Lies, damned lies and Vinay Sitapati on Godse

Nathuram Vinayak Godse and Narayan Dattatraya Apte, assassins of MK Gandhi. Public records kept in government archives, and are categorical in their assertion that Godse lied to a court when he said he had left the RSS upon joining the Hindu Mahasabha. BETTMANN / GETTY IMAGES
08 July, 2022

In the 74 years since the assassination of MK Gandhi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has tried hard to obfuscate its links with the assassin, Nathuram Vinayak Godse. In an attempt to distance the RSS from the murder, it claims that Godse had left the organisation by the time of the killing. A number of middle-of-the-road academics have been willing to go along with this characterisation, which has nothing but the Sangh’s words to support it. However, the evidence, as I listed in a cover story for The Caravan, proves Godse never left the RSS.

These facts need reiteration because the Hindu Right, politically ascendant, is using every means—legal, academic or journalistic—to whitewash the truth about its bloody antecedents. For this reason, I feel it necessary to flag a recent podcast conversation which repeats the same error in the most egregious fashion—an episode of “The Seen and the Unseen,” a podcast hosted by Amit Varma, in which he interviews Vinay Sitapati, an associate professor at Ashoka University. In it, Varma recalls that Sitapati had stated in an earlier conversation that Godse had for years railed against the RSS in his newspaper Agrani. This, he claims, proved Godse was no longer a member of the RSS at the time of the assassination.

Before I begin examining the weakness of this argument, and the abysmal quality of evidence supposedly meant to back it, let me begin with how the argument was set up in the episode. This is revelatory of the lazy way in which serious issues are brought up and used to spread half-truths that serve the agenda of the ruling regime.

The podcast was meant to discuss Sitapati’s book Half-Lion: How PV Narasimha Rao Transformed India, on the former prime minister. Varma began by referring to my book Gandhi’s Assassin: The Making of Nathuram Godse and His Idea of India and said: “There was a prominent blurb by Christophe Jaffrelot saying that oh, to the effect of—I don’t remember the exact words—but to the effect of this [the book] proves that the RSS was involved in Gandhi’s murder.”

The blurb actually reads: “This book goes beyond the plot that resulted in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, which the author meticulously analyses. It is indeed highly revealing of the omnipresence of the RSS on the Indian political scene in the 1940s ... Nathuram Godse [was] a man who, as Dhirendra K Jha shows, never left the RSS.”