Deletions in NCERT Textbooks Burnish the RSS’s Lies About Gandhi’s Murder

Illustration by Sukruti Anah Staneley
Elections 2024
25 April, 2023

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s longstanding efforts to erase its links to MK Gandhi’s assassination are being realised with the recent deletions that the National Council of Educational Research and Training—tasked with devising school curricula and syllabi—has made in sections detailing his murder in political science and history textbooks. Over the 75 years since Gandhi’s death, the RSS made repeated attempts to distance itself from his assassin, Nathuram Godse, often with outright lies. A wide range of liberal or neutral scholars accepted these fabrications without scrutiny. Meanwhile, pro-RSS writers quietly—sometimes, even secretly—revised aspects of Gandhi’s killing that were inconvenient for the Sangh Parivar. They deftly constructed, and continue to construct, a number of falsehoods to obfuscate Godse’s affiliation with the RSS at the time of the assassination; mischaracterise his motivations for planning and carrying out the murder; and diminish the collective response of a newly independent India to the shocking crime.

These facts relating to Gandhi’s assassination have always troubled the RSS. At various points, they have also posed an existential threat to the organisation. This is why its leaders and sympathisers seized upon the narrative right after Godse committed the crime, and mythologised it to rewrite history.

Among the amended portions in the NCERT textbooks is a section that earlier identified Godse as a “Brahmin man from Pune.” This reference to Godse’s identity is significant. Taken in context, it offers insight into the caste elite whose interests the rise and evolution of Hindutva politics, as well as the RSS, have historically served. The NCERT’s omission of the reference to Godse’s Brahmin identity renders an incomplete portrayal of Godse’s desire to represent—and violently act on behalf of—the forces he belonged to. 

It is hardly a secret that the RSS emerged from within the Brahmin community of Nagpur, and grew primarily as an organisation that anticipated a return to Peshwa Raj—a euphemism for Brahmin rule—after the British withdrew from India. In fact, in an essay titled, “My Days in the RSS,” SH Deshpande—who was a svayamsevak in Poona between 1938 and 1946—noted that the RSS was understood to be a “Brahmin club,” and that people from non-Brahmin communities “shunned” the organisation, even attacking its members on a few occasions.

In its articulation of a Hindu Rashtra, the RSS clearly sought to establish a political system that upheld the dominance of Hindu caste elites along with their dos and don’ts. Godse, a Brahmin, was a staunch adherent of this vision. He imagined himself to be a crusader for the Hindu Rashtra when he killed Gandhi, whose presence was an impediment to this RSS project.

However, in the post-Independence era, as the Indian state veered towards defining itself as a secular democracy, it was not possible for the RSS to thrive—or even survive—without masking these aspects of its institutional identity. This led to the ongoing attempts to expunge such facts from its history. The evident culmination of such endeavours is reflected in the deletion of the word “Brahmin” with reference to Godse from the NCERT textbooks.

Similarly, another amended portion from the Class 12 political science textbooks relates to an explanation of the motives behind Gandhi’s assassination. The passage, now deleted, notes: