On January 30, 1948, a little over 5 pm, in New Delhi, Nathuram Godse pumped three bullets into the fragile body of Mahatma Gandhi. Within seconds, one of the greatest messiahs of peace the world has seen was lying lifeless. It was a crime that shocked the conscience of the world. A nation was left bereft, a world orphaned. But, today we have Pragya Singh Thakur, the BJP MP elected from Bhopal, referring to Godse as a deshbhakt, a patriot. She has said this not once, but twice, the second time from the floor of the Lok Sabha. What she said is on record. The Speaker may have expunged her remarks, but the House heard what she said. Her lame excuse that she has been misquoted, convinces no one, not even the members of her own party. Rajnath Singh, the Raksha Mantri, and J.P. Nadda, the working president of the BJP, condemned her remarks. She was withdrawn from the membership of the consultative committee of the defence ministry. It is said that the party is planning to take further disciplinary action against her.
What Pragya Thakur said is important not because she — an accused in a terror case — said it. It is dangerous because of the ideology it represents. What kind of convoluted, bigoted, hateful, communal and vicious thought process must be responsible for a person to refer to Godse as a deshbhakt? This is a question the BJP must squarely confront. This is all the more so, because it seems quite clear that the ideology that Thakur represents has many supporting voices in the party. Even after she made her condemnable comment from the floor of the House, some BJP MPs sought to justify it. One luminary of the BJP said that while Godse may have been misled, it is undoubted that he was motivated by patriotism. On earlier occasions too we have had people like Sakshi Maharaj make statements in support of Godse.
The time has, therefore, come for the BJP to come clean on this issue. If it believes that what Thakur said is wrong, it should take exemplary and definitive action against her. A half-hearted apology by her will not work. Nor will cosmetic disciplinary action. Her matter must be referred to the Ethics Committee of the House, and she should, on its recommendations, which must be unequivocal, disqualified from the membership of the Lok Sabha. In addition, the BJP must forthwith expel her from the party. Only then will the message go loud and clear to all those within the party, or in organisations affiliated to the party in any way, that this kind of hateful ideology will not be tolerated.
For too long now, proponents of violent, divisive, and abusive language, have been given a soft landing by the BJP. Some time back, another so-called Sadhvi, Niranjan Jyoti, in a public speech spoke about “Ramzadas and haramzadas”. On that occasion too an anodyne apology was considered sufficient to exonerate her. None of these apologies confront the real issue about the need to confront communal venom in certain sections of society.
When, on the first occasion, Thakur referred to Godse as a patriot, PM Narendra Modi expressed deep regret. He said: “The remarks made about Gandhiji or about Nathuram Godse are very bad and very wrong for society. She has sought an apology but I would never be able to forgive her fully.” Quite clearly then, the PM has not been able to condone what she said on the first occasion. Now that she has repeated her offence, and that too from the august floor of Parliament, what should his reaction be? Since he reacted in no uncertain terms to her first statement, and she has — notwithstanding his anguish — repeated her condemnable views, should not the PM, as per his own public averment, ensure that she receives exemplary retribution?
This is particularly relevant since this is the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The government is celebrating this event with great fanfare. Gandhiji’s legacy, and his continued relevance, is being projected as a matter of belief and of commitment. The PM is at the forefront of these efforts. From countless forums he has spoken about the greatness of the Mahatma, and many flagship programmes of the government — such as Swachh Bharat — are being specifically carried out in the name of Gandhiji. With this as a backdrop, when a MP of his own party refers to the man who assassinated the Mahatma as a patriot — and says so for the second time — it is only to be expected that the PM will personally intervene in the matter to ensure that she is suitably chastised.
The truth is that there is an ugly underbelly in the ultra-right that pays lip service to the Mahatma but actually valorises the likes of Nathuram Godse. Pragya Thakur represents that underbelly. It is for people to estimate whether those who secretly support the view of Thakur are a fringe or the mainstream. Either way, the BJP, as the ruling party in the country, and the largest party, must publicly correct the justifiable impression that some within it are closet or public admirers of the man who murdered the Mahatma.
India as a nation will survive only when it resolutely confronts the hatred, violence, and narrow-mindedness that still lurks somewhere in the darker recesses of its societal fabric. The lack of strong and exemplary action against Thakur will strengthen the forces of hatred and violence. The worst that can happen is for only a half-hearted and ambivalent message going out to the purveyors of hate and divisiveness after the outrage of Thakur. The PM must back his stated revulsion by action. Otherwise the impression will gain ground that what he cannot forgive he is willing to condone.