January 30 will mark the 70th anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi—an internationally renowned leader of the pacifist movement.
Gandhi was murdered in Delhi by Hindu fanatics after series of failed attempts on his life for standing up for pluralism and diversity.
Gandhi believed in the peaceful coexistence of Hindus and Muslims in post-British India when he was leading nonviolent civil disobedience against the foreign occupation.
Unfortunately, when India gained official independence in 1947 it was divided on religious lines. Muslim Pakistan was separated from India following a sustained campaign of the Muslim League for a separate homeland, which coincided with the campaign for a Hindu nation by forces such as the Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS).
Both the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS believed in Hindu supremacy and always wanted to establish a Hindu theocracy that saw Islam and Christianity as alien religions.
These two organizations, however, see Sikhs as part of the Hindu fold, which is often resisted by Sikhs who assert their independent identity. Nevertheless, the popular Sikh leadership opted to remain within India after partition.
The division of India and Pakistan resulted in the massacre of Muslims by Hindu and Sikh fanatics on the Indian side of the border, whereas Hindus and Sikhs were slaughtered by Muslim extremists on the other side.
There was a huge transfer of population from both sides of the Indo-Pak border. Fortunately, the Indian side chose to remain an inclusive secular democracy in contrast to the Islamic republic in Pakistan.
Hindu fanatics saw this secular state as a betrayal. Annoyed by Gandhi who has been denouncing Hindu chauvinism and anti-Muslim violence; they conspired to eliminate him many times.
They finally succeeded on January 30, 1948 when Nathuram Godse shot him to death.
It is believed that the conspirators belonged to both the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, of which the current ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) of India is a political wing.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi himself owes allegiance to the RSS, which was banned by the Indian government after the murder of Gandhi in 1948.
Godse, who was associated with the RSS, took sole responsibility for the crime and was hanged. However, another co-conspirator, Hindu Mahasaba leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was arrested but later acquitted for lack of evidence. Godse had received blessings from Savarkar before heading to kill Gandhi.
Ironically, Savarkar was previously associated with the freedom movement but later distanced himself from the cause and wholeheartedly worked for the establishment of a Hindu state instead of fighting against the British Empire.
Though Gandhi was a devout Hindu, he opposed untouchability practiced within the Hindu community and any designs for an exclusionist Hindu state. This resulted in the first attempt on his life in 1934.
Gandhi’s assassination was therefore not an act of a lone wolf or any so-called fringe group. His murder was an act of terrorism planned and executed as part of an ideology that now dominates the Indian political landscape.
The RSS has grown over the years of majoritarian politics practised both by the self-proclaimed secular Congress party and the right wing BJP. If the BJP has been outright Hindu nationalist, Congress too has been involved in sectarian politics in the past to polarize the Hindu majority for its political survival.
In 1984, the then ruling Congress organized anti-Sikh massacres and won the next general election with a heavy majority by riding on an anti-Sikh wave.
This may be one reason why the Congress government subsequently lifted the ban on the RSS even after the high-profile political murder of Gandhi. Such opportunism finally gave the BJP enough space to grow in spite of its direct involvement in many violent acts.
These included the anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002 in Gujarat where Modi was the chief minister.
Since then, the BJP has continued to gain legitimacy.
The ascendance of Modi to power with a brute majority in 2014 is a culmination of all this.
Not surprisingly, since then attacks have increased on religious minorities in India. And feeling emboldened, supporters of Savarkar and Godse have come out of the closet to glorify these two men more shamelessly.
Modi's government itself is disseminating conflicting messages.
On the one hand, the Indian prime minister bows his head before Gandhi, as he remains an acceptable figure worldwide, while on the other he reveres Savarkar.
In fact, some BJP leaders have openly admired Godse and mocked Gandhi.
Meanwhile, the RSS enjoys official support at different levels of the government, leaving Muslims and Christians, in particular, fearful about their future in India.
In accordance with the methods of political murders adopted by Godse, Hindu fanatics have assassinated several rationalists and have been involved in violent incidents, such as bomb blasts targeting Muslim shrines.
Then there are "cow vigilantes" who continue to terrorize Muslims in the name of cow protection, with the patronage of the police.
Since Hindus treat the cow as a sacred animal, BJP-ruled states have outlawed consumption and sale of beef, which has further encouraged these elements to take the law into their own hands.
Christians too are terrorized and frequently attacked by Hindu groups, who often accuse them of perpetrating forced religious conversions. BJP-ruled states have passed stringent anti-conversion laws.
It’s only a matter of time before the BJP government officially declares India as a Hindu state. The indications of the country having become an intolerant Hindu nation cannot be ignored.
It’s a shame that world leaders continue to watch this without taking any swift action against Modi government.
Blinded by either Islamophobia or business considerations they have largely overlooked the growth of Hindu extremism, even as many of them recognize Gandhi who was killed by none other than the supporters of an ideology shared by Modi and his party-men.
It is high time that they see who killed Gandhi and how the ideology that took his life has now become so powerful as to govern a nation, which is otherwise known as the world’s largest democracy.