RSS and Mahatma Gandhi's assassination: Myths vs facts
All RSS shakhas were asked to be closed for 13 days to mourn Gandhi's demise.
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Detractors of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), including the current Congress president Rahul Gandhi, have often accused it of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination. The facts, however, tell a different story.
What is that story?
RSS chief MS Golwalkar was attending an RSS meeting in Chennai when Gandhi was assassinated. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Around half an hour after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948, the First Information Report (FIR) was lodged at the Tughlak Road police station.
The FIR contains a statement from Nand Lal Mehta, a resident of Connaught Place in Delhi. Mehta was reportedly standing next to Gandhi when he was shot.
Here is what Mehta had to say: "Today, I was present at Birla House. Around 10 minutes past five in the evening, Mahatma Gandhi left his room in Birla House for the prayer ground. Sister Abha Gandhi and sister Sanno Gandhi were accompanying him. Mahatma was walking with his hands on the shoulders of the two sisters. Two more girls were there in the group. I along with Lala Brij Kishan, a silver merchant, resident of No. 1, Narendra Place, Parliament Street and Sardar Gurbachan Singh, resident of Timar Pur, Delhi were also there. Apart from us, women from the Birla household and two-three members of the staff were also present. Having crossed the garden, Mahatma climbed the concrete steps towards the prayer place. People were standing on both the sides and approximately three feet of vacant space was left for the Mahatma to pass through. As per the custom, the Mahatma greeted the people with folded hands. He had barely covered six or seven steps when a person whose name I learnt later as Narayan Vinayak Godse, resident of Poona, stepped closer and fired three shots from a pistol at the Mahatma from barely 2-3 feet distance which hit the Mahatma in his stomach and chest and blood started flowing. Mahatma ji fell backwards, uttering 'Ram-Ram'. The assailant was apprehended on the spot with the weapon. The Mahatma was carried away in an unconscious state towards the residential unit of the Birla House where he passed away instantly and the police took away the assailant…"
Even as this FIR was being lodged, RSS chief MS Golwalkar was attending an RSS meeting in Chennai (then known as Madras). A number of prominent citizens were present in the meeting. According to an eyewitness, just when the RSS chief was about to take the first sip of the tea offered to him, someone broke the news about Gandhi's death.
As soon as he heard the news, he put down his cup and said in an anguished voice, "What a misfortune for the country!"
He immediately sent telegrams of condolences to the then-Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Union home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Devdas Gandhi, the fourth and youngest son of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Mahatma's killer Nathuram Godse (Source: India Today)
The RSS chief cancelled his countrywide tour and flew back to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur.
In an unprecedented move, all RSS shakhas were asked to be closed for 13 days to mourn Gandhi's demise.
Since the organisation's inception in1925, shakhas were held 365 days a year without any break. That is the core principle of the RSS. However, the organisation made an exception for Gandhi — this shows the respect Gandhi commanded in the RSS.
Golwalkar, after returning to Nagpur, wrote to Pandit Nehru, "The attack on such a deft helmsman, who held so many diverse natures in a single string bringing them to the right path, is indeed a treacherous act not merely to an individual but to the whole country. No doubt you, that is, the government authorities of the day, will deal suitably with that traitorous individual. But now is the testing time for all of us. The responsibility of safely steering the ship of our nation ahead in the present troubled times with an unruffled sense of judgement, sweetness of speech and single-minded devotion to the nation's interest is upon all of us."
The RSS chief also wrote to the deputy PM Sardar Patel. He said, "Let us shoulder the responsibility that has fallen upon us by the untimely passing away of that great unifier, keeping alive the sacred memories of that soul who had tied diverse natures in a single bond and was leading them all on a single path. And let us, with the right feelings, restrained tone and fraternal love, conserve our strength and cement the national life with everlasting oneness."
However, in a knee-jerk reaction, the government banned the RSS on February 4, 1948, and arrested Golwalkar.
MS Golwalkar was arrested and the RSS was banned after Gandhi's assassination. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Ironically, the arrest was made under the notorious Bengal State Prisoners Act. Nehru had condemned this act before independence as a 'black law'.
The RSS chief was released six months later but was arrested again after some time. A satyagraha by the RSS swayamsevaks followed. More than 77,000 RSS volunteers courted arrest. The government of the day could not find any evidence against the RSS.
In fact, a month after Gandhi's assassination, Sardar Patel reportedly wrote to Nehru, "I have kept myself almost in daily touch with the progress of the investigations regarding Bapu's assassination case. All main accused have given long and detailed statements of their activities. It also clearly emerges from the statements that the RSS was not involved in it at all."
In another letter to the RSS chief, Sardar Patel said, "Only the people near me know as to how happy I was when the ban on Sangh was lifted. I wish you all the best."
The ban on the RSS was lifted on July 12, 1949.
However, RSS baiters continued to spread the canard about the organisation's role in Gandhi's assassination.
In 1966, the Congress government headed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi again set up a new judicial commission to thoroughly probe the assassination. Justice JL Kapur, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, headed it. The commission examined 101 witnesses and 407 documents. The panel's report was published in 1969. Its key findings were:
a) They (the accused) have not been proved to have been members of the RSS, nor has that organisation been shown to have had a hand in the murder. (Volume I, page 186)
b)… There is no evidence that the RSS as such was indulging in violent activities against Mahatma Gandhi or the top Congress leaders. (Volume I, page 66)
One of the most important witnesses who deposed before the Kapur Commission was an Indian Civil Services officer called RN Banerjee. His deposition was crucial as he was the home secretary to the government of India at the time of the assassination.
Banerjee told the Kapur Commission that even if the RSS had been banned earlier, it would not have affected the conspirators or the course of events, "because they have not been proved to have been members of the RSS, nor has that organisation been shown to have a hand in the murder".