In 1995, when the Bharatiya Janata Party held its executive meeting in Bombay, then party president LK Advani, gung-ho about the possibility of coming to power the next year, said at a press conference, “I am not bothered about the communal image of the BJP. For even Mahatma Gandhi was described as a Hindu leader by Western newspapers at the time of his death. Today, everybody swears by his secularism. So, in a few years even the BJP will be seen as a secular party.”
Just three years after BJP's stellar role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, that audacity on the part of a leader who, according to eyewitnesses present there, had distributed sweets to celebrate the destruction of the mosque, left me speechless. There was a whole contingent of journalists from New Delhi present there and I had thought one of them would point out the travesty but that was the day I discovered those beat reporters were voluntarily as pliant as some journalists genuflecting to the Modi regime are today.
So, after a brief pause, after Advani had snubbed a couple of Mumbai journalists who had no reason to defer to him and so asked him to explain the contradiction, I stood up to get my own clarification.
“Since these events happened before my birth, please explain to me, Mr Advani, how did Nathuram Godse assassinate Mahatma Gandhi? If Gandhiji was a Hindu leader, according to the statement you just made a few minutes ago, and Godse was a member of the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha, do you mean to say that the RSS believed in killing a member of its own religion simply to score some political goals? “
Of course, Advani did not like the question and did not have any answer. He was describing Babri Masjid as a ‘structure’ and when I pointed out the BJP would not have demolished that structure if it had perceived it as anything but a mosque - a school, a hospital or even a toilet - all hell broke loose.
Even then the BJP was way ahead of other political parties in the use of emerging technologies and they had their own videographers filming the entire press conference. The lights in my face switched off abruptly as the media co-ordinator for the event rushed to the cameramen and asked them to stop filming. Then he came across to me and pulled me to a side. ‘What are you doing!” he exclaimed. “You seem to be such a good Hindu girl. Why are you pulling the skeletons out of our cupboard?”
The man, an old RSS hand, was well meaning but it was quite clear he did not know what he was saying. However, I wanted to rub in my point and I told him, “Not my words. But you definitely have two skeletons in your cupboard – one is clearly Nathuram Godse and the other the Babri Masjid. And even if I am Hindu, I do not believe you can kill and destroy with impunity. I do not believe in your ideology nor in Advani’s twisted logic.”
The man looked even more miserable at that, so I left the place not to make life more difficult for him with his leaders.
But with the BJP's Bhopal candidate Pragya Singh Thakur recently describing Nathuram Godse as a ‘deshbhakt’ and Narendra Modi publicly swearing that he would never forgive her for doing so, I realised the skeleton of Nathuram Godse still rattles in the BJP's cupboard and he ghost of Mahatma Gandhi continues to spook the party’s leaders.
While Thakur’s comment needs no dignifying, Modi’s statement is interesting. Why should he not forgive Pragya Thakur? She is, after all, his choice for the Lok Sabha contest from Bhopal and she is nothing if not true to the party's ideology, RSS ideologues speaking privately in Hindi always describe Mahatma Gandhi’s killing as “vadh" rather than “hatya" , as though Gandhiji was some demon who needed to be slayed.
If this is the mindset of intellectuals within the RSS, why should Pragya Thakur be blamed for interpreting their party line as anything else but the deshbhakti of Godse in assassinating the father of the nation?
But it is also interesting that Modi who has done his best to either destroy or appropriate Congress icons from the time of the freedom fighting days, could in no way defend or justify that statement even though Godse is akin to a hero for his party ideologues and openly defended by them at many forums, with even attempts to build a temple for him.
All those years ago, Advani too had tried to appropriate Gandhiji as a Hindu leader to justify the BJP’s communal actions. Before the BJP decided Hindutva was the way to go, they had tried to base their party on “Gandhian socialism" – I have never been able to understand how Gandhian socialism was in any way different from the pluralism and frugalism that our leaders in the 1950s and 1960s had always advocated. Obviously, the BJP has never believed in Gandhi's ideals but has always been too afraid, after his killing, to justify the assassination and vilify Gandhi as publicly as Pragya Thakur has done today.
Modi's apology, which I believe is mere lip service, nevertheless gives me hope – that despite the complete polarisation of the nation in the past five years, the RSS and the BJP recognise that Gandhi continues to reside in the country and any further attempt to vilify him could be very detrimental to their interests.
Now the BJP has had to go one step further and distance themselves from Pragya Thakur to deny the undeniable importance of Mahatma Gandhi to this nation. Gandhi is in our nation’s DNA and is reaching out from his grave to even spook the two most communal leaders of our times -Advani and Modi – singularly responsible for destroying the harmony and pluralism of this country.
Pragya Thakur may have cursed a national hero like Hemant Karkare, the Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad chief, who died defending the nation against Pakistani terrorists. Herself a terror-accused, it is just as well that she has now rattled more skeletons in the BJP cupboard than the party would care to have tumble out.