NEW DELHI -- For several weeks now, a small Hindu fringe group in India has been attracting attention around the world because of its plans to erect a bust in honor of Nathuram Godse, the man who assassinated Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi in 1948.
Organizers had chosen Friday, the 67th anniversary of the freedom fighter’s death, as the big day. They had a bust of assassin Godse ready to go — and had even conducted a special purification ritual at the temple spot in the northern city of Meerut, 43 miles northeast of New Delhi. They demanded that Friday be declared as a “day of courage” across India, to mark what they regard was Godse’s brave act.
But on Friday, members of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha said they were prohibited from leaving their office to implement the plan. Police, fearing that the move could prompt community tension, also sealed the site with ropes and stuck a prohibitory notice on the wall that barred any installation activity.
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“Senior police officers are sitting outside our office, we are not allowed to move out. They say installing Godse’s statue will disturb social order in the country,” grumbled Abhishek Agarwaal, 36, district president of the group. “It is a myth that Hindus are becoming dominant after Narendra Modi became the prime minister of India. Look at how they are treating Hindu groups like ours?”
The move has confounded many in India -- and around the world. It would be like a group of Americans threatening to erect a statue of James Earl Ray, who killed Martin Luther King, or John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Abraham Lincoln.
Yet this is not the first time the group has vented its desire to celebrate Godse. They did the same when Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was last in power more than a decade ago.
Members of Agarwaal’s group consider Godse a patriot because he killed the man they hold responsible for the country’s violent partition into Hindu-majority India and Muslim majority Pakistan in 1947. Godse was a member of the Hindu-pride group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, but quit in the early 1940s. Modi too began his early political career as a member of the group.
In December, Sakshi Maharaj, a lawmaker from Modi’s party, called Godse a patriot. A day later he apologised amid loud opposition. In recent weeks, many Hindu fringe groups have raised contentious issues like religious conversions. Maharaj also urged Hindu women to have four children to keep up with the growing number of Muslims.
“For so many years Gandhi has been revered as a great soul by Indians. We want to tell the youth that it is all a lie,“ Agarwaal said. “Godse was the true patriot. We do not regard Gandhi as the father of the nation. He was too soft on Muslims. It was because of him that Pakistan was created out of my motherland.”