Mon, May 26, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Plotter still firm in beliefs that killed Gandhi


In a dingy two-room apartment, where cardboard boxes spill over with a lifetime's worth of angry writings, an elderly man keeps watch over the memory of his long-dead brother, and the story of the murder that thrust them into worldwide attention more than 50 years ago.

"I want to explain how I was connected to this Gandhi assassination," Gopal Godse says, beginning his story.

His voice is calm, his sunken grey-green eyes are fixed on his listener. But his words convey the cold, unrepentant fury that drove a small group of conspirators, led by his brother, to plot the killing of Mohandas Gandhi, the pacifist who led his nation to independence, fought for equality in a nation sharply divided by caste and became one of the most revered men in modern history.

"We did not want this man to live," said Godse, a thin, bookish man who spent 16 years in prison for his role in Gandhi's 1948 murder. "We did not want this man to die a natural death, even if 10 lives were to be lost for that purpose."

"He was a very cruel person for the Hindus," said Godse, a fervent Hindu.

In Godse's upside-down world, Gandhi's calls for nonviolence were part of a plot to allow Hindus to be slaughtered by Muslims, and his urging for peace with over-whelmingly Muslim Pakistan was a betrayal of Hinduism, which Godse believes should rule over much of South Asia.

At 83, Godse is the last of the conspirators left alive. But Godse has also lived long enough to see his beliefs, once on the fringes of Hindu militancy, move into the Indian mainstream -- albeit in a milder version.

Today India is ruled by a coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, a Hindu party whose roots lie in another organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh -- the RSS or National Volunteers Association.

Godse despises the current government, which India's secularists see as hard-liners but which he believes is too moderate. But his beliefs are common among the government's more militant supporters. In a nation of more than a billion people -- some 840 million of them Hindus -- Godse and like-minded Indians see Hindus as deeply oppressed.

It may seem incongruous that an overwhelming majority would see itself as threatened, but it's a commonly heard fear among believers in Hindutva, or "Hindu-ness," the doctrine that India should be governed by Hindu beliefs.

Self-defense training with bamboo staffs, swords and rifles is common among hard-line Hindutva believers, and Hindu suicide squads have vowed to defend their motherland.

The doctrine reaches from military training grounds to classrooms. Government textbooks distributed since the rise of the Hindu nationalist government have been criticized for such things as omitting mention of Gandhi's assassination, discussing Nazism without mentioning its racist ideology and saying a Hindu swami "established the superiority of Indian thought and culture over the Western mind."

Such issues have sparked a firestorm of criticism from India's secular intelligentsia, to whom Godse is an extreme example of the dangers of the militant movement.

The killing of Gandhi "was actually an assault on secularism by the Hindu right, and what Gopal Godse is doing is continuing that assault," said Kamal Mitra Chenoy, an international studies professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and a prominent liberal crusader.

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