In a quiet corner of Pune, they manager to keep alive a sense of disquiet. The families of Mahatma Gandhis assassins continue to commemorate their "martyrdom" and cherish their unful-filled dream of an Akhand Bharat, or Greater India. Once again, at a recent gathering, their views found an audience. Only this time the focus was not Nathuram Godse or Narayan Apte, but co-conspirator Gopal Godse and his wife Sindhutai.
A function at Pune to celebrate his 75th birthday on June 1 offered Gopal Godse a forum to express his side of the story. "Everyday of Gandhis life was harmful to India. He was an impediment that had to be removed," said Gopal Godse, who spent 14 years in jail for his role in the conspiracy.
Still an angry man, he continued: "Yes, hes the Father of the Nation. But which nation? We hold him responsible for Partition. It is like child birth and deliverywhen he takes credit for freedom, he should take the blame for Partition. One couldnt have been there without the other."
Gopal, who was arrested in Pune in February 1948, is the author of Gandhi Hatya Ani Me (Gandhis Assassination and I)among other works which recount both the deed and the times. It is this literary contributionand other efforts in the field of architecture and science, including trying to establish that the Taj Mahal was really a Shiv mandirfor which he was being felicitated, say the organisers. At the June 1 function, Vikram Savarkar, nephew of Veer Savarkar, ideologue of the Hindu Mahasabha whose role in the assassination conspiracy could never really be proved, sang praises of the Godse family: "Gopal Godses contribution has been great. Like the hundreds of people who have understood Nathuram Godse in the right perspective, and come to functions held for him although there is no publicity, this gathering for him was well-attended." The co-organiser of the function, disrupted by Congress and Janata Dal activists, was the Hindu Mahila Sabha headed by Vikram Savarkars sister-in-law, Himani.
The other gatherings that Savarkar alluded to are the annual functions organised by the Godse family trust on November 15, the day Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte were hanged. The trust called the Nathuram Godse Godse Will Trust) observes the day by renewing a pledge to carry out his wishesto have his ashes immersed in the Sindhu river (in Pakistan) when it becomes a part of India. Says Gopal Godse: "Our main intention is to carry this on from generation to generation, till his wish is fulfilled."
For others, any association with the name of Nathuram Godse has created problems. In 1991, Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray drew flak when he declared his admiration for Nathuram Godse at a Pune election rally, for the BJPs Lok Sabha candidate Anna Joshi. BJP leaders promptly disassociated themselves from the statement. In an earlier election, Sharad Pawar had found Nathuram Godse an useful weapon against the saffron combine when he coined the phrase "Otath Ram, potath Nathuram" (Ram on their lips and Nathuram in their stomachs).
This time, BJP legislators, who were expected to attend, stayed away from the function. However, Shiv Sena MLAs Suryakant Lonkar and Deepak Paigude attended and were seated on the dais with the Godse couple.
Says a Sena functionary who was invited but could not go to Pune: "Balasaheb (Thackeray) said it was all right if I attended in my personal capacity." While BJP veteran Atal Behari Vajpayee categorically said in Bombay that the party had nothing to do with such a function, and the RSS kept away, the Sena is taking care to say that individuals attended the function of their own accord and not on behalf of their party.
The BJPs stand has not endeared the of party to the hardlinersMahatmas antagonists. Says Savarkar, who is a former president of the All-India Hindu Mahasabha: "The BJP is full of double talk. What they say they dont mean, and what they mean they dont say." Those who dont see things their way have few friends here. For, in this small corner of India, the roles are permanently reversed: Nathuram Godse will always be the hero, and the Mahatma eternally the villain.