NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi, the freedom movement leader shot dead at point-blank range by a Hindu zealot 75 years ago. “I bow to Bapu on his punya tithi (death anniversary) and recall his profound thoughts,” Modi tweeted ahead of taking part in a ceremony in New Delhi.
“I also pay homage to all those who have been martyred in the service of our nation. Their sacrifices will never be forgotten and will keep strengthening our resolve to work for a developed India,” he added. The death anniversary of Gandhi, who is widely known in India as Bapu (father), is also observed as Martyrs’ Day in the country.
Gandhi was assassinated at a multi-faith prayer meeting in January 1948 by Nathuram Godse, a religious zealot irked by Gandhi’s conciliatory gestures towards the country’s Muslim minority. Modi has regularly paid respects to Gandhi, often visiting his spiritual retreat with foreign dignitaries including former US president Donald Trump, and speaking about his legacy.
But Modi has refrained from commenting on efforts by Hindu nationalists to rehabilitate and honour Godse, who was executed in 1949. Some have conducted reenactments of the assassination using an effigy of Gandhi.
Modi’s government has also championed the work of Hindu ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who is known as Godse’s mentor. Gandhi’s great-grandson Tushar Gandhi told AFP last week that under Modi, Godse’s views are seeing a worrying resonance in India.
“That whole philosophy has now captured India and Indian hearts, the ideology of hate, the ideology of polarisation, the ideology of divisions,” he told AFP at his Mumbai home. “There is no denying that in his heart, he (Modi) also knows what he is doing is lighting a fire that will one day consume India itself,” Tushar said.
Tushar, 63, attributes this tectonic shift to the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Modi took office in 2014 and Tushar says his government is to blame for undermining the secular and multicultural traditions that his namesake sought to protect.
Today, Gandhi’s assassin is revered by many Hindu nationalists who have pushed for a re-evaluation of his decision to murder a man synonymous with non-violence. A temple dedicated to Godse was built near New Delhi in 2015, the year after Modi’s election, and activists have campaigned to honour him by renaming an Indian city after him.
Godse was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a still-prominent Hindu far-right group whose members conduct paramilitary drills and prayer meetings. The RSS has long distanced itself from Godse’s actions but remains a potent force, founding Modi’s party decades ago to battle for Hindu causes in the political realm. Modi has regularly paid respect to Gandhi’s legacy but has refrained from weighing in on the campaign to rehabilitate his killer. – AFP