What makes a person tweet in praise of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse on the Father of the Nation’s birth anniversary?
Public intellectuals and observers of Indian society told The Telegraph on Monday that a sustained campaign leads to an outburst of hatred on Gandhi’s birth and death anniversaries. This, explained Vignesh Rajahmani — a scholar on Indian politics who co-leads a social media research group on the Global South at King’s College London — stems from the inadequacy of political imagination to address contemporary problems.
He said: “If politics is rooted in the empowerment of people today or tomorrow, then you will embrace the past with compassion or be indifferent to it. But if you don’t have anything to offer for today or tomorrow, then you will try to revisit or redefine the past.”
Vignesh added: “There is a sense of belligerence in the tweets today that glorify Godse. If you are able to embrace the past with compassion, you won’t be saying such things. When you are made to feel that you shouldn’t be compassionate about your past, you turn to revivalism for which there is no end.”
Research on X (previously Twitter) trends in India by his group on data pertaining to the last four years shows that a small percentage of the users control nearly half of the content and its virality on the platform. However, this is enough to set a narrative not merely online but also in the media and real politics. Creating a counter-narrative, Vignesh explained, takes, “people, money and a discourse”.
Social activist Harsh Mander, who participates in programmes to promote communal harmony, said the crisis was “civilisational” and not something that had emerged now.
“Gandhi’s stress on non-violence, love, and ethics — even after the Second World War — was perceived by the RSS as a sign of feminine weakness. For them, Hitler in his full glory, represented masculine strength and courage. What we have since then is a profound battle between two competing world views — Gandhi’s and Hitler’s,” he said.
Mander added: “The Hindu Right’s rejection of Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence, love and forgiveness has come to a point where it is now no longer an idea that you would hesitate to air....”
At 12.52pm on X, there were more than 75,000 tweets with “Godse” in the hashtag. Those remembering Gandhi or Lal Bahadur Shastri — whose birth anniversary also falls on October 2 — were around 3.5 lakh. By evening, the Godse hashtags had fallen off X trends while Gandhi and Shastri remained high up. In 2020, Godse had half as many tweets as Gandhi even in the evening. While this may indicate a fall in the frenzy for Godse, the rot in society is already deep.
Educationist Rohit Kumar held screenings of Richard Attenborough’s 1982 classic Gandhi at three private schools in the city in January. At all screenings, some students cheered when Godse shoots Gandhi dead.
“I sent them an email later asking why they did so. About 90 per cent replied that they were very sorry and felt ashamed. Five per cent said they went with the flow. The remainder were absolutely convinced that Gandhiji was a bad man and deserved to die. One of them sent me links to reports in Right-wing publications and WhatsApp forwards to support his claims. No amount of persuading could convince this 5 per cent,” he told this newspaper.
Historian S. Irfan Habib said: “The most apt tribute to Mahatma Gandhi today is shunning hatred, even for our adversaries. Bapu said openly that he is not anti-British but anti-injustice. Even his nationalism during the anti-imperialist struggle had no place for hatred. You don’t need an enemy to be a nationalist. Our options are clear, the choice is between empathy and hatred or Gandhi and Godse.”