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Gandhi’s killer evokes admiration like never before | India News

MEERUT: In the shadow of a banyan tree, a group of faithful recite Sanskrit mantras. A couple of men come forward and light a fire. Then they begin to walk, with their hands crossed, as if in a trance, towards a statue.

Some cover flowers on it. Others sing songs of value to the statue. It is from Nathuram Vinayak Godse, who murdered Mohandas K Gandhi, the revered father of Indian independence and a symbol of nonviolent resistance throughout the world.

The Indians consider Gandhi one of the parents of their nation. But the rise of a Hindu nationalist government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has uncorked many extremist beliefs, and admiration for Gandhi’s murderer, among some, has become more open. It is a sign of how much India has changed in the 5 and a half years since Modi took power.

“Gandhi was a traitor,” said Pooja Shakun Pandey, who blames Gandhi for the partition and who participated in a recent ceremony worshiping Godse on the anniversary of Gandhi’s murder. “He deserved a shot in the head.”

The prominent Hindu nationalists still invoke Gandhi, but in many cases they try to co-opt their legacy, presenting their policies, however divisive, consistent with their beliefs. An example: a recent citizenship law promoted by the Modi government that, according to critics, discriminates against Muslims and threatens the secular state that Gandhi had imagined.

However, other Hindu nationalists continue to openly vilify the admired man throughout the world as an apostle of peace.

The ceremony on the statue that venerates his murderer, in Meerut, in the north of the country, is not the only sign of respect for Godse in India these days.

Across the country, more than a dozen statues of Gandhi’s killer have been erected. Several Hindu temples are becoming temples of God.

Last year, the Uttar Pradesh state government, led by a Hindu monk, Yogi Adityanath, proposed changing the name of Meerut to Godse City. One of the first statues of Godse was discovered there about three years ago. Officials now say they have been overwhelmed by the demands of more Godse memorials.

Ramachandra Guha, a leading Gandhi biographer, said Gandhi’s killer fans were no longer a marginal group. Instead, he said, the admiration of God has found a place among what he considers a worryingly large segment of the population.

“It’s disgusting, despicable, but it’s real and widespread,” Guha said.

In recent months, vandals linked to right-wing groups have disfigured images of Gandhi, attacked his monuments and scribbled the word traitor in his photograph. In June of last year, a statue of Gandhi was beheaded in eastern India.

The growing cult around Godse seems to be rooted in the same militant brand of Hindu nationalism that inspired Gandhi’s killer to shoot him on a slightly cold January afternoon in 1948.

That day, Gandhi walked slowly through a majestic lawn in New Delhi, capital of India, leaning on the shoulders of two young women. Godse emerged from a crowd, greeted him and touched his feet. Then he took out a Beretta and shot the fragile 78-year-old woman in the upper body three times.

Godse was born in a small town in central India in a family of upper castes. Three of his eldest children died of an unknown disease. Thinking that he would protect his new son to treat him like a girl, they pierced the nose of young Godse and made him wear a ring on his nose until they had another son.

By using the nose ring, Godse was called Nathuram, which means a man with a pierced nose.

When he was young, Godse joined the RSS, a Hindu nationalist group that many members of the ruling party of India, including Modi, have been part of.

Godse believed that Gandhi had betrayed the Hindus by being too conciliatory with the Muslims and allowing Pakistan to separate during the partition of India in 1947. Many Hindu nationalists still echo that line and see Godse as a national hero already Gandhi as a traitor.

Technology has helped spread the revisionist attitude towards Godse.

The availability of cheap data in much of the field has helped create an ecosystem of misinformation in which it is difficult to separate facts from fiction. WhatsApp messages widely shared in rural areas say that if Godse had not killed Gandhi, India would have fallen apart as the Soviet Union did. Other messages call Gandhi a womanizer.

Public meetings praising Gandhi’s killer are also used to spread lies and justify the murder.

Amit Jaiswal Jain, an advertising professional in the city of Agra, believes that Godse is a hero because he tried to stop Gandhi’s impulse towards India to help the newly formed Pakistan.

“Gandhi must be respected,” said Jain, 38. “But the new India should not tolerate God’s punishment.”

Jain, along with some of his Hindu nationalist friends, urge the Uttar Pradesh government to insert a special chapter in the school textbooks about Godse. The idea is to present Godse as a visionary of Hindu nationalism and one of the drivers of the creation of a Hindu nation.

Hindu nationalism, an ideology that encourages Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, is based on the idea that India is a Hindu nation and that minorities, especially Muslims, must subscribe to the Hindu primacy.

Pandey, who was visiting the statue of Godse in Meerut recently, is one of the most educated people in his town in northwestern India, earning a doctorate in mathematics and teaching at a local university. He is also the leader of Hindu Mahadubha, a group formed more than 100 years ago that defends militant Hindu nationalism.

Last year, she was arrested after the scene of Gandhi’s murder. In a video that gave him national fame, he is seen filming Gandhi’s effigy, with fake blood gushing out.

Pandey directs the Meerut chapter of the Hindu Mahasabha with Ashok Sharma. They hold prayer meetings in the temples of Uttar Pradesh and exhort people on why this is the time, under Modi, to turn India into a Hindu nation.

On a recent morning in Meerut, Sharma sat down for a ritual asking Lord Hanuman, the monkey god of Hindu mythology, to ward off Gandhi’s spirit.

“Hey, son of the wind,” Sharma prayed to the fire, referring to Lord Hanuman, “remove Gandhi’s unclean soul from this pure land.”

Pandey said that if Godse were alive, she would drink the water that used to wash her feet.

“Our hero prevented Gandhi’s poison from spreading in this pure land,” he said. “If I had been born before Godse, I would have shot Gandhi.”

Times of India