 20 Gandhi murder attempt. And ten days after that, Gandhi was dead.

The RSS is fond of citing Patel in contraposition to Nehru. Now whereas in his February 27, 1948 letter to Nehru (vol 6 of Selected Correspondence, edited by Durga Das) Patel exonerated the RSS, he also held that "it was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that hatched the conspiracy and saw it through" (p 56). If Patel was correct in his assessment of the RSS, will they concede that he was correct in his belief in the guilt of their hero V D Savarkar? Or do they wish to have their cake and eat it too? (Incidentally, Justice Jeevan Lal Kapur's opinion, expressed in the findings of the Commission of Inquiry, was this: "All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group"). In the same letter, reflecting on the problem of identifying RSS members, Patel wrote "in the case of secret organisation like the RSS which has no records of membership, no registers etc., securing of authentic information whether a person is an active member or not is a very difficult task.." (p 57)

The fluctuating positions of the Sangh on the Mahatma appear to be tactical. The impression left by their utterances is always (to me at any rate), that of persons who cannot distinguish cunning and cleverness from truthfulness and wisdom. They never seem to understand that Akhand Hindustan and Hindu Rashtra are incompatible ideals, that the achievement of the one automatically rules out the attainment of the other. Gandhi knew this instinctively. Speaking about those who combined communal hatred with slogans of Akhand Hindustan, he remarked: There is nothing in common between me and those who want me to oppose Pakistan except that we are both opposed to the division of the country. There is a fundamental difference between their opposition and mine. How can love and enmity go together? 

Of course we cannot prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the RSS ordered the murder. Neither can anyone prove with certainty that it did not. And that's the plain truth. We will never have forensic evidence of these crimes, we simply have to weigh the circumstantial evidence. The fact that Godse had left the RSS is not evidence (and Gopal Godse had other things to say on this); because organisational formalities mean nothing to ideologically committed cadre - aside from 'plausible deniability'. Could it not also be the case that their perverted sense of patriotism and as loyal sanghis they did their best to save the leaders? I repeat, the courts are not the proper place for these issues. The first step towards historical and political reconciliation is the acknowledgement of wrongdoing. That goes for all shades of the political spectrum. The word-play taking place today is nothing but a labyrinth of deceit.

I am reminded of an insight of the German philosopher Karl Jaspers: "Truth - the word has an incomparable magic. It seems to promise what really matters to us. The violation of truth poisons everything gained by the violation." The longer Indians choose to play with the truth about the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, the longer will communal hatred continue to poison the political system.

For more facts and opinions on the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, see:
The Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi: Inquiry Commission Report (1969)
The Abolition of truth

Book review: In the name of the father
RSS tradition
 of manufacturing facts to suit their ideology

सत्य की हत्या

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